No matter your age or gender, you have the power to fight for what you believe in.
Policarpa Salavarrieta is one of the best examples of this statement. Policarpa, referred to as La Pola, was a prominent figure in the Columbian Revolution. She is not widely known today, because history has almost washed her away.
She was born in 1795 to father Jose Joaquin Salavarrieta and mother Mariana Rios de Salavarrieta. Her mother also gave birth to eight other children in Gadues, Columbia. Jose and Mariana uprooted their family from Gadues to Bogota. In 1802, they died of smallpox, along with two of their sons. Due to the death of her parents, many of her siblings ended up becoming separated, and La Pola ended up moving back to Gadues with her older sister to live with her grandparents.
This is when Policarpa was told about her grandmother’s involvement in fighting the colonizers in 1781, and her grandfather’s fighting in patriotic battles, where he was unfortunately killed. Even her brothers were fighting the same battles for freedom as their grandfather. Naturally, Policarpa was adamant to join her family’s work effort to bring freedom to Columbia.
The Situation in Spain
Before we continue, it’s important to understand Columbia and Spain’s political climate at the time. In the early 1500s, the king of Spain, Charles I, was sending soldiers and fleets into Columbia to establish colonies for better trade. By the 1800s, when Ferdinand VII was king, the trade routes in Columbia became richer.
People from all over the world started going to the small port side colonies in Columbia, spreading the word of freedom, and how the American colonies were fighting for their own independence. With these new ideals of freedom, the colonies were questioning why they couldn’t form their own government. All over South and North America, they began to create the Junta, a group of people who would govern towns themselves.
In 1801, Napoleon imprisoned Ferdinand in France and appointed Joseph Bonaparte, his older brother, as king of Spain. This gave the people of Colombia a reason to fight for independence. The Junta in Seville assorted themselves as government. They gained following by telling the people they were there on behalf of Ferdinand, until he was back on the throne.
La Pola’s Involvement
During this time, Pola was thirteen and working as a seamstress in Guaduas. Because of the Magdalena port, the city had a lot of ships and people moving though the Caribbean and Gogota for goods. These travelers had a lot of information. All Pola had to do to gain insight was listen to those who came through the town. No one seemed to expect a teenage girl to be a rebel. She began sharing what she knew with rebel camps, and built quite the name for herself.
People apart from the rebellion were quick to not trust her, so she kept letters of recommendation on her at all times. Andrea Ricaurte De Lozano, a woman who ran a spy network out of her home, provided Pola these letters. Andrea gave Pola an education and a job as a seamstress for the rich aristocrats and viceroys. When she worked jobs for these richos’, she always stole important documents. By the time she was sixteen, Pola had a romance with another young spy, made alcohol to support the rebels, persuaded young men who worked for and with the royals to give her information and to join the rebellion, and sold guerrilla uniforms and supplied guns.
Policarpa is Found Out
In Spain, Napoleon was getting fed up with the resistance against his older brother. He released Ferdinand, and let him have his throne back in 1813. Ferdinand sent an Army of 10,000 men to regain control of the colonies. By 1816, Bogota was back under control. Spain prosecuted anyone working with the Juntas or freedom cramps. Despite Ferdinand ruling the colonies again, the people already had a taste of freedom and they wanted more. They fought back against the Spanish rule. The government was fighting back to destroy the resistance. This is when the government found out Policarpa Salavarrieta.
Coming to an End
After the soldiers arrested La Pola’s boyfriend, they found documents and letters containing Pola’s involvement in the revolution. As the soldiers made their way to the home of Andrea, Policarpa knew what she had to do to protect the movement. Andrea distracted the soldiers while Pola burned important documents about the rebel camps. Policarpa knew they couldn’t find out about the spy ring being run in Andrea’s home, as it could jeopardize the movement as a whole. Therefore, Policarpa sacrificed herself for her beliefs and cause. She was taken to Rosea college, where the classrooms were functioning as prison cells.
In November 1817, the council of war found her guilty, and set her to burn at the stake. Being the revolutionary she was, Pola wore a blouse, a wide skirt, and a shawl instead of the death row uniform. She refused to kneel, and she taunted the Spanish soldiers loudly and grotesquely. As the fire was set to light and the people drowned nearby, Policarpa spoke:
“Indolent people, how different your fate would be if you knew the price of freedom, but it’s not too late. See that, although I am young and a woman, I have enough courage to suffer this death, and a thousand more deaths. Do not forget this example.” With those words, they executed her by flame at the age of twenty one, fighting for what she knew was right.
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