Muñoz Arbeláez on Puente Luna, 'Andean Cosmopolitans: Seeking Justice and Reward at the Spanish Royal Court'

José Carlos de la Puente Luna
Santiago Muñoz Arbeláez

José Carlos de la Puente Luna. Andean Cosmopolitans: Seeking Justice and Reward at the Spanish Royal Court. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018. xii + 345 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-4773-1486-9.

Reviewed by Santiago Muñoz Arbeláez (Universidad de los Andes) Published on H-LatAm (January, 2020) Commissioned by Casey M. Lurtz (Johns Hopkins University)

Printable Version:

In the 1660s and 1670s, Jerónimo Lorenzo Limaylla, a native of the Andean village of Reque, visited the royal court of the Spanish Empire in Madrid claiming to be a legitimate heir to the cacicazgo (lordship) of Luringuanca. Limaylla addressed Philip IV and Queen Regent Mariana of Austria in writing, claiming to speak “for the relief of these poor Indians, his brothers” (p. 191). In spite of royal instructions for him to head back to Peru, Limaylla managed to stay in the court for over a decade and received twenty-five different allowances from the crown that cost the royal coffers more than eighty thousand reales. Like Limaylla, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a considerable number of indigenous nobility of the Hispanic domains of the New World traveled to see the king in search of justice, favor, or redress. José Carlos de la Puente Luna's Andean Cosmopolitans. Seeking Justice and Reward at the Spanish Royal Court is a nuanced and comprehensive study of the journeys of Andean nobility to the Habsburg court in Madrid. From 1562—the date in which the first high-ranking Andean cacique crossed the Atlantic on behalf of his community—to 1700, de la Puente Luna documented around a hundred free travelers from the district of the royal tribunal of Lima to Spain.

The book unveils the complex social processes and political culture that moved indigenous travelers to the court. De la Puente Luna convincingly argues that these travelers participated in monarchical politics and claimed justice or sought reward by appealing to the head of this transatlantic polity. The book is divided into seven chapters organized thematically and chronologically, each focusing on a specific aspect of the journeys and moving from the first travelers of the mid-sixteenth century to those of the seventeenth century. The first chapter serves as an introduction to the book and lays out the main questions about indigenous nobility, Hispanic political culture, and transatlantic travel.

Crossing the Atlantic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was an expensive affair, and so was litigating. Yet, Andean communities were keen to do both. They were so active that they were frequently called “litigant villages.” The second chapter is a deep ethnographic look at the Andean villages’ ways of allocating labor tasks and managing community funds that set the ground for travelers in their social worlds in the Andes. In this chapter, de la Puente Luna introduces the basic institutions of kinship, economics, and politics that governed indigenous villages and how they were redefined in the colonial period as a way of participating in Hispanic litigation systems. He argues that by the seventeenth century the communal assets known as sapci (Quechua term meaning “what belongs to everyone”) were increasingly devoted to litigation under the Hispanic courts. This chapter successfully shows indigenous travelers were not alone, acting for themselves, but part of a larger Andean community that was financing their travel.

Chapter 3 is an introduction to the local, regional, and imperial legal systems that travelers navigated in order to get to see the king. De la Puente Luna argues that the resettlement projects known as the reducciones carried out by Viceroy Toledo in the 1570s were part of antilitigation reforms that hoped to stop their “legal pilgrimages to audiencia seats or Iberian courts,” by placing royal justice within their reach (p. 58). In the fourth chapter, de la Puente Luna argues that the urban space of Lima gave birth to a new identity that contemporaries referred to as la Nación Índica or the “Nation of the Indies.” This was an urban process of ethnogenesis in which indigenous peoples from all over the central Andes adhered to a discourse about their privileges and obligations as indigenous nobility and vassals of the king. These were predominantly cacique-less Indians who often dressed as Spaniards, had the right to bear arms and formed militias to fight for the king, were artisans and craftsmen, and even served as indigenous magistrates.

The final chapters delve into the experiences of the Andean cosmopolitans in Madrid. The fifth chapter exposes their search for royal favor and funding to stay in Madrid in a shifting political landscape that increasingly provided assistance for indigenous commoners. Chapter 6 crucially considers the politics of identity in the king’s court, revealing the disputed legal categories in which travelers framed themselves, as well as the difficulty to determine whether these identities were factually grounded or forged. De la Puente Luna contends that transatlantic travel offered the possibility for indigenous men and women to “change their names and fashion themselves anew” (p. 175). Transatlantic travel was as much a physical movement as a performative transformation, and the court at times appeared to be a “discursive battleground.” Limaylla, for instance, gradually transformed his appearance, manner, and name, in a journey from the Lorencillo (little Lorenzo) of Reque to the lettered cosmopolitan of Don Jerónimo Lorenzo Limaylla who claimed to represent all the caciques of Mexico and Peru. Finally, chapter 7 argues that the native nobility fashioned itself as the main interlocutors between the king and its indigenous vassals.

What makes the book so exciting is its unusual historiographical combination. De la Puente Luna brings together two historiographies, each with their own traditions, methods, and paradigms: ethnohistory and Atlantic history. While ethnohistory has conventionally focused on the close reading of the history of local indigenous communities in restricted time periods, Atlantic history has privileged movement through the vast expanses of the ocean. By examining the Atlantic journeys of Andean nobility with an eye to the multiple social and cultural worlds they inhabited, moved across, and connected, Andean Cosmpolitans articulates the best of both traditions. Recent works by historians like Nancy Van Deusen, Brett Rushforth, and Andrés Reséndez have addressed the movement of indigenous peoples through the Atlantic, highlighting the coerced conditions of their movement and their enslavement. Andean Cosmopolitans unveils an Atlantic in which the indigenous nobility of the Andes moved constantly in search of their own goals, financed by their communities, to participate in the meaning and definition of imperial institutions. De la Puente Luna shows that this is not just a story of the travelers. Behind them were entire communities that now consciously participated of a global monarchy and aspired to be represented in Madrid. They wanted to report their situation directly to the king, avoiding other bureaucratic paths.

This beautifully documented study is also a deep exploration of the meaning of indigeneity in the Spanish Empire. The indigenous world reconstructed here is unpredictable, in flux, and fascinating. The pages are full of cases seldom seen in history books, such as the stories of a tailor and a shoemaker who traveled to Spain with a shipment of falcons for the king, or a mestizo from Peru who becomes judge-governor of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. The indigenous subjects are hardly naïve or passive; they are, rather, players in an Atlantic system of justice they know well, and one they also use to their own advantage. For this reason, I recommend Andean Cosmopolitans to anyone interested in Atlantic history and the history of the interactions between Indians and empires. It will be useful for advanced undergraduate courses and graduate seminars.




Citation: Santiago Muñoz Arbeláez. Review of Puente Luna, José Carlos de la, Andean Cosmopolitans: Seeking Justice and Reward at the Spanish Royal Court. H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews. January, 2020. URL:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.