Saturday, December 08, 2012

Peru: Inca Ritual of "Golden Shovel"

Realm of the Incas by Victor W. von Hagen on I recommend the book Realm of the Incas by Victor W. von Hagen to all interested in understanding how the Incas--the last dynasty of ancient Perú--managed to create, manage, and lose their empire, which they called Tawantinsuyu - "The Four Quarters of the World." 

Von Hagen presents and interprets archeological and historical evidence in comparison with other ancient and modern cultures in a very accessible and unconceited manner. For instance, an excerpt from pages 64-66: 
Agriculture was the soul of the Inca Empire; it determined everything. The Andean farmers' year was divided into two seasons: wet and dry. The wet season began in October and extended to May; the dry season, starting in May, although subject to considerable caprice (hence the Inca's preoccupation with obeisance to the unseen powers), continued into November.

In the autumn the lands of the commune were divided fairly between the members of the ayllu, the earth cell which controlled the communal land tenure. First the lands (chacras) assigned to the Inca, that is state lands, were cultivated communally (part of the Indians' mitta tax of service), then the lands of the sun, the state religion. The fruits thereof were harvested and stored for the use of these agencies. These state granaries were stocked, so the early Spaniard remembered, with maize, quinoa, chuñu, charqui (dried llama meat), fish, cords, hemp, wool, cotton, sandals, and military arms, stored in hampers, each item in its appropriate warehouse. They were seen by Francisco de Xerez, the first soldier-chronicler of the conquest of 1533, who remembered these storehouses as being "pilled to the roof, as the Merchants of Flanders and Medina make them."

The work of tilling these fields done, the puric then turned to his own.

August was plowing time, and work in each other's field was--like all else-communal. It began with a festival. The nobility took it all most seriously and always participated. "If," wrote the Jesuit historian Padre Cobo, "the Inca himself or his governor or some high official happened to be present, he started the work with a golden digging stick which they brought to the Inca, and following his example all the other officials and nobles who accompanied him did the same." (No different in idea today than some state official turning the soil with a gold-plated shovel or else laying a cornerstone with a golden trowel.*)
Men and women plowing the fields together. The men use the foot plow, called taclla;
the  women break up the clods of earth. Another woman brings corn chicha to drink.
From "El Primer Nueva Corónica Y Buen Gobierno" by Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala.
They had no plow as such, and no draft animals. Men used, as they still do, the taclla, or foot plow, which was a thick pole six feet in length with a fire-hardened point; sometimes it was bronze-tipped. There was a footrest near the tip and it was driven deep into the soil by a thrust of the foot and shoulder pressure. The digging stick, like all else in the realm, was a group tool and was seldom used by only one man. His kinsmen of the ayllu formed a long line across the field to be plowed, and with a rhytmic chant "Jailli" (pronounced "whaylyi," which means "triumph"), "...they triumphed over the soil, writes Garcilaso "the Inca plowing it and disemboweling it."

Ayau jailli, ayau jailli
Kayqa thajilla, kayqa suka!
Kayqa maki; Kayqa jumpi!

Ajailli, qhari, ajailli

Free translation
Ho! Victory, ho! Victory,
Here digging stick, here the furrow!
Here the sweat, here the toil!

THE WOMEN (answering):
Huzzah, men, huzzah!

The men worked backward, the women followed facing them and breaking up the clods with a sort of hoe called lampa. Sara (corn) was planted in September, potatoes when the rains began to fall, i.e. between October and November. After plowing the fields of the Inca, the Sun, and their own, they next turned to those fields of kinsmen who were serving in the army, and then finally to those of the sick and the halt. Their principal tribute (it was part of their tax), said Garcilaso, was "the working and cultivating and harvesting of the lands of the Sun and the Inca."
Von Hagen asserts that the Inca dynasty based its absolutist power on superb organizational skills using and upgrading the great achievements of conquered cultures, creation of religious personality cult, and control of the culture by perpetuating a myth that they were the sole civilizing force. Their empire was low-tech totalitarian welfare state which fostered dogma, group-think and isolationism, as ultra-conservatives they could not cope with new concepts such as the notion that other civilizations may exist across the sea.

* Modern example from Macedonia: Top religious authorities auctioning a golden shovel while consecrating a new building. While the state is nominal secular, the politicians and leaders of religious institutions often benefit from combining their areas of competence. All construction activity paid by the state is subject to rituals involving religious blessings and obligatory photo-op of politicians throwing the first shovel of dirt &/ cutting red ribbons

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