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Policarpa Salavarrieta Ríos

Other names/titles: La Pola, Salavatierra, Salvatierra
Gender: F
Ethnic origin: White

Biographical details

She was born in Guaduas, Socorro, Colombia, on 26 January 1795, Guaduas, Socorro, the daughter of Joaquín Salavarrieta and María Ríos. (Zabala, 40)

Arciniegas describes her as a beautiful girl of white race. He points out that she was from the same area as Manuela Beltrán and would have been inspired by her. "La Pola" used her feminine guiles to penetrate men's souls in order to seek out republicans and to gather them onto her side. She formed a spy network in the town of Guaduas. She was sought by the authorities and Andrea Ricaurte took her into her home after being asked to by her compadres Ambrosio Almeida and José Ignacio Rodríguez. La Pola was in her 20s, "joven, bien parecida, viva, inteligente, de color aperlada". (Arciniegas, 1961, 80.)

Like many other women, she entered the prisoners´ cells to take food to the soldiers, where she informed the soldiers of the movements and plans of the rebel troops. She picked up news in the church, the markets, chicherías, and large houses. She helped José Romero hide contraband aguardiente. She was in love with Alejo Sarabaín, who fought in the independence battles. Her brother, Bibliano joined the insurgents at the age of 15. Her brother Agustine Monk, fray José María Salavarrieta visited her. She kept lists of the soldiers, contributions to the independence cause and messages from the chiefs at Ricaurte's home. Ricaurte managed to destroy these when La Pola was arrested. She was taken to the Colegio de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, where she was sentenced to death. 3,000 soldiers oversaw the execution of La Pola, her novio Sarabaín, 6 soldiers of the independence army and one deserter. Arciniegas claims that she marched to her death better than any soldier and refused water because it was offered by a Spaniard. She was killed with 6 bullets. Poems and verses were written about her. It was pointed out that Policarpa Salavarrieta was an anagram of Iace por salvar la patria. Years later, when a play about her was performed in a Bogotá theatre, the audience hurled eggs, tomatoes, tamales and stones at the stage to prevent the execution. The actors´ lives were endangered. Order was restored when the management urged the audience to shout, as had la Pola, "¡Viva la Patria!" They announced, "La empresa registra conmovida la formidable demostración de patriotismo del público santafereño, e interpretando, como es debido, sus nobles y cristianos sentimientos, ¡revoca la sentencia de muerte, y envía a la gloria a la grande heroína del país!". The riot was converted into an ovation. Bartolomé Mitre wrote a play about La Pola in Montevideo. His intention was to inflame Argentine patriotism and to denounce Rosas. He decided not to have La Pola shot. The last act was her glorification and transfer to immortality in history. (Arciniegas, 1961, 77-89.)

She worked as seamstress enabling her to gain access into the homes of royalists in Bogotá, where she obtained information to pass on to the insurgents. She was said to have illegally distilled aguardiente, and that in 1817 she plotted to persuade royalist troops to defect to the republican cause. (Earle, 139.)

Zabala quotes Bartolomé Mitre's description of her as "corazón sensible y carácter varonil". She embraced the patriots´ cause at an early age. When she was aged 20 she moved to Bogotá and together with Andrea Ricaurte de Lozano, Carmen Rodríguez de Gaitan and Juana Petronila Nava de García Evía formed a revolutionary group. They passed information on about the guerrillos de Casanare, royalist troops, state of arms, forces and munitions. She was imprisoned by Viceroy Juan Sámano after he found documents carried by her novio, Alejo Sabaráin. She managed to warn one of her compañeras to destroy compromising letters. (Zabala, 40-42)

She was arrested in 1817 and on 14 November was shot dead in the main square, Bogotá. She was around 20 years old. She became a national heroine. There was a successful uprising against the Spanish officer who ordered her execution. (Miller, 30.)

The Spaniards captured her at the home of Andrea Ricaurte de Lozano. She is said to have participated alongside her lover. She had a son. There were dramas, sonnets and songs written about her. (Knaster, 487-490.)

When tried by the Viceroy, she was asked if she was a conspirator. She replied "yes" in a loud, clear voice. She was condemned to death and on 14 November 1817 was taken into the square to be shot in the back. She was visibly thirsty and a Spanish soldier offered her a glass of water before she died. She replied, "no agua quiero de los verdugas de la patria". She addressed the crowd: "no lloréis por mi; llorad por la esclavitud y prisión de vuestros abatidos compatriotas; sírvaos de ejemplo mi destino. Llevantaos y resisid los ultrajes que sufrís con tanta injusticia". To the soldiers, she added, "Asesinos, sois capaces de matar a una mujer. Temblad; coronad vuestro atentado. Pronto vendrá quien vengará mi muerte." She refused to have her eyes covered and cried "¡Viva la Patria!" (Zabala, 42-43.)

According to Hincapie Borda, when she was told she must be shot in the back she replied: "Ni es propio ni decente en una mujer semejante posición; pero sin montarme yo daré la espalda si esto es lo que se quiere." (Hincapie Borda, 156)

General Francisco de Paula Santander commissioned a play to be written about her life. Colombian playwright José María Domínguez Roche (1788-1858) composed La Pola. When it was performed for the first time in a Bogotá theatre, the audience intervened to prevent her "execution". Thus transforming the play from a drama into a melodrama. (Ardila, 464, 469-470.)

Her brother, Bibliano, was released 3 days after he was captured. He became a sergeant in 1824 and lived until 1862. Hinacapie Borda gives her date of birth as 26 January 1796. José Domínguez's play was in five acts, and its first performance was on 23 July 1820 in Bogotá. The play was commissioned by General Santander. Mitre's play was written during Rosas's tyranny. There was another drama, by the Venezuelan Lisandro Rueda, La víctima de la libertad, written in 1850. Since La Pola's death a cult has developed with commemorative stamps, beers, posters and a wine label using her image. Of the many women shot for the independence cause, the case of Salavarrieta moved the national soul, produced the most indignation and tears of sorrow, and raised the most patriotism. This was because she reached the hearts of the people though her attitude, her defiant speech and conduct as she faced her executioners. (Hincapie Borda, 47-48, 155.)

Díaz y Díaz quotes from the Informe sobre La Pola, describing her as "ciudadana Pola Salavarrieta", "que así mismo fue pasada por las armas, contribuyó a conmover más mi corazon. La muerte de esta joven virtuosa que generosamente había protegido a varias personas afectas a nuestra causa, entre ellas a mi hermano y a mí y compañeros; la muerte, repito, de esta mujer de quien VS ya ha recibido compatriotas, alarmó hasta el flaco y débiles sexo." She was at the centre of the resistance in 1817, playing a leading role. (Díaz y Díaz, 40, 66-67)

On 22 September 1817 she was commended by Almeyda to the Comandante de los Llanos: "Esa joven virtuosa que generosamente había protegido a varias personas afectas a nuestra causa, entre ellas a mi hermano y a mí y mis compañeros." (Díaz y Díaz, 68-69)

She was imprisoned in the Tambo cuartel, the former Colegio de San Bartolomé. On 10 November 1817 she was described as: "Era esta muchacha muy despercudida, arrogante y de bellos procederes, y sobre todo muy patriota; buena moza, bien parecida y de buenos prendas. Salió en medio de los demás presos sus compañeros. Iba en camisón de zaraza azul, mantilla de paño azul y sombrero cubano." She was executed with eight men, among them Alejo Sabaraín, on 14 November 1817 at 11a.m.. (Díaz y Diaz, 87-88)

She was probably born in Guaduas on 26 January 1795 (although some say Bogotá), daughter of José Joaquín Salavarrieta and Mariana Ríos and of pure Spanish descent. She had several brothers and sisters; two of them, José María and José were friars in the San Agustín order. They, and another brother, Bibliano María, were staunch patriots. Bibliano, baptised in December 1801, took part in campaigns from 1815. Policarpa Salavarrieta lent her services to the independence cause during Pablo Morillo's "reign of terror" of 1816 onwards. She sent information to the republican, patriot guerrillas. She was discovered, captured and imprisoned and sentenced to death by royalist General Juan Sámano along with 8 accomplices, including her novio Alejo Sabaraín. They were executed in the plaza principal (now Plaza Bolívar) Bogotá on 14 November 1817. Monsalve quotes cronista Caballero's description of Salavarrieta, "muchacha, muy despercudida, arrogante y de bellos procederes y sobre todo muy patriota; buena moza, bien parecida y de buenas prendas". She and her novio were executed before they could celebrate their wedding. They were separated in life but united for eternity. As Salavarrieta walked to her execution she addressed the crowd: "¡Pueblo indolente! ¡Cuán diversa sería vuestra suerte si conociesas el precio de la libertad! Pero no es tarde. Ved que aunque mujer y joven, me sobra valor para sufrir la muerte y mil muertes más, y no olvidéis este ejemplo." Her death brought widespread pain and indignation, patriotic enthusiasm that became directed towards revenge. (Monsalve, 190-196)

Mitre gives a described her death and quotes her funeral song as recorded by Leonidas Scarpetta and Saturnino Vergara:
Granadinos, la Pola no existe,
Por la patria su muerte llorad,
Por la patria morir aprenamos
O juremos su muerte vengar.

Por las calles y al pie suplicio,
Asesinos, gritaba, temblad!
Consumad vuestro horible atendado,
Ya vendrá quien me sepa vengar!

Mitre notes that this was popular throughout South America. (Mitre, Obras, IV, 279-280)

Life Events

Born 1795She was born in Guaduas, Socorro Province on 26 January 1795.
Died 1817On 14 November 1817, she was executed in the main square, Bogotá.


Arciniegas, Germán, (1961), América mágica: II Las mujeres y las horas

Dore, Elizabeth, and Molyneux, Maxine, (2000), Hidden Histories of Gender and the State in Latin America

Miller, Francesca, (1991), Latin American Women and the search for Social Justice

Ardila A, Hector M., (1984), Hombres y letras de Colombia

Arciniegas, Germán, (1988), Manuel de literatura colombiana

Knaster, Meri, (1977), Women in Spanish America: An Annotated Bibliography from Pre-Conquest to Contemporary Times

Lavrin, Asunción, (1978), Latin American Women: Historical Perspectives; Contributions in Women's Studies, No.3.

Romero de Valle, Emilia, (1948), Mujeres de América

Hincapie Borda, Alicia, (2000), Tras la imagen y la presencia de Policarpa

Calle, Manuel J., (1955), Leyendas del tiempo heroico

Díaz y Díaz, Oswaldo, (1962), Los Almeydas: Episodios de la resistencia patriota contra el ejército pacificador de tierra firme

Monsalve, José D, (1926), Mujeres de la independencia

Mitre, Bartolomé, (1940), Obras completas de Bartolomé Mitre

Davies, Catherine, Brewster, Claire and Owen, Hilary, (2006), South American Independence. Gender, Politics, Text


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