The city of Cusco, Peru, in the Andes, is it seems a city of many festivities, celebrations & feasts. Most, but not quite all these days, have their roots in Spanish colonialism & government, and the enforcement of the Catholic faith. So within our first 3 full days in Cusco we witnessed not only a regional celebration in the main square of the creation of the national police service (6th December), but also the Feast day of the Immaculate Conception on 8th December.
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception we saw members many of Cusco’s 40+ Catholic churches parade around the streets of their locality, carrying on their shoulders huge statues of the Virgin Mary. It just happened to be pissing down for much of the day, but it didnt seem to dampen their arduour. Leaving aside the absurdity of both the Immaculate Conception – impregnated by…the Holy Spirit? Please! – and the birth of Jesus Christ less than 3 weeks later on Christmas day, one wonders why on earth Cusquenians fell for this story?
Bear in mind dear reader that when the Spanish reached & conquered Cusco in 1533, it was the centre & beating heart of the entire Inca empire. It therefore received, and was subject to, extra-special attention from both the land & money grabbing invaders, but also the evangilising Catholic church. Opposition to either was dealt with ruthlessly. So:
– over time every Inca temple & place of worship (to their ‘gods’) was either destroyed completely and/or built upon with a new Catholic church or place of worship. This process commenced in 1534 when the Dominican wing of the Catholic church started to build the Convento de Santo Domingo on the site of the Inca Temple of the Sun (or Q’orikancha, meaning ‘golden enclosure’ in Quechuan). The Dominicans are hated to this day for this act, but still own the land.
– the dominant indigenous language of the Inca empire, Quechuan, was banned for centuries by the Spanish, as were all their festivities, customs & beliefs – on punishment of death, or often much worse. Consider that under the Franco dictatorship in Spain, the language & customs of Basques & Catalans were banned for 30+ years, this went on for more than ten times longer. We rightly consider the IS, or ISIS or Daesh, today to be barbaric murdering scum in the Middle East, but in comparison to the acts of the Spanish & Catholic church in south America they are just a bunch of liberal evangilists.
– the indigenous bloodline was consciously diluted by the Spanish, via rape, or at best marriage, starting with the Inca ‘royalty’ and working down. Abortion was of course was not an option (and still isn’t), only death offered a way out.
– the hegemony of the colonialists & church new no bounds, and set out to control every aspect of life – from accesss to food & water, to work (slavery) for an income/food to survive, to movement across the land. It literally was convert to Catholicism, or die. By 1608 two separate wings of the Catholic church had produced Quechuan/Spanish dictionaries to ensure the locals were clear on the meanings of their own words!
– and on top of all this, remember that within some 50 years of the arrival of the Spanish, it is estimated that upto 90% of the indigenous population was wiped out. The majority died from Western diseases such as smallpox, the rest from the barbarity of the invaders & their church. With no written history, and the virtual total disapperance of an oral history & language, it really is no surprise that Catholicism reigned supreme.
And yet, they don’t, not quite…whilst capitalism, Catholicism, and a travesty of democracy continue to dominate throughout Peru, the descendants of those 16th century indigenous peoples have managed to keep alive, just, some of their values & beliefs. And to mantain the ‘peace’, and in acknowledgement of the potential power of the masses, the ruling elite allows this. So for example in the famous painting of the Last Supper, in Cusco Cathedral, on a prominent plate sits a key indigenous dish – the ‘cuy’, or guinea pig. And at the many xmas markets selling all sorts of pointless things, the flag of the Tawantinsuyu (the 4 regions of the Inca empire), flies alongside the national flag of Peru. Small examples perhaps, another being the recent start of the first Quechuan TV programme at 5.30am daily, but examples indeed that where there is oppression, there is always resistance, however abstract or insignificant it may appear.
So no surprise then, given the history, that some 70% of Cusquenians appear to subscribe to Catholicism. But given the reality of our times, and the increasing awareness of that reality by the majority of the people, who have been subjugated for so long, one can only look forwards to a time when this historic chain is finally broken.