Monday, 3 August 2015

All in good humour

Falling in love is the easy part. But when two people from opposite ends of the globe join their lives together, there are inevitably times when the infamous ‘clash of cultures’ raises its ugly head. There’s no sugar coating it. Sometimes intercultural marriage gets you bent out of shape. In my humble opinion, best chance of success: focus on what unites rather than on what divides you.  Reach for the spaces in between.

It’s probably no great surprise then if I say that I’m not a great fan of nationalism. Sitting round numerous dinner tables on nearly all the world's continents, it sometimes feels like I’ve had to listen to just about every nationality declaim on just about every other nationality in any number of permutations.

What I like about Tello is that, although he undoubtedly had a strong nationalist vision, he worked happily with, and had great respect for his foreign counterparts. He was an Indian from the rural highlands who was at the same time an internationalist. In short he was comfortable with his place in the world. I think he had found his space in between.

That said, both Tello and tio Hernan were active participants in the indigenous movement which had begun to develop in Lima's intellectual circles in the opening decades of the twentieth century.

It’s worth bearing in mind that this is a time when congress still debated the ‘Indian problem’, with proposals such as the prohibition of reproduction by Indians and the importation of superior races from Western Europe seriously considered as viable solutions.*

Tello was one of the first social scientists to rigorously confront the idea that Peru’s indigenous cultures were inferior to those of the Spanish conquistadores.

All in good humour
In which our archaeologist indulges in a bit of good natured Hispanism vs Indigenism banter.

When the XXVII Congress of Americanists was held in Lima, Tello would recount to us each day on returning to the museum everything about the day’s happenings at the Congress. One day he couldn’t stop laughing. As the delegates were leaving they had seen a notice pinned up near the exit.  ‘Would the brachycephologist who mistakenly took a hat similar to his, please return said hat as soon as possible to the dolicocefalogist,’ signed Posnanski.

“That Posnanski,” said the archaeologist. “He’s always been a bit of a joker. Years ago we traveled together. I told him I didn’t think he had a drop of Polish blood in his veins. We shared a room together and he slept like the rest of us, just like a good ‘serrano’.”

“And how does a ‘serrano’ sleep, doctor?” asked Tello’s assistant Rebeca Carrín Cachot.

“Curled up like a dog,” he replied. “I used to wake up before him, and the first morning I thought he had already left, because the pillow was empty; there was no sign of him. He used to sleep totally curled up in the covers and hidden away right down in the centre of the bed.”

Arthur Posnanski
photo - Los Annunaki y los secretos del lago Titicaca - Alan Brain

Every time the two scholars met, it was inevitable that the conversation would eventually veer off from strictly academic projects. They enjoyed the banter, and they were well matched. The Tiahuanaco expert was very witty, as was Tello.
head by Luis Ccosi Salas
It was the same whenever the French ethnologist Paul Rivet visited the museum, and also with the historian Raúl Porras Barrenechea with whom Tello maintained a long running good natured intellectual duel regarding the relative merits of indigenism and hispanism. 

On one occasion, when Porras barrenechea was visiting, we had acquired some pieces by the indigenous sculptor Luis Ccosi Salas. Tello showed them to him, taking pains to point out the positive artistic features of the Indian's work.

Machu Picchu - Luis Ccosi Salas
 en son de luz
photo - Siabala, Luis
At the end of his visit, the historian came out onto the patio, making his was way towards the main door of the museum. 

He turned to look at the courtyard’s arched colonnade and nodding towards it said to Tello, “And, now answer me this. What about these arches under which all your exhibits take shelter. Are they or are they not Spanish?”

There was no answer to that.

Luis Ccosi Salas

*Luis Lumbreras Tello y su tiempo as cited in Burger p.68

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