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November 30, 2010

Andean Journal: Protecting the Inka Legacy

Earlier this month, José Barreiro, the museum's assistant director of research, and Kevin Cartwright, one of the museum's media producers, returned to Peru for Chawaytiri on the Road, a research and documentary partnership with Quechua elders in Andean villages near Pisaq. 

Their goal: to trace part of the ancient route of the Qhapac ñan, the sacred road of the Inka—the grand Andean civilization that greeted the Spanish conquest. 

Near Chawaytiri, Peru, November 2010

For two weeks, the team recorded and documented a caravan of the community's leaders, families and llamas during a pilgrimage of remembrance over nearly 100 kilometers of Andean roads. During the trek, ceremonial offerings to the mountains and the Pachamama (Mother Earth) were conducted and captured on film as part of the elders’ wish to preserve and spread the spiritual and agricultural traditions of the indigenous Andean people. (Footage will be posted on the museum's YouTube channel; details coming soon.)

José and Kevin returned with wonderful stories and images. “What’s new about this footage is that we have been following the community’s lead,” Kevin says. “Rather than deriving images from staged contexts, this project has really been driven by the people themselves.” 

  Men of Chawaytiri, Peru performing the Llama Tinkay ceremony, November 2010

Llamas on the Antisuyo Inca Road. Colquepata, Peru, November 2010

Sunset near Chawaytiri, Peru, November 2010

Men of Chawaytiri, Peru, performing the Ch'uncho dance, November 2010

Community of Chawaytiri on the Antisuyo Inka Road, Peru, November 2010

Pago a las Apus y la Pachamama ceremony, Near Chawaytiri, Peru, November 2010 

Photographs by Kevin Cartwright, NMAI

The expedition was funded by a generous grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation.  

"Easy boy, don't fall now," Lucio Illa Mesa, our local host, calls out in Quechua to his son. But the boy is practiced at his climbing and hops ahead confidently, actually leading our group.


Ramiro Matos, Quechua, archeologist and curator at the National Museum of the American Indian, walks briskly to keep up. Matos has a keen eye for evidence of all ancient inhabitation. He stops suddenly, arm extended. "Do you see it? Tell me if you see it." We have been playing this game for days. The old Inka road we seek to trace is often hidden in cultivated plots and overgrown with vegetation but here and there it emerges, characteristically buttressed by tightly-placed boulders. Then I see it, certainly there it is, snaking along the contours of the hill and coming our way. "Excellent," the old professor tells his not-so-young student. "You get high marks today."


But there is more. Lucio and his boy are deviating right on the trail. Lucio wants to show us something special that day. Higher up the hill, along a peak known in the oral memory as "the nose of the condor," there is a set of rock drawings, in red paint and depicting multiple llamas. Academic researchers have often studied those. They have come, more than once, to photograph, draw and describe the centuries-old pictographs, filing scholarly reports that layer one upon another.


But Lucio Illa, son of a long line of Quechua grandfathers, knows more. This we recognize and respect, that here, in his home grounds, he is the true expert. Lucio perceives our attitude and freely shares new knowledge. To the right, off the beaten academic path, something wonderful emerges. He points out the ruins of an old Inka tambo, or "tampu," one of the periodic way stations or rest stops one can find along the whole of the Inka roads. Dr. Matos is beside himself. "This is new! None of the scientists have registered this."


"Let me show you," says Illa, pointing to a central stone in the ancient wall. There, too, faded but visible, is a picture of a red llama. Matos notes the archeological and cultural importance. The fact of the drawings clearly marks the place as sacred.


Speaking mostly in Quechua, Lucio Illa tells us the story. He knows the Inka road of his district well. Along the road, which he describes with reverence, he knows of several tambos. To him, the road is sacred, it is alive, and everything about it is to be respected, protected. "See here," he says, pointing out where the painted stone has been disturbed. "Thieves. They come in the night and try to pry it loose," he explains, his countenance troubled, then a smile. "But the llamas and the sheep squeal in the night. So we fight off the thieves, and more than once."


Beyond the mutual respect, he has a strong concern. "Friends," he says, "what can we do to protect this sacred thing?"


He has requested help from the National Institute of Culture, which is charged with such a task, but they are not forthcoming, perhaps overextended. This whole region of Peru is replete with countless ruins -- remnants of many peoples and several civilizations, of which the Inka were but the last, in place at the coming of the Spanish advance.


So Lucio Illa has taken it upon himself, along with other members of his community, to defend the country's patrimony. "The last time," he says, "the thieves were armed. We worry for our safely but still, we are on guard."


Later, at the patio of his Andean homestead, over a meal of boiled potatoes and the large-kernel corn found only in this region, Lucio notes my long hair. Up to the time of his grandfather, when he was a young boy, he recalls that the men of his community wore their hair long. "Not just to the shoulders," he says, 'but long to the waist." Everyone then dressed in dark clothes and performed ceremonies to the mountain authority spirits, called "apus," and to the "Pachamama," the Mother Earth. It was the military that made the men all shave their heads. Then, the evangelical cults came in, dividing the community so that not only thieves threaten the patrimonial sites, but the cults as well. Charging that the petroglyphs are the work of the Devil, the cults would try to erase or destroy them. He would like to carry on with his traditional dress, Lucio complains, but many of the converted ridicule it and attack the traditionally-minded for "backwardness and idolatry."


Still, he says, "I continue to carry out my ceremonies. We make our payment to the Pachamama. We will defend the legacy of our ancestors."


Matos wonders about where the nearby Inka road is leading. "The Inka road always leads to Cuzco," Illa replies. "Of course," says Matos, "the navel of the world." Matos smiles, nodding in recognition and appreciation. It is his method, and the museum's, to seek the knowledge of the indigenous people of a place. "You might read the reports and never know a tambo existed here," he says. "But you see, this man knows his land. He knows what is here more than any so-called academic expert."


The boy walks by with another young cousin, slingshots in hand, lively faces full of mischief. "Will the next generation carry on the ancient culture," we wonder.


"I teach them that they should," Lucio responds. "It’s not easy, but we mean to continue in that way."


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I find it such a shame that Indigenous people have been treated as 2nd-rate in there own land. It's great to see them holding on to their own traditions.

Nice post .Very informative .


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