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Latin America Monica Dispatch

The Roots of Present Day Peru (and maybe Monica's)

The Bering Strait between modern day Alaska, USA and Russia
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According to chronology, the first eight Inca rulers were: Manco Capac, Sinchi Roca, Lloque Yupanqui, Mayta Capac, Capac Yupanqui, Inca Roca, Yahuar Huacac, and Viracocha Inca (whose palace occupied the space where the present day Cathedral sits, on the northeast corner of the Plaza de Armas). Viracocha's son was Pachacutec, the Earth-shaker (see my Sacsayhuaman dispatch), whose son, Tupac Yupanqui, was just as influential a statesman and leader. Huayna Capac, the 11th Inca, had a son by an Ecuadorian woman from what is now Quito, named Atahualpa. Read more about Atahualpa and the Spanish defeat of the Incan empire in coming weeks.

You know how it's taken the trek team about 3 months to come here to Peru from San Francisco? Well, reach back in your imagination, about 10,000 years ago. Imagine small groups of people covering the same distances that we have, but without the benefit of roads or buses. They came from Asia, across the Bering land bridge, through what are now North America and Central America, crossing the Panama Isthmus, and reaching South America.

What do you think? Does Monica look Peruvian to you?
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Walking around the country, I am continually asked if I am Peruana, because of my features. More disconcertingly, almost everyone I see looks distantly related to me: like a second cousin, twice removed? I found out why, when reading "The Incas and Their Ancestors" by Michael E. Moseley. He explains the theory, based on the study of languages and the shape of ancient human teeth, that three distinct Asian populations crossed the land bridge, but only one of these groups reached South America. This could explain the social and organizational similarities between different communities here in the Andes and in the coastal desert and the Amazonian jungle. For example, read Abeja's dispatch on the ayllu system, a network of family reciprocity that helps organize communities.

In Bagdad Cafe, where Kevin and I usually sit and write on our computers, two girls work during the day: Kety, 22, and Nidia, 17. By studying their faces, I can see how similar and yet how different Peruvians can be, especially compared with people of Asian/Pacific Islander descent like me. When looking around here, the features that you see are a mix of indigenous people, Europeans, and a whole host of other countries.

Can you imagine what people would have looked like if you lived here during the height of the Inca reign? Most of the people who live in the surrounding areas, speaking Quechua and farming and herding in a traditional way, probably looked like the ancient Incas. At its peak in the 15th century, the Incan Empire extended south into what are now modern-day Chile and Argentina, east into Bolivia, and north into Ecuador. The Incas were master builders, and their work is still visible throughout Cuzco: from the shape of the city itself, that of a puma, to the finely-cut stone walls and ruins upon which modern offices and structures are sometimes built. Modern day descendants of the Inca nation, no matter what they look like, have much to be proud about, especially in Cuzco, where reminders of their ancestors' famous architectural and engineering skills line the streets.

The Incan Way of Life

Map of the Incan Empire
You were born 600 years ago, in Cuzco, during the height of the Incan Empire. Your family belongs to the hurin, or lower residential section of the city. The hanan, or upper section, occupies a different area of the city, and the two are complementary. Because reciprocity in the ayllu system is so important, you often help your great aunts or cousins during harvest time, and sometimes carry them some fabric that your mom weaves. Your ayllu members, in turn, sometimes give you ceramics for storage, and even helped your dad build your home. This concept is called mit'a in Quechua and ayni in Aymara, and means "taking turns" or an equal exchange of work.

One day you are given the task of relating a message to the karaka, or "ruler" of your ayllu. There are two karakas, a principal karaka and a secondary karaka, and they work as counterparts. Because money doesn't play as important a role as labor in your society, the karakas are the ones responsible for agricultural taxation (for instance, land for alpacas and buildings to store maize), mit'a service (for example, construction of the Inca system of highways or military service), and textile taxation (clothing, cordage, rope, and cord). They also settle disputes about property and help organize your ayllu. The Pachaka Karaka, which means Chief of 100, looks over 10 groups of 10 "tax payers." This continues on in multiples of ten to Chief of 1,000 and then Lord of 10,000, the Hona Karaka, who reports directly to the Inca provincial governor. In your case, though, you are just reporting to the local, primary karaka.

You cross the huge central square, called the Huacaypata or Aucaypata (which is twice as large as the modern-day, 1990s Plaza de Armas). The square is divided by the Sapphi Canal, and on the other side of the Sapphi is an area known as the Cusipata. On your way, you nod and greet others in the square. In your hand is a bunch of finely-shaped coca leaves for a gift to the karaka. When you arrive, you greet the karaka and deliver the quipu, a message encoded by tying knots with strings on a cord. It is a message about your marriage to a spouse in the hanan residential section, and the karaka shouts with pride at the good match. The karaka offers you a drink of chicha beer, and takes your coca leaves and gives a short prayer to Pacha Mama (mother earth), before bidding you to leave. As you walk back, you look up to the mountains around you, knowing that the mountains (apu in Quechua) and the water that flows down from them all are part of the sacred path that you follow, and you are happy.


Monica

Shawn - Bugging Out on the Amazon
Kevin - On the Back of Experience
Kevin - Powerful Learning Tools Discovered at the Ruins
Team - Rope of Many Colors
Making a Difference - Save the Rainforest from Your Own Backyard!
 
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