Friday, October 16, 2020

The Ancient Peruvians – Part V


Continuing from the previous post regarding the connection between the Land of Promise and Andean Peru.

Some of the Spanish writers on Peru, who described what they saw in the country at the time of the Conquest, discussed its history.. The two most important works written at this time, the “Relacion” of Sarmiento and the “Relaciones” of Polo de Ondegardo, were never printed. But none of these writers sought to study Peruvian antiquity beyond the period of the Incas, although some of them, like José de Acosta, inquired sufficiently to see that Manco Capac, claimed by the Inca as their founder of the Inca civilization was a mythical personage prefixed to the dynastic line of the Incas without actually belonging to it.

Garleso de la Vega


This limited view of the ancient history, which was inconsistent with what could be seen in the antiquities and traditions of the country, was generally accepted, because nothing more could be known in Europe, and its influence was established by the undue importance accorded to the “Commentarios Reales” of Garcilaso de la Vega, published in 1609—an illegitimate son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca princess, who spent his time writing about the wonderment of the Inca in order to bolster his claim in Spain.

It appears that the only Spanish writer who really studied the ancient history of Peru in the traditional and other records of the country was Fernando de Montesinos, who went to Peru about a century after the Conquest. He was sent from Spain on service which took him to every part of Peru, and gave him the best possible opportunities for investigation.

He was a scholar and a worker, with a strong inclination to such studies, and, during two periods of residence in the country, he devoted fifteen years to these inquiries with unremitting industry and great success. He soon learned to communicate freely with the Peruvians in their own language; then he applied himself to collect the historical poems, narratives, and traditions. He succeeded in getting assistance from many of the older men who had learned of the amautas, and especially of those who were trained to read the quipus.

Nothing was omitted which could aid his purpose. In this way Montesinos made a great collection of what may be called the old Peruvian documents, and gained a vast amount of information which no other writer had used or even sought to acquire.

The materials collected were more important than is at once understood by those accustomed to depend wholly on writing and printing for the preservation of literature, because they cannot easily realize to what extent the faculty of memory may be sharpened and developed by a class of men devoted to this culture in communities where such mechanical aids do not exist. 

Gathering ancient writings and verbal histories


It is known that long poems, stories, and historical narratives have been preserved by unlettered peoples much below the civilized condition of the Peruvians. Long poems, extending to three and four hundred lines, were retained by memory, and transmitted from generation to generation among the Sandwich Islanders.

Many scholars have believed that all the early literature of Greece, including the Iliad, the Odyssey, and all other “poems of the Cycle,” was preserved in this way by the Rhapsodists for centuries, down to the time of Peisistratus, and then for the first time reduced to writing. This shows at least what they have believed was possible.

In Max Müller’s “History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature” it is argued strongly that the Vedas were not written at first, but were transmitted orally, being learned by heart in the great religious schools of the Indo-Aryans as an indispensable part of education. This is likely to be true, whether we assume that the Indo-Aryans had or had not the art of writing; for, in the Vaidic age, the divine songs of the Veda were so intimately associated with the mysteries of their religion that they may have been held too sacred to be made common by written characters.

Thus, it is no wise incredible, nor even surprising, that a considerable amount of literature existed in Peru without the aid of writing. On the contrary, it would be surprising if they had failed to do what has been done by every other people in like circumstances. The schools of the amautas were national institutions specially set apart for the business of preserving and increasing knowledge, teaching, and literary work of every kind.

In a country where civilization was so much advanced in many respects, they could not have been entirely barren. Those who criticize Montesinos admit that “his advantages were great,” that “no one equaled him in archæological knowledge of Peru,” and that “he became acquainted with original instruments which he occasionally transferred to his own pages, and which it would now be difficult to meet elsewhere.”

The results of his investigation are embodied in a work entitled “Memorias Antiguas Historiales del Peru” (Hakluyt Society; 1st Edition, 2010; a translation from the Spanish edition of Marcos Jiménez de la Espada, published by Miguel Ginesta Printing, Madrid, 1882). This, with another work on the Conquest entitled “Annales,” remained as a manuscript at Madrid until the “Memorias” was translated into French by M. Ternaux-Compans, and printed in his collection of original documents relating to the discovery and exploration of America.

According to Montesinos, there were three distinct periods in the history of Peru. First, there was a period which began with the origin of civilization, and lasted until the first or second century of the Christian era. Second, there was a period of disintegration, decline, and disorder, introduced by successful invasions from the east and southeast, during which the country was broken up into small states, and many of the arts of civilization were lost; this period lasted more than a thousand years.

Third and last came the period of the Incas, who revived civilization and restored the empire. He discards the wonder-stories told of Manco-Capac and Mama Oello, and gives the Peruvian nation a beginning which is, at least, not incredible. It was originated, he says, by a people led by four brothers, who settled in the Valley of Cuzco, and developed civilization there in a very human way. The youngest of these brothers assumed supreme authority, and became the first of a long line of sovereigns.

Montesinos gives a list of sixty-four sovereigns who reigned in the first period. The first was Pûhua Manco, or Ayar-Uchu-Topa, the youngest of the four brothers, whose power was increased by the willing submission of “neighboring people.”

Part of the ancient Peruvian peoples fell to semi-barbarism


Much later in Montesinos history, the country, overrun by rude invaders, torn by civil war, and harried by “many simultaneous tyrants,” became semi-barbarous; “all was found in great confusion; life and personal safety were endangered, and civil disturbances caused an entire loss of the use of letters.” The art of writing seems to have been mixed up with the issues of a religious controversy in the time of the old kingdom. It was proscribed now, even in the little state of Tambotoco, for we read that the fourteenth of its twenty-six rulers “prohibited, under the severest penalties, the use of quellca for writing, and forbade, also, the invention of letters.

Quellca was a kind of parchment made of plantain leaves.” It is added that an amauta, who sought to restore the art of writing was put to death. This period of decline, disorder, and disintegration, which covered the “dark ages” of Peru, lasted until the rise of the Incas brought better times and reunited the country.

As for the history of the many ruins found throughout ancient Peru, time and again, the same story was told to the Spanish invaders and later chroniclers and repeated by the natives. Speaking of the great River Viñaque—the major river of the Ayacucho valley drainage, amidst the Andes mountains, 350 miles southeast of Lima, halfway between Lima and Cuzco—are crowned along its banks with the Ruins of ancient Structures. Cronicler Pedro Cieza de León in 1548, while “questioning the neighboring Indians as to who built those ruins, they answered that it was other peoples, bearded and white like the Spaniards, who, a long time before the rule of the Incas, are said to have come to this region and established their residence in it” (Pedro Cieza de León, Crónica del Perú, first published in 1554).

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