Living Landscapes in text: The Sacred Topographies of Huarochiri. Rebecca Carte

Rebecca Carte comparte un fascinate estudio en donde signa el espacio en torno al Manuscrito de Huarochiri como una forma de escritura del paisaje ante la cual los extirpadores tenian compleeta ingorancia. Este interesante estudio abre el campo a entender no solo la sacralidad de el espacio, sea este designado como Huaca o no, sino a conocer estas formas de escritura en los andes aparte de los conocidos kipus y tejidos. En otras palabras, la poetica mitica del ciclo de Huarochiri tiene correlato en la poetica del espacio y permite entender que es poesia cuando decimos «La huaca es poesia». Invitamos al amable lector ama hina kaspalla, a comentar. Gracias Rebecca.

Living Landscapes in text: The Sacred Topographies of Huarochirí

Presented at SECCLL

Spring 2014

Applying an interdisciplinary approach that draws from studies of Latin American Colonial discourse, Cultural Anthropology, and Human Geography, this study examines the depictions of sacred topographies in the Huarochirí manuscript in order to consider the role that these historically and spiritually charged places play in retelling the lived spaces of the indigenous inhabitants.  How do cultural conceptions of landscape, both Occidental and indigenous, reveal themselves in a text composed after a mere seventy years of Christian acculturation? What do these spatial textualizations reveal about the indigenous intellectual(s) who self-define as “nosotros, los cristianosand those that they view as still “confunidos” or “engañados” by the devil? How are these depictions indicative of adaptation to the Biblical cosmology? What fissures exist in his construction that may reveal alternate possibilities?  

In order to consider these questions I am applying recent theories regarding landscape that have emerged over the past decade that point to the paradox of the term’s usage in the parlance of our times; specifically the idea that landscape has come to denote the static stuff of paintings or photographs of “pure” nature. Scholars such W.J.T. Mitchell, Ann Spirn, and Kenneth Olwing have pointed out that the word’s etymology belies this static conception and denial of human influence and argue that across disciplines the usage of the term landscape needs to be questioned and (re)considered as an analytical and cultural concept.  In this view, it is my aim to elevate the role of the living landscape of  Huarochirí from “backdrop” to that of personage in our treatment of the manuscript, and consider the cultural implications of landscape appropriation and textualization.  

The Huarochirí Manuscript, composed after roughly seventy years of Spanish occupation by one or more Quechua authors, opens with a paragraph-long introduction in which the narrator extols the benefits of alphabetic writing. Had his forefathers, the indigenous inhabitants of Huarochirí, known the written word, he reasons, they would not have gone on to lose all of their traditions. He continues, “Mas bien se habrían conservado, como se conservan las tradiciones y el recuerdo de la antigua valentía de los huiracochas que, gracias a sus cronicas, aun hoy son visibles” (27). In this view, Spanish culture had been preserved due directly to alphabetic writing and indigenous culture “lost” due to a lack of it. And of course much of the indigenous way of life had been lost, or more precisely destroyed; yet the modern reader can´t help but identify a slight tension in this logic. If these traditions had been lost, how is that they are to now be recorded? Additionally, it is widely accepted that the manuscript was composed under the direction of or at the behest of the Jesuit Father Francisco de Avila in order to identify persistent idolatrous practices for the purpose of extirpation. Why would he commission such a study if Christianity had already prevailed? Clearly it had not, and far from lost, indigenous traditions had prevailed despite the lack of alphabetic writing – at least enough for Father Avila to find them irksome – but how?

I would like to argue that the peoples of Huarochirí had indeed written their traditions down but that the Spanish were illiterate in their language and could not read it, let alone understand it, even though it was written in plain sight all around them. I am not referring to the Quechua oral tradition or the quipu, rather to what architectural theorist Ann Spirn has coined “the language of landscape.”  In her 1998 study, The Language of Landscape Spirn argues that landscape is language itself; that it is humans’ native language, and not merely in a metaphorical or metaphysical sense.  Landscape, she postulates, was read by humans long before their inventions of signs and symbols. Landscape had to be translated into signs and symbols.

Landscape has all features of language.  It contains the equivalent of words and parts of speech- patterns of shape, structure, material, formation, and function.  All landscapes are combinations of these.  Like the meanings of words, the meanings of landscape elements (water, for example) are only potential until context shapes them.  Rules of grammar govern and guide how landscapes are formed, some specific to places and their local dialects, others universal.  (15) 

I would like to indulge this rather polemical view and apply it to the sacred topography of Huarochirí because it allows us the opportunity to consider its landscape can be “read” and it follows then that it can be “interpreted” and moreover it may be read and interpreted differently by different cultures, and indeed misread by one who is illiterate in the language of landscape or lacks local knowledge. 

In addition to Spirn, a few scholars such as Kenneth Olwig and W.J.T. Mitchell have argued over the past decade or so that landscape be reconsidered as a cultural concept. Citing the words etymology, they point out that term “landscape” is made up of the two roots “land,” meaning both a place and its people, and various forms of the word “shape.” Similarly, the Latin pagus denotes a socially defined area of land.  This etymology reveals two important aspects of landscape that have been largely overlooked:  1) In its original meaning, landscape included a human element and 2) the term was meant to include a verbal, dynamic element. I believe that the field of Latin American Colonial studies mirrors the same oversight in the recognition of landscape as cultural concept, for while over the past twenty years the terms “space” and “place” have been problemitized  “landscape” has been underanalyzed and even banalized.  Rather than mere background or static context, “landscape” as I apply it to the Huarochiri Manuscript is the dynamic site perceived and transcribed; it is at once land and human and it performs a cultural function; it is praxis and it is a focus for the formation of identity.

Today I would like to point out five specific ways in which Incan and pre-Incan history and myths were “written” on the land:  First, physical, geological formations described are often considered in and of themselves as huaca, the manifestation of the sacred.  Second, the primordial events related in the text are often “recorded” by some visible vestige left by a personage.  Third, in some cases the personages themselves turn into some geological formation, most often stone.  Fourth, in certain instances where there is no physical vestige of an event or personage per se, a toponym in honor of a participant in the event is found.  Finally, the text describes sacred rites that correspond to the land and myth and are acted out-on-with-for-from sacred spaces. 

First, many sites described in Huarochirí are in and of themselves huaca. For the indigenous inhabitants of Huarochirí, the spiritual could, and often did, co-exist with the terrestrial. A mountain is not simply a mountain rather it is at once mountain and deity and an active agent in cultural life. Frank Salomon explains this in detail in the introduction to his English edition of the Huarochiri Manuscript: “These myths relate intimately to the real-life landscape and the historic conjuncture that generated them.  For one thing, the deities themselves are land features and local climatic forces”. Perhaps most notable is the example of Paria Caca, the fivefold deity who symbolizes inclusive ethnic unity among the tellers’ various residential and kinship groups, and who is manifest in a mountain. The Creator, Paria Caca, as opposed to the otherworldly and abstract Creator of the Christians, forms part and parcel of the natural topography of Huarochiri.

            In addition to making up important topographical features of the landscape that the indigenous people inhabit, the deities related in the myths contained in Huarochirí may also leave their mark on the landscape as part of the aftermath of their adventures and interactions.  Chapter sixteen provides excellent examples, as it relates the epic fight between to the cannibal god, Huallall Carhuincho, and the hero-deity referenced previously, Paria Caca.  When Huallall Carhuincho hides himself inside a mountain, Paria Caca, along with his brothers, try to destroy the mountain as lightning bolts. To defend himself, Huallall Carhuincho makes an enormous two-headed serpent called amaru emerge from the mountain. Vestiges of this fight are included in the textual telling of the story, vestiges that are part and parcel of the tellers’ lived landscape. 

Al verlo, Pariacaca se pusó furioso y clavó un bastón de oro en medio de su lomo.  En este mismo momento, el amaru se convertió en piedra.  Se dice que, aún hoy, se puede ver muy claramente a este amaru petrificado en el camino llamado de Caquiyoca de Arriba.  La gente del Cusco, y todos los que saben de eso, golpean a este amaru con una piedra y llevan consigo como remedio los pedazos que se desprenden en la creencia que los protegerán de la enfermedad. (83)

The rock on the road called Caquiyoca de Arriba is much more than a mere rock. It is a record of events and it is read by the Cuzquenos that pass it, taking a piece of the story with them. Quoting Spirn, “In landscape, representation and reality fuse when a tree, path or gate is invested with larger significance”. The rock now represents a particularly local reality. It is invested with a larger significance, representing the power of Paria Caca; a lesson of history read by those who know the language.

In many instances geo-references are the product, not of a vestige left by a mythical personage, but rather of the mythical personage him/herself becoming a geological formation.  These are not necessarily deities, but certainly the tangible embodiment of the personages with whom they interacted.  Once such instance occurs when Cuniraya, having taken the appearance of a poor man, impregnates a virgin, Cahuillaca, by turning himself into a bird and depositing his semen in an lúcuma, or eggfruit, which Cahullaca then eats.  Nine months later, when she discovers that the father of her child is, seemingly, a poor beggar, she flees.

Pero Cahuillaca no volvió el rostro hacia él.  Con la intención de desaparecer para siempre pro haber dado a luz el hijo de un hombre tan horrible y sarnoso, se dirigió hacia el mar.  Al momento mismo en que llegó al sitio donde, en efecto, todavía se encuentran dos piedras semejantes a seres humanos, en Pachacámac, mar adentro, se transformó en piedra. (31)

This is one of a few examples in which a female personage who scorns a deity is forever turned to stone. Demonstrative of the type of interaction between the terrestrial and the spiritual that had occurred and re-occurred in the Andean tradition, this episode is related and shared in a visible geo- reference that is at once historical record, sacred, and practiced.

No less important, the persistence of indigenous toponyms despite the Spanish re-naming of places reveals the importance of declaring “something happened here” even when the places are not necessarily huaca. Chapter twenty-five relates the story of the Colli people.  Paria Caca, pretending to be a poor beggar, comes to their village in Yarutine.  While he is there, only one of the Colli people gives him chicha and coca.  Angry with them for this poor treatment, Paria Caca later kicks up a wind that kills many of the Colli, and transports the rest to a mountain near Carhuayllo:  “Este cerro se llama Colli hasta hoy.  Se dice que esta gente que llegó al cerro se extinguió.  Hoy no queda ninguno de ellos” (120).  In this case, while the mountain is not cited as being huaca, it was nonetheless the place of a primordial event, an event denoted in its toponym. 

Similarly in chapter thirty-one, a huaca called Collquiri desires to have a woman.  From the top of a mountain he looks down at the city of Yampilla.  When he sees the beautiful Capyama he sends a boy to go tell her that her llama has birthed a male so that she will rush up the mountain to where he is.  Collquiri and Capyama fall in love, but the girl’s family is enraged that Collquiri has deprived them of her.  To calm them, Collquiri tells them that he will do anything they want.  It is decided that he will construct a hucoric, a sort of aqueduct, for them.  When he builds the hucoric, the water gushes down from the mountain to Yampilla:  “El manantial que brota allí en el lugar donde salió de la tierra, lleva aún hoy el nombre de esa mujer, Capyama” (139).  Thus, the toponym of the mouth of the spring where the event took place recalls the story of the event. 

The second part of the same myth further reveals how the land came to take its actual form and is demonstrative of the critical role of water and rights to its usage. The people of Yampilla begin to yell and complain that it is too much water; that they had gotten along just fine before without so much water.   

Cómo seguían gritándole, desde abajo para que lo tapara, Collquiri mismo entró en el agua, tendió su capa encima y se sentó en medio del manantial.  Así consiguió que se sacara un poco.  El agua sale hoy de ese manantial pasando a través de la capa de Collquiri como si fuera filtrada.  Cuando lo tapó, el agua salió por los otros manantiales que se encuentran por esos lugares y que antes no existían.  (139-140)

This part of the story explains how the various springs came to be a part of the topography of Huarochirí, and while this may seem a quaint detail it is in fact an important reference in a region where water, and who possesses water, had historically been a constant source of contention.  In this case, the female from below, Capyama (land/depth) and the male from above (water/altitude/motion) form and important union.[1]

Because this union, irrigation, was in fact the greatest agrarian wealth of the western Anders, many myths can also be read as combined cosmic and political charters for local groups’ rights to specific lands and canals.  The abundance of landmark detail in the text […] reflects the function of myth as a memory bank of information about the tellers´ generally invasion-based claims on resources.  (9)

Continuing with the same story, the Concha people who live up above, on the mountain, get angry as well because now all of their water is going below to Yampilla.  Collquiri, seeing their point, builds a wall out of the earth to stop the water, and teaches a boy named Rapacha how to measure the water levels so that the Concha may know when and how to operate the irrigation system so both villages have water: “Se dice que aún hoy sus descendientes hacen todo conforme a esa costumbre, exactamente como le fue ensañada a Llacsamisa por Collquiri.  Llaman a ese rito ‘el sondeo de la laguna’” (141).  And this is still practices by the modern descendants of the Concha.

By way of conclusion,

The Huarochirí manuscript provides a discursive construction of sacred topographies which, despite the imposition of alphabetic writing over oral telling, offers insight into both how the people of this region viewed the places in which they lived, but also how they acted out their spaces despite the epistemological violence of the Spanish hegemony, in particular the imposition of alphabetic writing.  It is not merely that the myths and history related are “acted out” or “take place” on the local landscape, rather the myths themselves are landscaped.  This speaks to a few important implications: 1) That the tellers or “informants” are able to relate these stories to the narrators despite decades of Church attempts to extirpate any semblance of the huaca cults may be partially explained by the fact that the informants interviewed could still “read” the landscape for the narrators to transcribe to paper. 2) Perhaps this actually served as mode of preservation since the landscape provided a medium which could not be destroyed by the Spanish as easily as a quipu or a codice.[2]  3) The Christian-Occidental view that staking a cross and naming could claim a place for God and King was a conveniently portable practice, however for the indigenous peoples centuries of relocation and forced migration ripped them from their spiritual world as well as their physical home and way of life.  Finally, as Frank Solomon succinctly and beautifully stated,  “The Huarochirí manuscript is in large measure a reading out of its space”. My aim today is to suggest that we consider the term “landscape” in the discussion because, for me, what is fascinating about this text is not even what it reveals so much as what it cannot, that ineffable indistinguishableness of time and space in Andean imagination, a unity, and coexistence in its own right, a three or even four dimensional worldview which alphabetic writing simply cannot capture.  The only medium, the only language for this story is landscape and in this instance, Huarochirí may perhaps best be described as a record of memories and sacred existence that was TRANSLATED first into an oral tradition which was then TRANSCRIBED into alphabetical writing.

[1] Salomon explains how often the mixing of land and water is referential to sexual union and vice versa (15)

[2]  The Taylor edition defines huaca as “lo sagrado en general, ser sagrado, o la manifestación material de dicho ser sagrado y el santuario donde se practica su culto” (H, 21).   

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