The North American Continent is filled with millions of people from different backgrounds and cultures. But as vast and diverse as it is, it is still part of an even more complex continent with stories that dominated the land long before Europeans crossed the ocean.
In this reading we will learn about some of the cultures that dominated what is now known as South America, whose beliefs have survived the centuries of oppression and harshness with as much resiliency as the mountains my ancestors looked up to. To begin, we will start by looking at my home country of Peru.
Perú is a country located in Western South America, and the home of the infamous world wonder, Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is an ancient citadel built at a height of 7,970 ft out of stone by the Incan people sometime in the 15th century. But as significant as Machu Picchu is, it is merely a fragment of the history built by Indigenous peoples that encompass the southern half of our continent.
Relative to the whole of human history in Peru, the Inca Empire was relatively new when it encountered the Spaniards as they were only around for two centuries. Before them, people were building civilizations all over.
Examples include the Moche in Northern Coastal Peru lasting from about A.D. 100 to A.D. 800. From its remnants grew the Chimú, who occupied the same area from about A.D. 900 until about A.D. 1470 when they met the Inca.
Looking to the northern Andes mountains of central Peru we find the Chavín people who are revered as great architects, occupying the lands from about 900 B.C. to around 200 B.C.
Heading south, we find the Wari people, ruling form about A.D. 500 to A.D. 1000, they focused on expansion through warfare and religious spread.
On the Southern coast to meet the Nazca people, thriving from about 100 B.C. to A.D. 800, they were skilled craftsmen, creating highly refined textiles, ceramics, and the massive Nazca lines. There are many more cultures in the area including the Paracas, the Caral, the Chachapoyas, the Otuzco, and the Q’ero to name a few. Each one with their own cultures, religions, and skills which eventually ended up being part of the Incan Empire.
At the height of its power, the Inca occupied an area from the border between Ecuador and Colombia to Southern Chile with a population of about 12 million. To help manage this region, they created a system of roads that stretched for about 25,000 miles which were used to mobilize food, resources, armies, and messages throughout the Empire.
The Inca Empire is now long gone, but like the ancient civilizations of North America, it’s descendants have persevered despite efforts by the Spanish and even modern Peruvians to eradicate their customs through industry, education, and religion.
One famous culture that has persevered for centuries is the Q’ero people. Nestled in small villages up in the Andes mountains, these communities have survived by working closely with the land which they occupy, influencing their lifestyles and even their philosophical beliefs.
The Q’ero belief system is based around the concept of Ayni, the law of reciprocity among Andean communities. Without a monetary system, the people of the Andes mountains survive by supporting each other when help is needed. And by adapting their belief systems to try and understand others they encounter.
There is a story about a landowner who sent a Catholic missionary to live amongst the Q’ero people and teach them. The Q’ero people greeted the missionary with gifts, kindness, and listened intently to the newcomer. The missionary grew to love the Q’ero people and ended up learning more from them than hoped. The landowner eventually ended up dismissing the missionary from the land as he was losing influence over the Q’ero people.
Nowadays, the Q’ero belief system is a mix of indigenous and Roman Catholic belief systems. The major cultural event in the area being the pilgrimage of Qoyllur Rit’I that honors both Jesus Christ as well the area’s Glacier that provides water to the communities. About 100,000 pilgrims travel to the Sacred Sinkara Valley for a 4-day spiritual festival to celebrate Pachamama (Mother Earth).
This sacred event is more than just a celebration. There is a legend that the Qoyllur Rit’i pilgrimage will one day set off a cascade of events that will bring about a new age for our planet, where we will have leaders who are filled with divine love and wisdom. This legend has many iterations, but they all bring hope to the Andean people.
Unfortunately, the glacier they have worshipped for millennia is melting at alarming rates. This has changed the dynamics of the festival and broken the hearts of the Andean people. Just a couple decades ago, the glacier used to reflect the moon’s light, showing the path taken by the pilgrims. Nowadays lamps are used, and the magic is gone.
The melting of the glacier is seen as an omen by the Q’ero that humanity must change its relationship between themselves and the planet which we all share. Not because of the fear that their home is being destroyed, but because they notice the lack of Ayni within us. This story of Indigenous communities protecting the planet in which we all live in comes in many shapes and forms - repeated throughout the world, and I believe it is a story worth listening.
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