Monday, 22 December 2014

Yaro Willka and Wari Willka

Hernan studied at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Lima with another young artist Pedro Rojas Ponce. They both hailed from the Mantaro Valley in  the central Andean highlands and were to become lifelong friends. It was Rojas Ponce who first introduced Hernan to Tello, and the two of them worked together on his team for many years. Pedro was also witness at Hernan's wedding. I love this photo of them, taken in 1936. Hernan wrote on it: the road to glory rises before us, we will strive to realize our ideals; humanity needs our art.  

photo taken from La Ilustración Arqueológica de Pedro Rojas Ponce - Dorothee Rivka Rago
Both Hernan and Pedro studied under the famous Peruvian artist Jose Sabogal, a leading light in the country's Indigenismo movement whose influence can be seen clearly in Hernan's paintings.  Later, in the 1940's, when Hernan founded the Grupo Waman Poma, Pedro joined him. Named after and inspired by Felipe Waman Poma Ayala, this small group of enthusiastic painters and sculptors sought to make their art accessible not only to a small elite public in Lima, but also in the smaller provincial towns and villages.

In doing so they hoped to cultivate a sense of pride and national identity by educating ordinary Peruvians about their rich indigenous heritage, and to underscore their respect for the ancient Andean cultures, they took Quechua names. Hernan was Yaro Willka, Pedro was Wari Willka.

When I first read the Anecdotes, in the depths of that dark winter in the 90's when Peru seemed fragmented and traumatised by terrorism, I was warmed by the cheerful intimacy amongst this little band of adventurers. The bond between Hernan and Pedro is obvious. So is the rather endearing difference in their personalities illustrated in this story. Hernan's original title for it in Spanish was  Mano a mano - Hand in hand.

Yaro Willka and Wari Willka
In which our young idealist pays heavily for a fit of indolence

 Casma valley and the Sechín archeological site 
Sylvain2803 CC BY-SA 3.0 
By the time of the Casma expeditions I had already been working for Tello for a year. He was dedicated and demanding, and as his illustrator and secretary I was used to a tough working environment. the wage paid to the excavation labourers was about 200% more than the meagre salary I received, but I was enchanted by it all because I had a real love of archaeology.  

But the truth is that Tello was relentlessly meticulous, and any error, no matter how miniscule, would throw him into a bad mood.  The longest telling off I ever received in my life happened in Mojeque – a site located ten kilometers from Casma. I think it must’ve set some kind of record because it lasted on and off more or less for two whole days. And this is how it happened. 

One day, in Casma, Tello said to Pedro Rojas Ponce and me with a smile:“You two are getting fat; it must be the good life that you’re enjoying here. I think you should both go and serve out a bit of your apprenticeship in Mojeque. And lose some weight while you’re at it. Pedro, you’ll direct the excavations and the cleaning of the terrace with the statues.  And you,” he turned to me “there are stacks of pen and watercolour drawings that will need doing.”

 “Very well doctor,” Rojas answered, and I nodded in agreement.
“The huaca is magnificent,” continued Tello. “I’ve never seen anything yet to equal it. You’ll be amazed when you see it.”

 section from expedition route map showing Casma valley sites
taken from Chavin, Cultura Matriz de la Civilización Andina - Julio C Tello
Sure enough, when we arrived at Mojeque, it was an impressive sight. The initial tentative explorations that the scientist had undertaken a few days before had uncovered a gigantic sculpted head, painted in many colours. It was so magnificent that you could see clearly its laughing expression and even the well-defined ancient Yunga ethnic features.
Faced with such beauty, it was almost impossible to believe the story Tello told us.  Apparently, sometime around 1890, Dr Jose Mariano Macedo and his excavation directors had spent the, then considerable, sum of fourteen thousand soles on excavating the Llamas huaca, and had dynamited off the top of this extraordinary Mojeque huaca in search of hidden treasure!
Is there no limit to the sacrilege heaped upon our precious national heritage, in support of the excessive ambitions of greedy men? These people, who can see no further than their own short term satisfaction, always make one mistake. They believe that the ancient Peruvians had the same economic principles as today.  But for our ancestors gold was not valued for itself. It was the metal used for offerings and religious artifacts, and as such there was no reason for it to be hidden. Our ancestors simply didn’t resort, as in the last century; to carving out niches in the walls and lintels of their dwellings to stow away their ‘treasure’.
Tello left us there in Mojeque after indicating to us the work that he wanted us to carry out during the next twenty days, after which he would return.
On our first day alone, quite frankly I turned renegade.  I was young and feeling very hard done by. In addition to having worked like slaves for months, up to our ears in dust and earth, we had had to cook for ourselves; something that today wouldn’t bother me one bit, but at that time, the first time in my life I’d had to do such a thing, it seemed like an abomination. For lunch there was crushed oats boiled up with a little sugar, followed by a mess of semi dry rice which, even the lizards that approached us refused to eat when I threw it down for them.
I knew I was playing with fire; my laziness would ipso facto be reported back to Lima and knowing this went some way to temper my attitude. What’s more, no matter how put-upon I felt, I couldn’t leave Rojas to do everything. Not only was he my class mate at the School of Beaux Arts, he was also a kinsman from the Mantaro Valley. Unlike me he was gracefully resigned to the situation. There was not even the remotest possibility that he might join me in my indolent rebellion.
For the first time in my life there was no one around to tell me what to do, and so I devised my own schedule. Although there were hundreds of drawings to be done, I would take it easy for the first fifteen days and then put in long hours from six to six to finish up all the work in the last five days remaining before Tello arrived back.  That decided, I threw myself into having a good time and made myself busy doing absolutely nothing.
Peruvian charangos
I stretched out under the small shady copse of carob trees alongside the ancient huaca, and read for hours. I wandered aimlessly through the surrounding countryside. Sometimes I bathed in the river and sometimes I took a leisurely ride on one of the local peon’s mules. I took long siestas and in the evenings joined the peons singing and playing on their charango.
The first fifteen days went so well that I decided to continue! I put off the work till tomorrow, but this tomorrow never came.
Rojas, on the other hand, having tired of trying to persuade me to do something useful, got down to the task at hand. It was a truly laudable effort.  He undertook the meticulous excavation of a complete figure, and also cleaned the upper part of the huaca, uncovering several large sculpted figures, painted in various colours
Before us were a series of terraces with great square and rectangular niches containing enormous sculpted heads or busts. The faces, bodies and hands were wonderful, colossal representations that brought to mind modern figurative sculptures. Next to a laughing face, there was another crying great tear drops suspended over its cheeks. The masculine figures grasped squirming boas in their hands. The females drew cloaks around their bodies. Between the niches were Chavinesque condors and pumas, enhanced with vibrant colour; red, pink, green, black and white. Leading from the façade of the temple, an intricately worked stairway rose up through the centre of the terraces.
The impression looking up from below or from far off was spellbinding. The sad fact that the majority of the figures were decapitated only served to emphasise their miraculous escape from the ruinous destruction left by the fool who had years earlier overseen the destruction of these jewels of Peruvian art.
One of our workers, Grimaldo Hijar, with his great deferential gentleness of touch and singular patience was able to restore some of the faces. Unfortunately, when he began on the laughing face, the fragments had been left so weakened by the dynamite that it fell to pieces before we had a chance to photograph it.
At the time I was so concentrated on my own diversions that I barely realized the enormity of our loss. I am quite sure that today none of the other wonderful colossal figures will exist. Even if they haven’t suffered the same dramatic fate as those earlier ones, they still surely will have been somehow either lost or destroyed.
In spite of the great example set by other countries such as Mexico, where they not only value the cultural heritage of their archeological remains, but also see in them the opportunity for increased tourism and its resulting prosperity, in Peru our authorities prefer lyrical speeches to actions and neglect is endemic. All this will have contributed to their disappearance.  Certainly they never received the fame that they deserve. Tello, for all that he was a great scientist, never liked the theatrics of publicity, and the archeological magazines where references to the site were published are very rarely read by the general public. 
It is such a terrible shame and such a loss to the nation that there has been no further restoration or cleaning of this tremendous monument. Those great faces are day by day slowly being lost to us. I would have loved to have seen this incredible temple brought to light for both scientist and tourist alike. Given that opportunity, I sometimes wonder if even the great Macchupicchu, framed by such incomparable natural beauty, may not have lost some of its magic and magnitude if it had to compete with Mojeque's magnificent monumental idols and multicoloured reliefs.

Twenty days went by and suddenly one morning, the usual dawn chorus of the huarequeque birds was rudely punctuated by the persistent and piercing claxon of an automobile.
Huarequeque or Peruvian thick knee
photo by Dominic Sherony
It was Tello, Collier and Mejía Xesspe; arriving at the precise moment that I had chosen to climb the huaca and begin my first drawing. I looked down on them and, needless to say, began to seriously regret my idleness.
“Hernandito, how’s it going?” shouted Tello from the distance, visibly happy to see the progress we had made. First he went to observe Rojas’ excavation in the fields. After that he climbed up to the temple, and taking a walk around admired all the wonderful ancient artistic works displayed there. Then … it was my turn!
There was nothing for it but to open my portfolio and to show him the one and only unfinished drawing that it held.
“What – is this everything?” said Tello, not a little surprised considering that my record for illustrations was seventy two in one day.
“Yes doctor, it’s….”
“But that’s impossible.”
Things were heating up now.
“What the hell have you been doing for the last twenty days?”
I didn’t say a word.
“Pedro,’ he shouted angrily to Rojas, “what’s the meaning of this? One single drawing – that’s all the boy’s done!”
“I don’t know doctor,” poor Rojas answered.
“You don’t know, what do you mean you don’t know? You were left in charge.” Rojas was in it too now. Tello turned back to me. “You’ve got the gall to give me just one drawing. I’ve never seen anything like it.  You lazy savage! Good for nothing idiot! You go back to Lima right now!”
Little did he know, far from being a punishment, that was what I wanted more than anything else at this precise moment.
His words continued cascading down upon me in an endless torrent, until at last, around midday, hunger got the better of him, and we went to look for sweet corns for our meal.
I knew that it wasn’t personal; it never was with Tello.  And in spite of my many defects, when my little bouts of stubbornness pass, I do have a good side. I often worked from eight in the morning till ten at night if the hotel light allowed Tello to dictate.
I did it all willingly and with a smile, even on a Sunday. Tello knew that - it was part of what he particularly appreciated in me - although he would never say so openly to my face for fear that it would spoil me.
The complaints continued all day, washing over me like the ebb and flow of the tide. I had to suffer the whole blessed day long for my twenty days of relaxation!
I was of, course, eventually forgiven and ‘rehabilitated’.  Three or four years later the Colombian archaeologist Blanca Ochoa Sierra laughingly asked me, “Hernan - and what exactly did you do during those twenty days that they sent you to Mojeque with Pedro? The doctor loves to tell that story, but to this very day he hasn’t got a clue what you could’ve got up to there.”

reconstruction of  Mojeque idol
photo by D. Duguay 

No comments :

Post a Comment