Cigars and Pipes - A Few Pre-Inca Legacies
Sometimes it seems a bit surreal to me, this job of traveling around on modern busses with lap-top computers and digital cameras, visiting ruins that date back thousands of years. Which century is this anyway? And how did I get here? I'm stuck in a giant time warp!
Crumbling mud temples are not all that remain of these great pre-Inca cultures. In this fast-paced world of PCs, the internet, and nuclear bombs, it's amazing to discover that some parts of the ancient culture still thrive here in Peru. My friend Benjamin, a college student at the University in Trujillo, is proud of his Inca heritage and has been teaching me about Peruvian traditions.
For example, every morning fishermen set out from the beach of Huanchaco near Trujillo on these bizarre little boats called Caballitos. The boats are made from the tortora reed, which is grown locally. (The Moches and Chimú also used tortora reed for their thatched roofs at Chan Chan - see Kevin's update today: "Chan Chan - A Magnificent Pile of Mud"). They look like cigars with one pointed end. The fishermen kneel on top and row them like a kayak, using a giant bamboo pole cut in half as a paddle. The boat is half like a surfboard (because they definitely ride the waves on them) and half like a kayak. The fact that they sit on top of the boat, instead of inside, caused the Spanish to name the boat, "Caballito," which means "little horse."
The name "Caballito" is a relatively new term for these boats, though. The Spanish only arrived here in Peru in the 1520's, bringing their language with them. Pictures on Moche ceramics from the area show similar boats being used, and they date back almost 1500 years! They probably had a name in Mochika, the language of the Mochi. Then, when the Inca conquered the Mochi, the boats probably took on a name in Quechua.
Quechua is a language that was spoken thousands of years ago, and is still spoken today by about 10 million people in the Andean Highlands. That makes it the largest indigenous language surviving in the Americas. It was the "official language" of the Inca Empire, which covered Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Northern Chile, and Northwestern Argentina. (You'll be learning a lot more about them soon!) I've been trying to learn a bit of this language from a book and with Benjamin's help, but it's really difficult because it's not related to the "Romance" languages that I speak at all. It's got guttural stops and clicks in it that make it hard for me to understand. I hope I improve before I get up into the Peruvian Andes!
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One of the amazing things about the Quechua language (called "Runasimi," or "mouth of the people" by those who speak it) is that, until recently, the number of people who could speak it was still growing. And that was often at the expense of other native languages like Aymara, which is spoken near Lake Titicaca in Southeast Peru near the border with Bolivia.
While the Aymara language is shrinking, Aymara music seems to be taking over the world! How many of you have seen traditional Andean bands, with panpipes, drums, and guitars? They seem to be busking (playing on the streets for money) almost everywhere and they tend to be really good!
I learned from Benjamin that there are many different kinds of pipes, although they're almost all made of bamboo. They are named according to their size and range. After he promised to help me learn to play, I went out and bought a Zampoña, which is called a "Siku" in Aymara. This is one of the more common pipes and it is traditionally used to play songs to worship native gods, like Pacha Mama (Mother Earth), Inti (the sun), the moon, and the condor. The Zampoña has two rows, one with seven pipes and a smaller one with six pipes, tuned to a G major scale. You play it like you're playing soda bottles, by blowing across the top.
I'm learning, but I'm still pretty slow. I sat there on the busy beach
watching the Caballitos and wowing the poor people near me with my
rapidly progressing Zampoña skills. Nobody put any money in my hat.
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