From the Sun of the Incas to the Virgin of Copacabana · PDF file Copacabana* I COPACABANA is...

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Transcript of From the Sun of the Incas to the Virgin of Copacabana · PDF file Copacabana* I COPACABANA is...


    From the Sun of the Incas to the Virgin of Copacabana*


    COPACABANA is a small town in Bolivia, situated on a peninsula that projects into the southern end of Lake Titicaca, and surrounded by hills still lined by Inca and pre-Inca terraces. In the center of the town, overlooking the square, stands the pilgrimage church of Our Lady of Copacabana, founded in the later sixteenth century, and subsequently much rebuilt and added to.' The frontier between Bolivia and Peru, which runs across the peninsula, dates back to the earlier fifteenth century, when the Incas began penetrating the region. It origi- nally marked an enclave of territory dedicated to the Inca state cult and popu- lated by state settlers. Copacabana formed part of this territory;2 across the bay from the town lies the Island of the Sun, where in Inca times stood a great sanctuary of the Sun which pilgrims from many parts of the Inca empire visited, as well as some of the Inca rulers themselves.3 Thus, across the bay, the ancient holy place, now derelict, and the Christian church, to which pilgrims still come on February 2 and August 6, to celebrate two annual festivals, face each other (Fig. 1).

    The annals of missionary Christianity, both in Europe and elsewhere, record numerous similar instances whereby a pre-Christian holy place survives in Chris- tian guise. Christianity demands conversion, a turning-away from all non-Chris- tian observances and beliefs. At the same time, no one is able completely to abandon an earlier mode of thought and life; a co-existence of the old and the new invariably emerges.4 As Pope Gregory the Great, writing to the missionary bishop Augustine of Canterbury in 601 A.D., comments in a passage quoted approvingly by a Jesuit missionary who worked in Peru in the later sixteenth century:

    The temples of the idols among [the English] should on no account be destroyed.... In this way, we hope that the people. . . may abandon their error and, flocking more readily to their accustomed resorts, may come to know and adore the true God.5

    But in Copacabana, as in Peru at large, the transition from Inca religion to Christianity was much more troubled than the organic change for which Pope


  • Gregory had hoped.6 Nonetheless, the Inca pilgrimage to the temple of the Sun on the island and the Christian pilgrimage to Our Lady of Copacabana are connected. Our present purpose is to examine the nature of this connection, and to find out how it came into existence. As will later be seen in greater detail, there are two distinct layers or issues in this inquiry, one general, the other particular. The general issue concerns certain aspects of the genesis of the Inca myth and cult of the Sun, their political role as understood by the sixteenth- and seven- teenth-century historians of Peru, and the connections which were at that time thought to exist between Inca religion and Christianity. Our orientation here will be primarily historiographical. The particular issue is the emergence of the cult of the Virgin of Copacabana, where we will focus on events as distinct from historiography.

    Some preliminary considerations concerning the chronology and historiog- raphy of the Inca empire will introduce the first layer of our discussion. Pre- Conquest accounts of Andean history survive in a fragmentary fashion in nar- ratives of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century historians of Peru. Most of them suggest that when the Spaniards arrived, the Inca state had existed in some form for about 500 years. It had been governed by a succession of eleven or twelve Incas, all members of the same dynasty, although some accounts give a different number. Certain important variants notwithstanding, there is also a general consensus about the names of these Incas and the duration of their reigns. But there is no reliable chronology, and several historians, although they do mention the length of some reigns, give no absolute dates at all.7 Within this overall framework, chronologies of the expansion and development of the Inca state fall into two groups. According to one group, which has been proven his- torically accurate, the expansion of the Inca state was rapid and began under the ninth Inca, Pachacuti, in the mid-fifteenth century.8 According to the other group, the chief representative of which is the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, whose Royal Commentaries of the Incas were published in Lisbon in 1609, the expansion of the empire was gradual and began under the very first Inca, whom most accounts name Manco Capac.

    As will be seen, a double rationale informs this latter chronology. For, on the one hand, Garcilaso wrote as the advocate of the Inca empire to the Spanish conquerors. Seeing that in the eyes of his learned contemporaries, ancient meant not only venerable but also good, Garcilaso glorified Inca institutions by attrib- uting to them the luster of antiquity. On the other hand, however, Garcilaso did not invent this chronology. Rather, he wrote down a version of Inca history designed to account for the expansion of the empire in the later fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, a version which constituted a response to the political and religious needs of a rapidly expanding state. In recording this version, Gar- cilaso was following what appears to have been an established tradition of Inca

    From the Sun of the Incas to the Virgin of Copacabana 31

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    FIGURE 1. View of Copacabana. Left: church of Nuestra Sefiora de Copacabana, housing the miracle- working image of the Virgin. Right: the mountain frequented by Aymara, as distinct from Hispanic, pilgrims.

    historiography whereby past events were reformulated to match current con- cerns. A concrete example of precisely this process of reformulation survives in the declaration which was made before the governor Vaca de Castro by four quipucamayos (keepers of knotted strings [quipus] recording historical and other data) from Cuzco in 1548. The declaration states that after becoming Inca, Ata- hualpa, who ruled the empire when the Spaniards arrived, ordered that the history of the Incas be composed anew to focus on his own reign.9 Garcilaso preserves just such a rewriting of Inca history, attributable, perhaps, to Atahual- pa's brother and rival Guascar, or, more probably, to the father of these two brothers, the Inca Guaina Capac, who died between 1525 and 1527.

    Garcilaso's narrative is poised between two different focal points, that of Peru and that of Spain. A similar dual focus also pervades all the other early historians of the Incas, because their views about the Incas, like Garcilaso's, were inseparable from, and in a sense conditioned by, their views about Christian Peru under Spanish rule. In this way, writing the history of the Incas could become a form of political expression. Garcilaso thus idealized the Incas, and in doing so, artic- ulated a latent critique of Spanish colonial government, while historians who gave a less flattering, but in some respects more accurate portrait of the Incas


  • tended to extoll the virtues of Spanish rule. Although critical scholarship has eroded much of Garcilaso's reputation as a reliable historian, his attitudes, biases, and preconceptions are central to our inquiry. For they not only enshrine a set of late Inca traditions, but also document one aspect of the process whereby pre- Conquest religious notions were modified and transformed by coming into con- tact with Christian notions.


    At the time of the Conquest in 1532, the Inca empire was in a state of upheaval. Not only were there two claimants to the throne, the brothers Guascar and Atahualpa, but also, rapid expansion of the empire during the later fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries had produced grave tensions between the con- quering Incas and their new subjects. The state cult of the Sun, throughout the empire superimposed on local cults, helped create some semblance of empire- wide unity and cohesion by introducing in provincial capitals Inca rituals as they were practiced in the imperial capital of Cuzco.'0 This aspect of Inca religion was well understood by Guaman Poma, an Indian noble from Guamanga, and author of the Nueva Coronica y Buen Gobierno, a compendium of Andean myth, thought and history which he completed in or before 1613. In this work he attributes to his tenth Inca, Tupa Yupanqui, a long series of reforming ordi- nances, according to one of which "there shall be another Cuzco in Quito and another in Tumi Pampa and another in Guanunco Pampa and another in Hatun Colla and another in Charcas and the head is to be Cuzco."' 1

    This ordinance reflects what we know from other sources, that the Incas constructed solar temples, houses for acllas (chosen virgins), and other official buildings modeled on the buildings of Cuzco in provincial capitals throughout their empire. Cuzco thus epitomized not only an imperial style of architecture, but also the political and religious order of the Inca empire. However, the unity and cohesion which the Incas were able to impose on their growing empire during the three or four generations before the arrival of the Spaniards went only skin- deep, as witness the rapid collapse of the cult of the Sun after 1532, and the conflicting accounts of it which were collected by the early historians of the Incas and Peru.

    In examining the connections between the solar cult centered on the capital in Cuzco, and the cult of the Virgin in distant Copacabana, we will survey Inca myths of origins in which th