Thursday, 21 May 2015

Poor but not quite destitute

the old Peruvian National Library building
as portrayed on the back of a hundred soles banknote

Traffic in Lima is unquestionably brutal. Driving is a cut throat business that, if you’re not too worried about your blood pressure, can be quite exhilarating, requiring aggression and creativity in equal parts.

The last time I was living there, I was passenger in a taxi which got involved in a bit of a fracas in the street. Needless to say heated gestures ensued, and as the taxi driver drove off he spat out one word at the other motorist ….  serrano.

He nodded and smiled knowingly at me in the mirror. But I chose to remain silent in the back. Serrano, of course, means someone from the mountains.

There’s no doubt that things are far different now from the times when tio Hernan was writing his Anecdotes. But for me words tell stories, and the traffic incident was testament to a society still grappling with the lingering subtleties of racism and inclusion.

Tello was a mountain Indian who overcame financial difficulties and social obstacles to reach the position he did. He was a fierce advocate for indigenous communities, and I think his single minded refusal to be intimidated by the coastal elites of the time is a large factor in the legendary status he holds today for some Peruvians.

The rags to riches angle is inspiring. But in this story Hernan, who was himself from the central Andean highlands, takes issue with what he sees as a somewhat patronising portrayal of his hero. And reminds his readers that the concepts of money and position then, as now, can often be relative.

Poor but not quite destitute 
Wherein we learn of the reason for Tello's brief accomodation crisis and his subsequent rescue by an eminent Peruvian historian

Two days after Tello’s death there appeared an article in La Tribuna under the title Julio C Tello, Illustrious Amauta. I believe it’s possible that this article has been the source of some resulting biographies grossly overstating Tello’s supposed penury.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Point of departure

photograph by José Alva

Hernan’s 50 Anecdotes del Sabio Tello don't only tell the stories of the expedition team's adventures around Peru in the 1930s and 40s.  Several of them also tell the story of Tello himself. 

How did this boy from the mountains come to be 'arguably the greatest Native American social scientist of the twentieth century'?*

Point of departure
In which we find our where it all began for Tello

Scattered all over Peru are the chulpas of our ancestors. The burial towers and chambers where ancient Peruvians lie swallowed up in their eternal slumbers are where today’s farmhands, shepherds and animals continue to find shelter.

Many of them lie so far off the beaten track that they are never visited. One of these sites, Chuicoto in Huarochirí, was where the young Tello used to hide himself away and play as a small boy. 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

A meagre harvest

If you're reading this in the UK this week, the mere mention of politics will probably be enough to make you slam shut your laptop. All I can say is good luck to you all tomorrow.

Peru doesn't go to the polls until May 2016, but already seems set for the usual tumultuous year of electioneering nonsense. Get ready to jump aboard the magic roundabout.

All this by way of forging a (somewhat tenuous)  link to this latest story from the Anecdotes. Land rights I suspect haunt the dreams of many a Peruvian politician. It's a complex issue, with no easy fix guaranteed to unravel the fearsome web of conflicting interests. That said - no reason not to try.

In this story. Tello's assistant Mejía Xesspe bigs himself up and poses as a special government envoy in an attempt to track down some ancient artefacts. In the process he gets caught up in the brouhaha between two provincial warring factions.

A meagre harvest
In which we see what happens when the gloves come off in a rural community in Andahuaylas

Tello had always been really fascinated by the Inca quero. So it was with great excitement that one day in October 1925, his devoted follower Toribio Mejía Xesspe, reported that he was on the scent of a trail that promised to uncover some. There ensued a saga that Tello always delighted in recounting to us with great amusement.