Friday, March 13, 2009
After the visit to the islands, several students undertook a "polar bear challenge," leaping into the frigid waters of the lake.
The Lake Titi Caca region in Puno houses several different indigenous communities from several linguistic and cultural groups. One such collective is the Aymara, who speak a completely different language from that of the Inca (Quechua). Noted for their brutality, these people also have different traditional attire than those descended from other linguistic affiliations. Another fascinating people is the Uru, considered barbaric by the Inca. Despite mythopolitical cosmogony, it seems that that the Inca and their allies originated in the area that houses the highest lake in the world. This group appears to be related to the Aymara, as demonstrated by similar vocabulary and intermarriages.
Originally inhabiting the shores of Lake Titi Caca (supposedly shaped like a puma), the Uru began to live in boats for defensive purposes following the Spanish invasion. The Spanish feared the area in which they inhabited due to the violent waters in the middle Desaguadero. From boats the Uru moved to islands of totora reed, an edible plant plentiful in the lake.
The islands take approximately one year to construct. The base is created from totora roots (bound with nylon rope) about a meter thick and anchored to the bottom of the lake. The stalks of the root, cut slightly above the base (to avoid killing the plant and ensuring preservation of the ecosystem) are piled onto these bases. Houses of reed, including a tepee style structure, dot the surface, allowing communities averaging about six families to live on each island. Uru houses are slightly elevated to keep them dry. Boats are also constructed of reed.
The Uru culture includes music, dance, and brightly coloured clothing. Feet are usually bare. Women wear pom-poms in their braided hair, though married women often have darker tufts and wear hats to denote their status. After marriage, women traditionally follow the groom to his island, although such practices are becoming more ambiguous in the modern world. Some of the reed houses have electronics (powered by solar energy), creating an interesting juxtaposition of new and old.
Natural islands are also inhabited, such as Taquile, who share many Andean traditions, including ritual agricultural and marriage dances. Witnessing such traditions provides an interesting anthropological insight into the native people of Peru.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Another day spent mostly on the bus. On the way to Puno, however, one stop in particular proved rather significant in regards to Inca cosmogony and architecture. The Temple of Wiracocha serves as an excellent example of Inca construction, due to the good preservation of a portion of its walls.
The structure commemorates an important figure in Inca mythology, for Wiracocha (Contiti Viracocha) and, in some accounts, his similarly named sons, created the sun, moon, and humanity. This figure, who brought order to the world before walking out onto the ocean and vanishing, had puma heads projecting from his torso and serpents wrapped around his arms. The term Wiracocha may have simply been a title, which would explain its application to the Spaniards upon their arrival to South America.
Some sections of the building are also well-preserved and exemplify the particulars of Inca construction. The base of the walls were stone, on top of which was placed mudbrick, followed by another section of stone. The reasoning behind such practices is still unknown. Additionally, the Inca would have made roofs out of thatched material.
Other architectural features are also noteworthy, such as a locking mechanism for a door, carved from stone. A working fountain continues to provide water. The stonework at the site appears volcanic, unsurprising due to the significant level of seismic activity in the region.
Finally, gardens occupy much of the area, with traditional crops growing in abundance. Potatoes, flowers, and other flora cultivated by the Inca at the site reveal the agricultural diversity of the Andes.
The Spanish placed a cross on the site in an attempt to assert the supremacy of Christianity. Christian art also features prominently on several churches visited on Thursday, decorated with syncretic symbols, native languages, and graphic depictions of hell.
Machu Picchu, rediscovered by Hiram Bingham III in 1911, served as the royal estate of Pachacuti. This ruler acquired his estates through conquest. As he gained control over territory, he commemorated his conquests by founding estates and palaces. Royal estates ostensibly supported kings, but in reality benefited royal lineages, called panacas. These estates produced agricultural goods and "industrial" objects, as well as provided pleasure quarters, and religious architecture. This practice eventually reduced the amount of productive land in the empire, much to the discontent of the subjects in the Inca Empire. Also, royal estates sustained the ruler's political position and were central to the empire's infrastructure.
The "Lost City of the Inca" has some significant architectural features. For example, a shrine in the shape of a condor reveals how natural features (the condor's wings) could be supplemented with construction (the body and head). The site also includes storehouses, still-functioning water fountains, water mirrors, stone terraces, which served as retaining walls, ritual courtyards, and temples (including stone replications of other mountains, such as Mount Yanantin).
Two types of construction are apparent at the site. One type involves stonework and simple mortar, the other involving precise stone on stone building. The latter type the Inca reserved for the most important structures, such as the Semicircular Temple. Trapezoids also feature consistently throughout Inca architecture, in niches and doorways, as a method of resisting earthquake damage.
Although archaeologists discovered about one hundred and fifty rooms, the estimated population ranges from seven hundred and fifty to five hundred persons, not including the surrounding territory. The terraces at the site support little agricultural land to sustain a large population. Many of those working at Machu Picchu appear to have been common laborers (yanaconas, mitimaes, and camayocs), as worn skeletons buried at the estate suggest.
Machu Picchu is impressive also due to its remote location. The estate is high above the Urubamba River in the cloud forest. The video below discusses some of the particulars of it's rediscovery, including his native guide. Recalling the local contribution relating to bringing such sites to scholarly attention is an important part of archaeology. Indigenous informants have traditionally received little attention, but their role in locating difficult-to-find sites ignored by historians (Spanish chroniclers, for example) is crucial to archaeologists.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Above is video from the group's journey to the royal Inca estate, Machu Picchu. The intent was capture some of the emotion from the trip. A clip from a tour of Ollantaytambo provides a fascinating anecdote about the location, a stronghold of indigenous resistance. Rachael's continuing altitude/motion/food induced illness made for a rather non-energetic trip, but hopefully some decent footage. Enjoy the spectacle of of illness on the road.
Monday, March 9, 2009
A tour of the city Cuzco [pronounced in Quechua, Koz-ko], the city that, in Inca times, supposedly had the shape of a puma (as evidenced by the street names, such as Pumakurko [spinal column of the puma]), illustrated the centrality of the city as the "navel of the world." In the main plaza of Cuzco, once covered in sand from the beach and housing a descicated whale corpse, lies the Kori Cancha ("Temple of Splendor"). From this temple, now a Dominican church, radiated the imaginary sacred lines, or ceques, dotted with huacas (sacred places/things). Each of the four sections of the empire in Tahuantinsuyo (Chinchasuyu (NW), Antisuyu (NE), Contisuyu (SW), and Collasuyu) had about nine of these lines, except for one, which had either fourteen or fifteen. The huacas would each correspond approximately to a date in the Inca calendar, and would receive attention from a member of the appropriate kinship group corresponding to the line on which the huaca stood) on a specific day of the year. The lines and kinship groups also expressed hierarchical relationships, with groups of three, each representing a different lineage.
Huacas could be anything special, often landscape features (caves, lakes, mountaints, and so forth). Occasionally, however, the Inca extended their reverance to living things, such as trees. Somewhere in Cuzco's plaza there are three such sacred items buried.
The juxtaposition of the Kori Cancha and the colonial architecture is a good example of power relationships and stratigraphic evidence for Spanish techniques of Christianization. Instead of demolishing the temple completely, the Spaniards preserved much of the most sophisticated architecture in the Inca empire. The technique of associating the most sacred site of the indigenous population with Christianity effectively converted many, though native practices and iconography still appear in this syncretic brand of Catholicism. In modern times there has been an effort to reassert native traditions, with educational programs aiding this objective.
One such attempt to rediscover the wisdom of the Inca includes an astronomical observatory at Saqsawaman, the location of the megaliths supposedly whipped by the Inca until they moved by themselves. This observatory discusses ancient techniques of observation, such as water mirrors, and the importance of constellations to the predition of weather patterns. Such constellations include the Pleiades and the dark clouds of dust in the Milky Way which, to the Andeans, seemed to include the forms of llamas, toads, serpents, and other such figures of native importance. Dark constellations are one of the rare and unique features of the indigenous Peruvians.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
The focus of the visits to the Inca sites associated with events in Inca mythology relates to the power systems and vertical relationships amongst Andean peoples.
The two and a half hour journey into the Andes canvassed the mountains from which the Inca believed they emerged. Pacariqtambo ("the place of origin") includes the mountain Tambo Toco with three "windows" that the Inca and two of their allies supposedly emerged from. The central window, called Capac Toco ("rich window") ensured that the subjects of the Inca would view their rulers as a supreme lineage, thus solidifying their political control. This cave is also a connection to the underworld, where three brothers and four sisters imprisoned Ayar Cachi, one of the four male ancestors of the Inca.
Following a brief look at Tambo Toco, the group viewed Huanacauri, another mountain where Ayar Uchu (another ancestor) spread his wings, flew into the heavens and spoke with the Sun, before returning and transforming into stone.
The "vertical archipelago" describes the unique nature of Andean environments and, subsequently, relationships between the inhabitants of ecological zones. The next site, Maukallaqta, which required a hike of several thousand meters, demonstrated the extreme conditions under which Andeans have always existed. The great distances created circumstances of isolation and self sufficiency, limiting trade and economic development. This societal model makes the Inca governmental system unique, but also ephemeral, for control over the Andes depended on cultural and religious authority, rather than direct political influence.
Sapa Inca's Travel Suggestions
- Do not make eye contact with local vendors
- Keep a sharp eye and quick feet: there is no pedestrian right-of-way
- Wear sunscreen, bug spray, and a variety of clothing for rapidly changing weather conditions
- Do not drink the water, lest ye face Inca's Revenge
- Watch what you eat: no raw vegetables or street vendor food
- Buy significant quantities of bottled water
- "One hour" in Latin America does not translate to one hour non-Latin time. Expect significant delays.
- Bring disinfecting wipes
- Bladder control is an asset
- You can get advice from anyone, but good advice from no one
Saturday, March 7, 2009
The vertical archipelago of the Inca depended largely on a system of reciprocity, consisting largely of the usurpation and redistribution of textiles: both raw materials and finished products. The tradition of textile manufacture, however, preceded the Inca by several millennia. Other cultures, such as the Huari, Moche, et cetera, also exhibited the ability to hand-weave intricate textiles (not to mention constructing looms to create even more elaborate fabrics). Some pre-Inca cloths feature a thread count of about 150 threads per inch, demonstrating an advanced level of technology. Thus, as with other artistic, social, and economic traditions, the earlier inhabitants of Peru influenced Inca practices.
Specifically, the Inca exploited traditional conceptions of mutual obligation by taxing their subjects, demanding quantities of wool and labor (provided by skilled artisans of both sexes, with the males [kumbi kamayuqs] producing the finest textiles worn by the emperor). Textiles served as clothing, body armor for soldiers, and even weaponry (slingshots). The Inca bureaucracy then utilized a quantity of the fabrics received as tax as rewards for military and political service. Additionally, in order to keep accurate records as to what resources the Inca had distributed or received, quipucamayo would create string bundles, with knots (long and short) and colours denoting the types and quantities of items.
The production of fabrics in the Andes depended on camelids, such as llama, alpaca, vicuña, and guanaco, served an important function for Andean cultures. Andeans utilized llama and alpaca as beasts of burden (to a degree, due to their weak spines), as food (charki), and as a source of fibers. Vicuña and guanaco, although wild, also provided raw materials for cloth manufacture. Iconography depicting these creatures reveals the importance of these wool-producing animals to Andean society.