The Andes’ little-known rebel village

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According to Arnedo, before the battle local children raised the alarm that the Spanish army was on its way from Cusco to Sangarará. “They were in the mountains watching their sheep and saw the army coming. They ran to tell Tomasa… when the Spanish arrived, all of the people came to fight. Men, women, children, everybody was armed with rocks and farming tools.”

Today, the plaza’s adobe church with its tiled roof lies at the heart of the controversial battle. Sections of the church have been reconstructed, but parts of the original foundations and even some wall paintings remain. Marta Esperanza Pacheco, who has been the church’s caretaker for 40 years, led me into a back room, one with a baptismal font and a very small – but important – window.

“During reconstruction, they uncovered a pile of bones up to here,” Esperanza said, gesturing to her waist.

When the Spanish forces arrived, it began to snow and the soldiers bunked down in the church – perhaps believing they would be safe there, or unaware of the gathering rebels. There are those who believe Tito Condemayta set the church aflame on purpose. More – particularly locals – believe she was attempting to smoke the Spaniards out of hiding and the efforts got out of control. Still others say that the Spanish accidentally detonated explosives while within the church.

“They turned the Spaniards into chicharron (fried pork belly/rinds),” said Arnedo of the rebels, with a sly smile.

Though the source of the blaze remains unclear, what is not contested is that there was a massive explosion and almost all the Spanish soldiers were either killed right then or when they fled outside – except for three. These men donned saints’ clothing found in the church and escaped through the tiny window in the rear of the building.

“The people said, ‘Look, even the saints are fleeing the church!’,” said Gregorio Cruz Machaki, the mayor of Sangarará.

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