Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Those Who Worshipped the Sun


By A. Hyatt Verrill

Travel VOLUME XI, V. JULY, 1925 NUMBER 3

Forerunners of the Incas—Under Incan Rule—Socialism and the Guild System—The Fighting

Mapuches—The Peril of the Continent

(The following article, one of a series on the more unusual phases of life in South America, will be included in Mr. Verrill's book, "Down the West Coast of South America," which will be published in the fall.)

BEFORE the advent of Manco Capac and the establishment of the Incan Empire, the Indians who inhabited the area that is now Peru, Bolivia and Chile, were divided into innumerable tribes and races having little or nothing in common. Under the Incas, many of these were welded into a more or less homogeneous commonwealth, the everyday language of which was the Quichua. But the Incas were far too wise to attempt to mould the widely diverse tribes and races into a composite whole for, being Indians themselves, they understood the Indian's psychology, the Indian's conservatism, his stubbornness, especially when driven, his fear and distrust of all innovations and changes, and his almost fanatical love for and adherence to ancient tribal rites, life and customs. So, like all who have been successful colonizers, the Incas adopted measures to meet conditions, cutting their clothes to fit the cloth, and were content to let each tribe or race follow its own ideas as to life, customs and other affairs, as it had done from time immemorial, just so long as the Incan rule and law were recognized, and the allotted taxes or tribute paid for the upkeep of the empire and its king. Particularly was this the case in the outlying districts. Although it nominally extended into the land of the Chilean Mapuches, or as they are now more commonly called the Araucanians; into the district inhabited by the warlike Panos and Chanos of the Beni valley of Bolivia, and through the tropical interior "montaña" of Peru, where dwelt the Chunchus and the Campos, as well as far beyond Lake Titicaca and into the Yungas, inhabited by the tribes of Carib stock, the Inca civilization, left these tribes practically untouched, even though they paid annual tribute to the Incan empire. And the Incas, even with their well-organized armies, their tremendous resources and their superior civilization, could never conquer these hordes of implacable savages. Undoubtedly they realized that it would cost more than it was worth, both in lives and riches, to subdue or even to attempt to subdue them, and they unquestionably realized that even if these tribes were brought wholly under Incan rule they could not be retained there. In fact the Incas took much the same attitude as England has taken towards many of her colonies. Just as England permits the native princes of India to rule their own people, who follow their own religions, rites and customs as though Great Britain had no foothold in the land, so the Incas left the unconquerable Mapucks, the ever hostile Panos, the stocky man-eating Yungas, and the Campos with their deadly poisoned arrows, pretty much to themselves. Only the Andean, the coastal and the nearer trans-Andean tribes came wholly under the Incas' rule, and practically all of these were of two racial stocks, the Aymaras and the Quichuas, though these were split up into numerous tribes and sub tribes, such as the Chinchas and Nazcas in the mountains, the Huanucuyus, Cajamarcas and Porcas in the north and central regions, the Chutas in what is now Bolivia, and the Huancas about the shores of Lake Titicaca.

It was in fact as diverse a population with as widely differing ideals, traditions, physical characteristics and other attributes as one can well imagine, and how the Incas ever succeeded in keeping it in hand is little less than miraculous.

With the butchery of Atahualpa, the last Inca, by the Dons, and the disruption of the empire, the component human parts that had formed it quickly reverted to their original condition. From their great and populous cities, both on the coast and in the mountains, they drifted away to the original homes of their forefathers in remote, inaccessible spots. Only the ruins of adobe buildings and masonry, the vast cemeteries, the splendid irrigation systems, the enormous burial mounds that are scattered everywhere along the coast, in the valleys and among the Andean heights remind us that once the land was inhabited by a teeming population with well laid out, solidly built towns, excellent roads, aqueducts and irrigation plants, cultivated fields and holy cities; with impressive temples, veritable Indian "Meccas," such as Pachacamac, to which the Incan people made pilgrimages for hundreds of miles before the bloody days of Pizzaro.

Although the empire, as such, vanished; though the Indians reverted to barbarism if not semi-savagery; though they forgot many of the arts and cast aside the civilization and the wise laws of the Incas, still, even today, the Inca influence is strongly in evidence among practically all the tribes whose ancestors were subjects of the strange empire.

Practically all of the living Peruvian Indians speak the Quichua tongue, as do thousands in Bolivia. Even in the far off Beni, in the Yungas district, in the Chanchomayo far in the south of Chile, the Indians speak either the Quichua dialect of the Incan empire or embody many Quichua words in their native tongues. Everywhere, too, one finds striking resemblances between the arts and products of these living Indians and those we find buried with the Incan dead. Many, as I have already mentioned, still call themselves "Incas," and innumerable thousands have not the remotest idea to what tribe or race they belong, but call themselves by the comprehensive names of Quichuas or Aymarás. To a large extent also, these present day Indians follow the socialistic-customs of the Incas, although the socialism is confined to the limits of each settlement or village and does not extend to neighbors. And it has become such an involved, complicated sort of socialism with so many intricacies and so many variations and exceptions that it seems hopelessly puzzling, at least to a white man, requiring volumes fully to describe and explain. So, too, the guilds that were established, maintained and fostered under the Incas still survive. One village or community, for example, may be wholly composed of wool growers; the next may be a village of dyers; the next colony may devote all its time to spinning thread; the inhabitants of the neighboring village may weave beautiful ponchos; another's people may be rug makers; others makers of caps or gloves; others tanners, and so on indefinitely. Often, one will find two little villages, almost within speaking distance of each other, and yet in one the customs, the industries, even the costumes and appearance of the people, will be wholly distinct from those in the other. While this peculiar conservatism appears most remarkable and serves to obstruct progress, fellowship and solidarity among the Indians, yet it has its advantages. It results in a high perfection of skill in each particular art or industry; it forces the various individuals and communities to barter and trade with others, for seldom does one community produce all the necessities of life, and it places the settlements on a commercial basis. If each man or woman, or each village, raised, carded and dyed wool; spun the thread; wove the blankets, rugs, mantas and ponchos; knitted the socks and caps; tanned the hides and prepared all the other articles used or required by the Indians, they would be even more poverty-stricken, even less progressive, even less provident than they are. But if an Indian, in need of a poncho or a hat, or a woman requiring a petticoat or a manta, must perforce trade or purchase the desired article from the members of other tribes or villages who produce them, he or she must produce in turn some article which can be exchanged, or sold for money with which to purchase the goods required. The direct result of this state of affairs is the Indian market which is universal in the interior towns and is the most striking, interesting, colorful and picturesque sight of Peru's hinterland. As the Indian is a born trader, rivalling the original Yankee in this respect, the market is to him a delight and a recreation, as well as a source of revenue. Were it not for the market, where nine-tenths of the goods are exchanged and comparatively little currency changes hands, the monotonous life of these aborigines would be absolutely unbearable. Even as it is, one marvels that the Indians can exist under their ever-present burdens of dreary climate, mountain hardship, endless toil, miserable homes, unsanitary conditions, depressing surroundings and total lack of amusements, diversions or companionship.

It is little wonder that the Peruvian Indian of the mountains and the high trans-Andean regions is morose, timid, aloof, dirty and ignorant; that his face is seamed, wrinkled and leathery; that always upon his features he wears a hunted, hopeless, pathetically sad expression. Naturally docile, servile and peaceful, the Indians of the Quichua race had all their individuality destroyed under the socialistic Incan rule which reduced communities to the status of human ant-hills with the individual wholly subservient to the good of the whole. Under the Dons they were ground down, enslaved, forced to labor like beasts or worse; robbed of all they possessed; treated like dogs, until they became a cowed, terrorized, spiritless lot. Today they are scarcely better off. Though nominally free and with the same rights as other inhabitants of the republic yet they are in many ways little better than slaves. They are paid a miserable pittance for the hardest labor.

They cannot call even their arid, frost-bitten lands their own. They are tempted with vile rum and worthless gee-gaws by unprincipled traders and exploiters, and they are kept hopelessly in debt. They are wheedled and frightened into donating far more than they can afford to the upkeep of churches whose religion they neither believe nor understand, and for the maintenance of ease-loving priests who will not give them Christian burial without pay. Their women and girls are looked upon as fair prey by every sensual official, policeman or private individual who can safeguard himself by bribery or influence. They are robbed of their sheep and other livestock by any Tom, Dick or Harry who happens to want fresh meat and doesn't want to pay for it. Their homes are invaded and the occupants turned out of doors by any white man who happens to be overtaken by darkness and desires free lodging. And they are looked down upon, despised, cursed, kicked, beaten by Peruvians, Americans, British, any and all alike, yes, even by the Cholos of mixed blood or the mestizos.

Yet the Indian is the predominant race, the mainstay of Peru, the people upon whom the country depends for its labor, its supplies, its food, its mining industries, its prosperity and its army.

As if the Indian had not suffered enough at the hands of his fellow men, nature has added to the score. He dwells in the sternest, hardest, most hopeless and depressing of environments. His home is a hovel of stones or mud bricks. His bed is a hide laid upon the cold bare earth. His fuel is llama dung or the yaretta, and his food is frozen potatoes. He is exposed to the bitter cold winds of the Andes and he lives in the rarified air of high altitudes. Only by incessant, heartbreaking toil can he glean his meager crop of stunted wheat, marble-like potatoes or flinty beans from the stone-riddled, thin, unproductive soil, and to move anywhere he must scale precipitous heights or descend equally precipitous cliffs. Is there any wonder that he is discouraged, and improvident; that he seeks to allay the pangs of hunger that never cease gnawing at his vitals by chewing the coca leaf? Can anyone blame him if, in the rare intervals when he can secure it, he seeks to forget his lot and warm his blood with fiery rum, and, drinking overmuch, becomes hilarious, noisy, besotted, but never quarrelsome or dangerous?

What other race, may I ask, would do better under similar conditions? How long would any other man survive under such crushing burdens without going stark, raving mad?

But the Indian of the Andean highlands not only survives and keeps his reason, but retains health, strength, a measure of plumpness, and an optimistic contentment, or at least no resentment for his lot. The very hardships he is forced to face from birth until death have developed in him a sturdiness, a resistance, a power to endure fatigue, to be immune to cold, and an ability to be comfortable without comforts, that is absolutely marvelous. Despite all statements to the contrary, the Quichua is not lacking in sentiment, in affection, in appreciation of the finer things of life. He is ridiculously, almost fanatically patriotic and fond of his own particular locality. He loves his llamas or his donkeys with the intense affection of a Highland shepherd for his collie. He is attached to his family and while he is by no means demonstrative he loves his wife and his children, and seldom does he return from a journey to the nearest outpost of civilization without a toy or trinket, a bright ribbon or a gaudy handkerchief, perhaps some cheap jewelry or even a horrible chromo, as presents for his little ones or their mother. Also, he will stand for hours, silent, expressionless, showing no slightest sign of appreciation, admiration or pleasure, before a picture, a statue or a display of photographs. He will remain indefinitely, as if in a trance or under an hypnotic spell, listening to the raucous sounds of a battered gramophone or the discordant notes of a wheezy, tin-panny piano. If he has any preferences in the matter of art it is for subjects which we would deem morbid, depressing or gruesome. He loves a crucifix, the image of a martyred saint, the picture of a soul in purgatory or hell, not for its religious significance, but for the same reason that he loves scenes of battle or of death. This is not because he is cruel or callous or loves bloodshed. He would never stand for the bullfights with their disembowelled horses which are attended and applauded by the ladies and girls of Lima, and he is far less cruel than the white Peruvians at their best. But there is something in his make up or his psychology that demands the sad and the pathetic rather than the cheerful and gay. Even his music, played on Pan's pipes or on a flute, is plaintive, wailing, often heart rending, as though the notes were lamenting the tragedy of his race, the down-fall and decadence of the Incas, the eternal hardships that are his heritage, and the hopeless future that seems his.

It must not, however, be assumed that all the Indians of Peru are identical in characteristics, customs, or temperament. They vary greatly according to their environment, their race and their past. In the high Andean valleys of Central Peru the Quichuas are fairly prosperous, are happy and contented, and reflect their improved position and their outlook on life in their faces. They are better dressed, are more cleanly, or perhaps merely less filthy, they are not so much addicted to the use of coca, and are less often beastly drunk than those of their race elsewhere. They are splendidly built and vary in color from dark olive to coppery brown, and are a docile, quiet, hard-working and industrious lot. In the district about Cuzco and Lake Titicaca, on the other hand, the Quichuas are ragged, filthy, improvident, and are inveterate coca addicts and heavy drinkers. In place of smiles and grins they wear gloomy scowling brows, their eyes are shifty and distrustful, and one feels that there is a lurking hatred in their hearts for all white men, even though they dare not show it. But compared to the Aymarás, the Quichuas, regardless of the district whence they come, are the best natured, the most trustful and the most peaceful of men.

The Aymarás are naturally quick tempered, cruel, cantankerous and unruly, and while they are semi or wholly civilized outwardly, and are peaceable enough as a whole, they will never submit to the same treatment at the hands of the whites as the Quichuas. And, back in the montaña or tropical belt of Peru's hinterland, are still other and wholly distinct tribesmen. These are usually classed under the rather ambiguous term of "Chunchos" by the Peruvians, but as "Chuncho," means literally merely a wild or uncivilized Indian, its application to these tribes is no indication of their racial status or relationships. As a matter of fact there are a number of distinct tribes among the Chunchos, though all are of the same racial stock, having similar characteristics, customs and dialects. The Chunchos are by no means nomadic barbarians, however. Even the more remote, cultivate little farms and are far from ignorant of various arts. They weave excellent cotton cloth, make beautiful bead and basket work, and wear curious costumes consisting of a cassock-like gown of woven and dyed cotton with a simply made, hood-like head covering, the whole so strikingly like the garb of a Franciscan Friar that there is little doubt that the Indians have copied their garments from those of the padres. Upon their breasts, like bandoliers strung over their shoulders, are draped broad belts of white and black seeds arranged in contrasting patterns; necklets of teeth and beads, claws and gee-gaws are about their throats; dried skins of bright colored birds and parrot feathers fringe the edge of the monk-like head covering and the belts, and to complete the costume, a crown of plaited bamboo or cane is worn, at the back of which are several long, bright colored feathers or plumes. In color these tribes are distinctly brown, usually of a reddish-yellow tinge, and as a rule their features are far from attractive or reassuring, more especially as they are usually hideously painted. Their arms are powerful bows and long arrows, and while it has been claimed that they use blow-guns with poisoned darts I have been unable to find any traces of such weapons among them. Farther north, however, in the jungle country of the Amazon valley, dwell savage tribes who employ poisoned arrows and who are notorious head hunters, while in the montaña of the south are the Indians of Carib stock or "Yungas," as they are called. These, although as uncivilized as the Chunchos and still using bows and arrows, show many signs of Inca influence. Their magnificent ponchos of cotton are distinctly Incan; they wear the typical ear-flapped, nightcap-like head covering which is so universal among the Quichuas and Aymaras, and which was probably patterned after the casques of the Spaniards; and much of their language is Quichua intermingled with Carib words. Going even farther in the opposite direction, to the northwest, we find remnants of still other tribes about Chimbote, Salaverry and Paita. These people are short and stocky physically, far inferior to the mountain, highland or even the montaña tribes, and are very dark, often almost black.

Few, if any, of them speak their aboriginal tongue, although they retain many of the arts of their ancestors. And the basketry designs and the forms of their pottery are as distinctively Incan as those of the Quichuas. Indeed, many of their earthenware objects are identical in form, shape and style of decoration with those found in the prehistoric graves.

About Callao and Lima one also sees many Indians, and the Indian vendors of Peru's capital are among its most colorful and picturesque features. These aborigines, who are mostly light colored, with rather pleasing regular features are all Quichuas and the majority are from the mountain districts. But there are many who are apparently direct descendants of the agricultural tribes who cultivated the fertile Lima Valley and dwelt in the great adobe cities and villages whose ruins are to be seen everywhere between Lima and Callao, and between the capital and Miraflores. According to the old Spanish accounts there were over twenty of these populous villages in the Lima valley when the Dons arrived on the scene. But all were relentlessly destroyed and today there is not an Indian village in the entire valley. Even the few remaining Indians, who eke out an existence by peddling fruit, vegetables and milk in Lima, or who cultivate their little farms in the valley, have lost all knowledge of aboriginal arts, have forgotten their mother tongue and, aside from their unmistakable features, color, hair and costumes, are merely everyday Peruvians.

It is impossible to foretell the ultimate fate of these Indians of Peru, Bolivia and Chile. As they outnumber the whites and apparently are not noticeably decreasing in numbers, they can never be absorbed or amalgamated. They are the only source of labor, of industry or of production in the interior, for without them, mines, farms, and ranches would be impossible.

Efforts to educate them meet with little success, for of what use is it to educate a man, woman or a child who can make no use of that education, whose environment, social position and life are scarcely better than those of a dog? The problem of the Indians in these countries is a tremendously important one, and one which the authorities, with a most short-sighted policy, have sidestepped, overlooked or ignored. Hitherto, for nearly four centuries, the Cholo has been of no importance, save as a beast of burden or a human machine for performing tasks too menial or too exhaustive for others to undertake. For four centuries the aborigines have been regarded as a harmless, docile, cringing people who dared not call their souls their own and who, because they wielded no monetary or political influence, had no place or consideration in the scheme of things in the very countries they once owned and ruled. There are some twenty millions of his race in western South America; twenty millions of human beings who have little or nothing in common with the descendants of their ancient conquerors and oppressors; millions whose condition could hardly be worse, no matter what steps they took to right their wrongs; millions of semi-savage brains and hearts filled with dormant hatred, with the bitterness of endless wrongs, with suppressed desires for revenge, with longings for the freedom, and power and rights of their ancestors; millions of untiring, steel muscled bodies accustomed to every hardship and inured to cold and privations, with hands ready, when the time is ripe, to grasp weapon or torch, if need be, and to bathe the land in fire and blood, if by no other means can their freedom, equality and rights be won. Long ago would these millions of aborigines have struck a blow for that which is due them, and which has been promised but never fulfilled, had they been organized as they were organized under the Incas.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.