Shaky Colonialism

The 1746 Earthquake-Tsunami in Lima, Peru, and Its Long Aftermath

Shaky Colonialism

a John Hope Franklin Center Book

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Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: 16 illustrations, 4 tables, 4 maps Published: May 2008

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Andes, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Contemporary natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina are quickly followed by disagreements about whether and how communities should be rebuilt, whether political leaders represent the community’s best interests, and whether the devastation could have been prevented. Shaky Colonialism demonstrates that many of the same issues animated the aftermath of disasters more than 250 years ago. On October 28, 1746, a massive earthquake ravaged Lima, a bustling city of 50,000, capital of the Peruvian Viceroyalty, and the heart of Spain’s territories in South America. Half an hour later, a tsunami destroyed the nearby port of Callao. The earthquake-tsunami demolished churches and major buildings, damaged food and water supplies, and suspended normal social codes, throwing people of different social classes together and prompting widespread chaos. In Shaky Colonialism, Charles F. Walker examines reactions to the catastrophe, the Viceroy’s plans to rebuild the city, and the opposition he encountered from the Church, the Spanish Crown, and Lima’s multiracial population.

Through his ambitious rebuilding plan, the Viceroy sought to assert the power of the colonial state over the Church, the upper classes, and other groups. Agreeing with most inhabitants of the fervently Catholic city that the earthquake-tsunami was a manifestation of God’s wrath for Lima’s decadent ways, he hoped to reign in the city’s baroque excesses and to tame the city’s notoriously independent women. To his great surprise, almost everyone objected to his plan, sparking widespread debate about political power and urbanism. Illuminating the shaky foundations of Spanish control in Lima, Walker describes the latent conflicts—about class, race, gender, religion, and the very definition of an ordered society—brought to the fore by the earthquake-tsunami of 1746.


Shaky Colonialism offers a brilliant discussion into how natural disasters affect not only the psyche of the inhabitants but also the manner in which social spaces and interactions are rethought with an eye toward achieving social order and control.” — Mariselle Meléndez, A Contracorriente

Shaky Colonialism offers a fascinating and accessible view of the tensions that beset Lima in the mid-1700s and that bedeviled Bourbon reformers who came about the Count of Superunda.” — Kendall Brown, EIAL

“Charles Walker has provided in a brief, fast-paced text a compelling history of arguably the most devastating earthquake and tsunami to hit the western slopes and Pacific coast of the Andes in the past half millennium. . . . The text is a timely addition to our literature focusing on the shifts taking place in Latin America during the course of the long eighteenth century. It should be especially effective in the classroom, for it is an ideal text for both advanced undergraduate and graduate students.” — Noble David Cook, Ethnohistory

“Impressively researched and bursting with insights, Shaky Colonialism demonstrates how Lima’s 1746 earthquake affected and was affected by human relations, customs, rules, and spiritual beliefs.” — Marcus Hall, Environmental History

“The book draws on extensive archival research and carefully integrates insights from secondary literature on everything from Andean utopias to sumptuary laws to ecclesiastical reform. It is an important contribution to the growing scholarly literature on the Lima earthquake. . . . This is a lovely work of compelling insights and convincing synthesis.” — Mark Alan Healy, Hispanic American Historical Review

“This is an important new contribution to the study of a particularly destructive and well-remembered natural catastrophe that affected the colonial society of Lima and the port of Callao. . . . The author does provide a strikingly useful, informative, and comprehensive treatment that will certainly engage and stimulate both undergraduate and specialized readers.” — Alfonso W. Quiroz, The Historian

“Walker’s skillfully constructed and thoroughly researched study is therefore more than a simple account of the earthquake-tsunami of 1746. It is rather a history of eighteenth-century Lima, plumbing the sociopolitical contours and fissures of the ‘pearl of the Pacific’ before and after the great disaster. As the book’s title implies, the event shook not only the Andean earth but also the very foundations of colonialism supporting imperial Spanish power in South America.” — Peter Klaren, Eighteenth-Century Studies

“With vibrant and engaging prose, Charles Walker leads readers into the fractured world the devastation caused and reveals the social and economic slippage and tectonic shifts of the turbulent eighteenth century. . . . The book fills a glaring lacuna in our knowledge of the first half of the eighteenth century and will serve well in upper-division undergraduate and graduate courses that focus on natural disasters, social life, urbanism, and eighteenth-century reforms.” — Nancy E. van Duesen, The Americas

Shaky Colonialism is a fascinating and forcefully argued book that fills a major gap in the scholarly literature on the early Bourbon period in the viceroyalty of Peru. By focusing on the natural disaster of 1746, Walker presents a rich mosaic of race, ethnicity, gender, Baroque piety and the beginnings of Enlightenment-inspired Bourbon regalism in a major urban centre during this largely under-studied period.” — Kenneth J. Andrien, Social History

“While Walker’s description and analysis of the earthquake-tsunami of 1746 and the subsequent efforts to reconstruct Lima present a fascinating story, his book is particularly important for its careful delineation of the capital’s society and the reforming efforts of Viceroy Manso de Velasco. . . . Shaky Colonialism is an excellent study that every student of eighteenth-century Spanish America and the history of Peru should read.” — Mark A. Burkholder, Journal of Latin American Studies

Shaky Colonialism is a superior work of scholarship. Charles F. Walker uses a dramatic incident and its aftermath to present a very intelligent analysis of baroque colonialism and its halting transformation into the Enlightenment-inspired absolutism of the Bourbons. He balances human drama and color to pull the reader into a very serious analysis of colonial society.” — Peter Guardino, author of The Time of Liberty: Popular Political Culture in Oaxaca, 1750–1850

“As Charles F. Walker shows in this fascinating book, the great earthquake that destroyed Lima in 1746 ruptured along social as well as geological fault lines, exposing profound contradictions between baroque piety, Bourbon Reform, and indigenous identity. Moreover, the extraordinary social aftershocks, ranging from revelation to rebellion, further fragmented Limeño society, leaving fissures that are still visible in the modern megalopolis.” — Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums

“Charles F. Walker explores the fault lines of colonial society through a painstaking archival study of the controversies that followed the 1746 earthquake-tsunami that nearly wiped out Lima. The analysis of the city’s reconstruction is masterful and multifaceted; it gives a vivid sense of popular and elite understandings of race, gender, religion, and urban space. The book is also an imaginative analysis of how the baroque composite monarchy that was the Spanish empire worked: the absolutist policies of the Enlightenment and the Bourbon Reforms consistently gave way to resistance and negotiation. Shaky Colonialism breaks new ground.” — Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, author of Puritan Conquistadors: Iberianizing the Atlantic, 1550–1700

“The devastating Lima earthquake of 1746 set off huge social and political shock waves in all directions. Charles F. Walker’s beautifully written analysis of ‘great balls of fire’ and wandering nuns, enlightened reformers, and real and imaginary rebels shows a colonial city deeply at odds with itself—well before the notorious crises of the late eighteenth century.” — Kathryn Burns, author of Colonial Habits: Convents and the Spiritual Economy of Cuzco, Peru


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Charles F. Walker is Professor of History and Director of the Hemispheric Institute on the Americas at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of Smoldering Ashes: Cuzco and the Creation of Republican Peru, 1780–1840, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Tables ix

Acknowledgments xi

1. Earthquakes, Tsunamies, Absolutism, and Lima 1

2. Balls of Fire: Premonitions and the Destruction of Lima 21

3. The City of Kings: Before and After 52

4. Stabilizing the Unstable and Ordering the Disorderly 74

5. Contending Notions of Lima: Obstacles to Urban Reform in the Aftermath 90

6. Licentious Friars, Wandering Nuns, and Tangled Censos: A Shakeup of the Church 106

7. Controlling Women's Bodies and Placating God's Wrath: Moral Reform 131

8. "All These Indians and Black People Bear Us No Good Will": The Lima and Huarochirí Rebellions of 1750 156

Epilogue: Aftershocks and Echoes 186

Notes 193

Bibliography 223

Index 251
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4189-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4172-7
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