The Double Yolked Egg
Christian Saints in the Andean W’aka World
On the eastern edge of the Ecuadorian Andes at the gateway to the Amazon the miraculous Virgen del Rosario de Agua Santa presides over the town of Baños which lies nestled in a canyon surrounded by the verdant foothills of the Volcano Tungurahua (fig. 1-3). “Baños” means “baths” and this holiday town of 15,000 residents is named for the mineral and thermal springs that boil up out of the volcano. Famous for their curative qualities, these springs have attracted pilgrims since before the conquest. Local legends recount that even the Inca and his court would come to soak in these pools.
Over the last decade nearly 750,000 pilgrims, many of these Native Andeans visit Baños every year. The pilgrims come to bathe in the thermal waters and to pay homage to the miraculous Virgen del Rosario de Agua Santa de Baños, the patron saint of these healing springs. This Virgin’s miracles not only include the physical healing of her devotees, but she is renowned throughout Ecuador for the ways she has interceded and protected Baños during Tungurahua’s many eruptions during the last three and half centuries. In addition, the Virgin is recognized for her ability to protect her devotees from the dangers they encounter as they travel across the rugged Andean terrain.
In the neo-gothic Dominican basilica at the center of the town, the bright red altar with gold leaf details forms a rising series of arches and peaks that resemble a mountain or cathedral. Within the altar, a variety of niches hold images of the crucifix, San Francisco, Santo Domingo, and the four Archangels. In the largest niche at the center of the altar, La Virgen de Agua Santa sits on an intricately carved silver throne her arms opening out toward the chapel below her (fig. 6).
Known alternately as La Virgen de Baños, La Virgen de Agua Santa, Reina del Oriente, Mama Rosario and Charrito, this Virgencita wears a lace mantel over her long brown hair, an elaborately embroidered gown, an elegant cape and dangling gold earrings. Seated and clothed as she is, the Virgin’s form creates a triangle reminiscent of the shapes of mountains. With the exception of a blush of rose on her full chin and her cheeks, the Virgin’s skin is very white and pudgy. Her face tilts slightly to the right. She has thin arching eyebrows. Set close together, her brown eyes are almond-shaped and cross slightly as they fix on devotees before her. Her long narrow nose comes to a sharp point at the tip above a small, down turned mouth—almost prissy. Her lips are deep red. On her lap she holds the Christ Child with long brown hair who reaches tenderly up toward his mother with his right hand. In his left hand he holds a tiny ball, the only remaining remnant of a long lost rosary. Set high above the altar, this image of the Virgin and her child is framed by the Christian saints, the ritual altar space and the coming and going of the Dominican priests below her.
In a side chapel, just off the main sanctuary, a smaller popular shrine pays homage to the deep bond that exists between this particular Virgin and this particular place. A smaller image of the Virgin, La Virgen Peregrina—the Pilgrim Virgin—rests in a niche at the center of a Plaster of Paris sculpture of the Volcano Tungurahua. The shrine depicts lava bursting up out of the volcano’s crater and a waterfall, known as La Cascada de la Virgen, flows down the mountain’s side (fig. 4). A blue neon light outlines the hole in the mountain that contains the Virgin. This shrine is evocative, intimate and moving. But for a wrought iron fence, the Virgin is within hand’s reach and just above eye level. There is an intense privacy to this space. It is here that devotees come to pray and cry. They bring flowers and tuck photographs of themselves into cracks in the wall around the shrine. Lovers leave locks of their hair tied to the iron bars of the fence that surrounds the sculpture. They light candles and leave them burning on a table before the Virgen Peregrina. They wet their hair, face and hands and drink the holy water that bubbles up out of a stone fountain before—or after—they visit the larger image of the Virgin in the main sanctuary (fig. 7). The immense popularity of the shrine in this grotto suggests that this mountain sculpture speaks to the Virgin’s devotees in a powerful way.
The miraculous character and healing power of the Virgin of Baños, which throughout the centuries has attracted devotees from all over the region, emerges directly out of the Andean history and cultural context surrounding this religious icon. A regal sign in the contemporary Baños municipality acknowledges the town’s strategic role in the region’s history by referring to the Baños pass as “La Puerta a El Dorado”—“The Door to El Dorado,” the mythic city of gold. In 1534 the Inca General Rumiñahui fled from Diego de Almagro’s and Sebastián de Benalcázar’s advancing troops carrying the gold from the Quito Temple of the Sun in order to hide it deep within the Llanganatis Mountains further to the East. Legends relate that Rumiñahui sealed the Inca treasure with the protective bindings of brujería, witchcraft. From Baños the purple ridge of these “cerros encantados,” the enchanted hills, forms the outer eastern rim of mountains encircling the valley.
Twenty years after the conquest of the Incas the Andean history of the Virgen de Agua Santa de Baños begins. In 1553 Carlos V of Spain presented to the Dominican Order by Royal Seal the Parish of the Blessed Mother Virgin of the Rosary of the Holy Waters of Baños along with the Amazonian territories of Canelos, Macas and Quijos. As a primary gate into the Amazon, Baños served as the mission seat for Dominicans and an entry point for Franciscans and Jesuits who followed the course of the Pastaza River down into the jungle to the Amazonian Shuara, Achuar, Quichua and Secoya communities.
By 1583 colonial documents record the existence of a small village called Baños where a chapel with cane walls and a straw roof had been built at the foot of a waterfall at the edge of a thermal volcanic pool. The chapel housed an image of a seated Virgin known as the Virgin of Montserrat. The physical history of the icon emerges in tandem with regional accounts of the Virgin’s first appearance at that site. The earliest stories of the mythic origins of the Virgin relate that she appeared to a man in front of the waterfall, now known as “La Cascada de La Virgen.” She requested that he build a chapel for her at that site, in return she would preside over the thermal springs and heal all who bathed there.
To discern the nexus of sacred meanings that attract hundreds of thousands of devotees to the Virgin of Baños every year, we must look beyond the Catholic colonial authorities that brought Christianity to this region and beyond even the Spanish landholders who installed this particular Virgin on their haciendas. Instead we will examine the interpretive Andean frames that defined and deployed sacred power receiving and re-figuring sacred objects arriving from Spain.
The task of this chapter will be to delineate the Andean contexts that shape the Virgin’s miraculous power, for the religious authority of this image arises from the ways that symbolic information lies encoded in her physical form. Like the Incaic quipus which recorded histories, state records and other vast quantities of information on knotted strings, here the “writing,” the information, is recorded in the body of the object, its sacred nature expressed through the indecipherable character of its mute frame. And this is where our study begins, by going back in time in order to understand the Andean nature of the sacred, the w’aka, a multi faceted category that included beautiful and monstrous objects, offerings, sacred sites and primordial god-like creatures who later transformed into features of the land.
According to Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, who was writing in 1609, not only did the term w’aka mean a “sacred thing” such as “idols, rocks, great stones or trees which the enemy [i.e., Satan] entered to make the people believe he was a god” but, in addition, the Andeans
… also give the name huaca[w’aka] to things they have offered to the Sun, such as figures of men, birds, and animals…. Huaca is applied to any temple, large or small, to the sepulchers set up in the fields, and to the corners in their houses where the Devil spoke to their priests…. The same name is given to all those things which for their beauty or excellence stand above other things of the same kind, such as a rose, an apple, or a pippin, or any other fruit that is better or more beautiful than the rest…. On the other hand they give the name huaca to ugly and monstrous things…the great serpents of the Antis…eerie thing that is out of the usual course of nature, as a woman who gives birth to twins… double–yolked eggs are huaca….
…They use the word huaca of the great range of the Sierra Nevada.… The same name is given to very high hills that stand above the rest as high towers stand above ordinary houses, and to steep mountain slopes….
The ubiquitous nature of the category reveals the ways that the sacred permeated Andean life. In part, the Andean understanding of the sentient, responsive nature of the world yielded up a religious experience that required interacting with and acknowledging the spirit character of objects and land. Throughout this dissertation, we will see how this concept of the sacred lingers and continues to shape religious experience infusing the contemporary practice of Catholicism with this Andean way of understanding how the divine radically engages the physical world.
In this chapter we will begin with a brief overview of the colonial Andean concept of w’aka in order to understand how this ubiquitous category formed a malleable fabric of Andean belief and practice that persisted and transformed in the face of Spanish Catholic persecution and extirpation. I will argue that the morphic quality of the w’akas themselves formed a structural precedent of change that provided strategies for developing complimentary differences when engaging others. For the Andean people these strategies enabled them to flexibly combine their traditional beliefs with new mythic elements introduced by Christianity while, at the same time, preserving communal identities. Pre-colonial w’aka myths reveal how these Andean narratives present a world in evolutionary motion where humans, plants, animals and landforms constantly change through encounters with others. Post-colonial Andean myths continue this tradition of transformation by incorporating Christian mythic characters into traditional w’aka plot lines. These sacred mythic forms provide an example of Andean patterns of thought and behavior in the face of radical change.
Throughout this discussion of pre-and post-contact w’aka myths, I will weave a brief history of the Virgin of Monserrat who, by the mid 17th century became known as the Virgen de Agua Santa de Baños. By juxtaposing the history of this specific Virgin in this particular Andean place with the generalized overview of mythic transformation throughout the region we can better trace the relationship between global changes and local realities. The following chapters of the dissertation trace the Andean influences surrounding the Ecuadorian Catholic cult of the Virgen de Baños. We will see how these old w’aka patterns shape myths of the Virgen de Agua Santa, pervade the ritual practice of Andean Catholic devotion in Ecuador and permeate ex-voto paintings in the Baños basilica.
The Andean W’aka WorldCuzco, 1621: nearly half a century after the Virgen de Monserrat arrived at the cane and straw chapel in Baños, the Jesuit extirpator Pablo José de Arriaga in his treatise on the extirpation of idolatry in Peru, describes the variety of worship practices that the Spanish encountered in the Andes. He wrote that in certain seasons on specific fiestas, Andeans worshipped Inti the sun, Quilla the moon, specific stars along with Hillapa or Libiac, lightening. They worshipped Mamacocha, the sea and Mamapacha, the earth. They worshipped the Puquois or the springs and in places where there was little water they asked the springs to not dry up. They worshipped the rivers and before they crossed the river they performed a ritual called mayuchulla where they would take some of the water in their hands and ask permission to safely cross the river or to fish in the waters without coming to harm. They worshipped the Cerros, or high mountains and large rock formations and the rocks themselves, which they called by name. They worshipped the snowcaps and the houses of the Huaris, a giant people who first populated that place. And they took the earth that surrounded the Huaris’ bones and used them to treat sicknesses and to create love potions. They worshipped their Pacarinas, their place of origin, those mountains, springs, rivers and lakes from which the First Man and the First Woman of their people were born.
“All of these things listed above,” wrote Arriaga, "are Huaca which they adore as God, and which you cannot remove from their eyes, because these things are fixed, and immobile, and so you must try (as I have said above) to remove these things from their hearts showing them the truth and revealing the lies, and so too, it is necessary to teach them carefully the causes of the springs and of the rivers, and how the lightening erupts out of the clouds, and how water freezes and other natural things, which they need to be taught very well."
The ubiquitous nature of the category reveals the ways that the sacred moved through Andean life permeating routine activities. In part, the Andean understanding of the sentient, responsive nature of the world yielded up a religious experience that required interacting with and acknowledging the spirit character of objects and land. Arriaga’s remarks, like Garcilaso de la Vega’s gloss on the word, established the range of semantic possibilities for the term. W’aka could be used for extraordinary objects that were exceedingly rare, beautiful or monstrous. The word could also refer to the object of worship, “idols, rocks, great stones or trees,” or to the gifts and offerings left at these sites. Andean historian Gerald Taylor identifies the double meaning of w’aka to include both “visible, accessible cult objects” and the “metamorphosis of the founder of lineage.” The latter translation arises out of the association of w’aka with pacarina, i.e. the dawning place, the site of origin, creation point or birthing place of w’akas and of people. In contemporary usage, w’aka generally means treasure because of the vast amount of valuable objects discovered and removed from these sacred sites.
Pacarinas, the places that gave birth to the First Man and First Woman of distinct Andean communities, served as the primary explanation for differences between people. Christian colonial authorities would later identify pacarina as an intrinsic obstacle blocking Andeans from converting to Christianity. The link between w’aka and pacarina originates from the Andean belief that in ancient times the world was inhabited by w’akas, super-human god-like creatures who traveled around and encountered other w’akas, sometimes engaging them in competitions of wit or even all out battles. Written in Quechua sometime between 1598 and 1608 the Huarochirí manuscript is the oldest document written by a Native Andean that relates local religious traditions in the Andes and provides detailed accounts of the myths of the w’akas from the Huarochirí and surrounding regions of Bolivia. The myths relate how w’akas frequently served as the progenitors and founders of separate ayllus, or lineage groups. After a time, often after a difficult battle, the w’akas transformed into stone or prominent features of the landscape so that, in fact, the Andean people descended both from the w’aka as super-human creature and the w’aka as specific site of land.
In 1582, the colonial chronicler Cristóbal de Albornoz identifies “the chief class of huaca” which the Andeans had before the Incan conquest with “pacariscas” which he translates as “that which gives existence to all created beings.” Albornoz wrote that these w’aka/pacariscas (or pacarinas) “take different forms and names according to the provinces: some have stones, others springs and rivers, others caves, others animals and birds, and other species of trees and grasses, and with this difference they profess to be created and descend from the aforementioned things.….” So that, as historian Kenneth Mills argues, “[w]hat to seventeenth-century Europeans seemed a vain cult of stone was in fact a present embodiment—albeit often in natural, petrified forms—and reinterpretation of a long cultural past.”
This “embodiment” and “reinterpretation of a long cultural past” took additional form in the Andean religious practice that focused on the veneration of their preserved ancestors, or malquis, who were said to be the sons and daughters of the w’akas. The malquis were kept in ancient houses or sepulchers called machays. Like the w’akas, malquis had their own priests, possessions and feast days. Within their homes, Andeans kept chancas--lineage gods that were passed down through family lines and served to guard the welfare of the family—and conopas, personal fertility gods. The conopas were frequently small natural stones or stones carved to represent llamas, coca, corn, potatoes, etc. These conopas served to attract health and bounty to the crop or herd that they represented. While w’akas were recognized as sacred sites within the larger ayllu or sometimes throughout an entire mountain region, chancas and conopas offered guidance and protection within the smaller family realm.
Because the greater Andean cosmological system took into account the specific variance of religious beliefs, sacred sites and ritual practice that shifted from valley to valley and mountain to mountain, Andeans retained a strong capacity for accepting and acknowledging a range of mythological and ritual differences. In his account of Inca religion and customs written in 1653 more than one hundred years after the conquest, Father Bernabe Cobo offers a mythic explanation for the variety of pacarinas. According to the Andean myths he collected, after the Great Flood when everyone perished, the Creator used clay to create all the new nations. He painted their clothing, gave them their language, songs, food and seeds. Once this was done, “the Creator ordered [the nations] to go down beneath the earth, each nation by itself, so that they could emerge from there at the places where he ordered them to do so. Some of them were to come out of caves, others out of hills, springs, lakes, tree trunks and others from still other different places. Thus each province started to worship their place [of origin] as a major guaca because their lineage had originated there.” Father Cobo relates that Andeans considered these early ancestors as gods. They dressed like their w’akas and therefore, in accordance to the Creator’s command. They honored their w’akas by placing images of them in those pacarina sites. The myths also told how after engendering their children, the ancestors turned into different birds and animals. Because of this many of the images of the w’akas took the form of these different creatures.
The Andean belief that each village and kinship group were born from specific w’akas, whether mountains, lakes, rivers or springs, created the possibility of multiple, contradictory and yet, non-competitive cosmological truths which could co-exist within the same social space. This flexibility of Andean religious forms caused immense frustration to the Spaniards who believed that Catholicism revealed a universal and immutable Truth. From the Catholic perspective the Andeans believed lies, which the Spaniards had a religious responsibility to correct. For the Spaniards the Andean notion of the pacarinas, in particular, lay at the foundation of the Andean’s resistance to Christian Truth. “It is this ignorance,” writes Arriaga, “which is the cause of their errors, which they believe deeply, and which has taken root in all of them.”
They do not know that we all proceed from our first Parents [Adam and Eve] and instead they are persuaded not only that the Spaniards originate from one place, the blacks from another, but that every ayllu and groupings of Indians have their own origin and Pacarina, which is their own and they name it and adore and offer sacrifices to it. They call it Camac which means Creator and everyone says that they have their own Creator and some say that it is such and such a Mountain, others that it is a Spring and others tell many fables and old wives tales about their Pacarina.
The “morphing” ability of the w’akas themselves, which enabled them to transform from super-human creature, to landform, to animal or bird, reveals fluidity in Andean notions of identity. According to a wide range of Andean myths, the world came into being through the interaction of these w’akas and other creatures and landforms. Through encounters with others the individuals in conflict transformed into creatures whose differences complimented one another.
Andean historian Frank Salomon argues that the theme of transformation through conflict marks the most unusual and important cultural value shaping Andean mythology. In his introduction to the Huaorochirí manuscript, Salomon argues that the dominant model in this mythic material “is that of passage from mere difference (for example, the juxtaposition of antagonistic deities strange to each other) to complementary difference (for example, a revised juxtaposition in which the deities become male and female spouses or siblings embodying opposite ecological principles).” This “formal architecture” of these myths “owes everything to Andean patterns” and “occurs at the greatest and smallest levels of the mythology, in domains from the cults of apical deities Paria Caca and Chaupi Ñamca to the household relationship between in-laws.”
It is this structural pattern, indigenous to the Andes, permeating the mythic material of the region, which radically informs how Andeans encountered and engaged others. Time after time, Andean myths trace how competitive strangers move from “mere difference” to “complimentary difference” through their encounters. This mythic pattern offers a radical sociological vision and offers protective guidelines for engaging difference and incorporating change. In particular, this prominent mythic frame influenced how Andeans responded and absorbed Catholic theology, belief and practice.
The evolutionary nature of Andean identity and creation created a slippery cosmological vision of the world that both engaged and resisted the universalizing character of Catholic Truth. This intellectual framework presented what Arriaga called an “intrinsic” block to Christian conversion. The Andean rational against conversion took two separate and, to the Catholics, insidious forms. The first was that the Andeans understood, and said as much, that “everything that the Fathers preach is true and that the God of the Spaniards is a good God, but all of that which the Fathers say and teach applies to the Viracochas [the Europeans] and Spaniards.” And, on the other hand, the Andeans argued, “their Huacas, their Malquis, their fiestas, and all of those other things taught to [the Andeans] by their ancestors, elders and sorcerers [Arriaga’s term]…” these things, belonged to the Andeans. In other words, to each his own. This second argument offered a concise and stubborn interpretation that successfully dismissed supposed theological differences between the Spanish Catholics and Andeans. According to Arriaga some Andeans argued, “that the Huacas of the Viracochas [i.e. the Spaniards] are the images of their saints, and just as they have theirs we have ours.”
Apparently, Andeans identified the differences between Catholic forms and Andean ones as differences that naturally arose when people emerge from distinct pacarinas. These differences were non-competitive and non-exclusive. While the Catholic view of Universal Truth could not affirm Andean iconic forms, the Andean w’aka world contained mythic precedent for taking in and responding to the foreign and the strange. The arrival of the Christian story to the Andean mountains and valleys resulted in a radical reformation of this tale which began to describe the ways that the immigrant saints established traditional w’aka relationships to the Andean people, creatures and land.
History of the Virgin of Monserrat in Baños: 1610-1673
According to Baneño historian Enrique Frieire Guevara, the original image of the Virgin of Montserrat came to Baños from Cataluña with the Guerrero Zalamea family, Spaniards who by the early 1600’s owned extensive lands in and around Baños. The image linked the Guerrero Zalamea family back to their lives in Spain and to the protection of the most powerful Virgin in their natal region. As the most important miraculous shrine operated by the Benedictines in Spain, the Virgin of Montserrat was to Cataluña what the Virgin of Guadalupe was to Castile.
In his study of the local practice of Catholicism in Spain from the year 1575 to1580, historian William Christian argues that
[i]n the villages, towns and cities of Central Spain (and [probably] in most other nuclear settlements of Catholic Europe) there were two levels of Catholicism—that of the Church Universal, based on the sacraments, the Roman liturgy, and the Roman calendar; and a local one based on particular sacred places, images, and relics, locally chosen patron saints, idiosyncratic ceremonies, and a unique calendar built up from the settlement’s own sacred history.
“Intermingled with a great deal of magic,” the local religion practiced by lay people in Spain in the late 16th century privileged the communal history and mytho-geography of the surrounding landscape. No doubt, it was this kind of religious faith and devotional experience that motivated the Guerrero Zalamea family to bring their beloved protectress with them on their long journey from Cataluña to the remote Andean edges of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
In July of 1610 Alvaro Guerrero Zalamea founded an obraje, a work cooperative, with his relative Alonso Guerrero de Luna and neighboring landholder Gerónimo de Villa Castín. The obraje encompassed the towns of Baños and Juive in order to grow, harvest and process añil—a powerful red colorant used to dye textiles. Alvaro Guerrero established “Nuestra Señora de Monserrate” as the patron saint of this cooperative thereby installing the Virgin as the patron of the local Puruhua Indians who had been forcefully brought to the hacienda to work the lands.
Like the Iberian-Catholics of the 16th century who had come to Baños, the Puruhuas also privileged landscape and local history in their devotional observance of powerful deities. Like other groups throughout the Andes, the Puruhua people believed in the living nature of the mountains that surrounded them. In his book, The Mountain of the Condor, Joseph Bastien describes an Aymaran community’s contemporary relationship to Mount Kaata on which they live. This contemporary cosmology remarkably matches the description of ritual relationships in 16th century Huarochirí. It parallels, as well, the Puruhua’s traditional relationship to the mountains that surrounded them. Like human people, these mountains also had bodies that ate, drank, breathed and defecated. The peak of the mountain and the high páramo plains was the head of the mountain. The long soft páramo grass covered the mountain with hair, and its eyes and mouth consisted of lakes and springs. The lower part of the mountain formed its belly where Andeans planted potatoes and oca. The bottom foothills formed its legs and here the people planted and harvested corn, fruit and vegetables. Ayllus on one part of the mountain’s body, traded with other communities and thus the produce of the mountain circled up and down across the mountain’s body. Just as the mountain fed the people, the people fed the mountain with ritual sacrifices at caves, lakes, springs, rocks and other important shrines.
The mountains surrounding the Puruhua formed powerful mountain families. The immense mount Chimborazo, who for his size is known as the Father Mountain, was married to the seductive and volatile volcano Isabel Tungurahua near Baños. At night the Puruhua watched as Tungurahua’s crater burned red from her cooking fires as she prepared delicious foods for her husband and their son, the volcano Pichincha further to the Northwest in Quito. To the East of Tungurahua lying between her and Chimborazo, rose the rugged cerro Collay who took Tungurahua as his lover provoking the jealous wrath of Chimborazo. The region was alive with the intrigue and activity of these mountain families.
In 1645 a major earthquake destroyed the small chapel housing the Virgin of Monserrat in Baños. It was then rebuilt. The Guerrero Zalamea family eventually sold their hacienda to Capitán Alonso Martinez de la Puente, who in turn sold it to General Don Antonio Palomino Flores in 1673.
Persistence of Andean Traditions in the Face of Extirpation
In his book Pilgrims of the Andes: Regional Cults in Cusco, anthropologist Michael Sallnow traces out how the post-conquest “re-consecration of the Andes” remapped the Cuzco area with a combination of w’aka and Christian sites that were patronized by the Christian saints. He argues that by the time Spaniards conquered Peru, the clerics who accompanied the conquerors were inferior, missionary ardor had waned and the conquerors were more interested in gaining wealth than securing Christian conversion. In addition, because Andean religious belief and practice permeated everything from planting corn to having a drink of chicha, as a practical matter Christian authorities defined much of Andean religious tradition as “costumbre, “ or cultural custom. As a result, in the 16th century, colonial authorities took a more a lax approach in transforming Andean religious traditions. The extirpation campaigns of the 17th century arose, in part, out of the political ambition of individual extirpators. Through the extensive extirpation campaigns of the seventeenth century (1609-1621, 1625-1626, 1646-1667) the Catholic Church sought to wipe out Andean religious forms wherever they existed. Even so, because of the vast area and limited personnel these campaigns moved like tornadoes through the ayllus and then passed on. While these campaigns succeeded in identifying and punishing a number of religious leaders and destroying a large amount of sacred Andean material, in the end they could not effectively wipe out Native Andean religious belief and practice.
In 1668 the Archbishop of Quito, Alonso de la Peña Montenegro, in his Itenerario Para Párocos de Indios, a guide for priests in Ecuador, bemoaned the ineffectiveness of these extirpation campaigns. He wrote that “idolatría” or idolatry could not be eliminated because, like a bad seed, it had grown deep roots in the Andean people. This superstition and idolatry bred itself into their flesh and bone, “se hizo carne y hueso con ellos,” so that through the very blood that passed from father to son this idolatry was inherited and “stamped in the soul.” Despite one hundred and thirty years of Christian instruction, the Archbishop continued, the Christian Preachers, Teachers and Priests who attempted to correct their errors had not succeeded in erasing this idolatry from the Andeans’ hearts for this “interior empire” was passed, “like a vice, through the blood and drunk in through mother’s milk.”
De la Peña´s words reflected the Church’s frustration at its inability to erase the structure of a religious belief system deeply embedded in the carnal and material world of the Andes. After all, the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, rivers and springs, the fields and the rocks in the fields, all revealed a sacred history of famous ancestors many of whom, in death, had transformed into sentient features of the land. In other words, Andean religious belief and practice resisted erasure in part because the sacred history and stories lay physically imbedded, in effect “written,” across the mountain topography and the land itself could not be removed from view. At the same time, these w’akas provided continual testimony and examples of how to engage difference and incorporate change. The mythic history of these places reminded the Andean people of the possibility of forging “complimentary differences” in the midst of radical conflict.
Indeed, as both de la Peña Montenegro and Arriaga noted, it was difficult to remove these ideas from the Andean’s hearts. Because of the material nature of these religious forms and the morphic quality of their mythic identities, the Spaniards had to take great care in completely destroying the religious objects or disposing of them entirely with as much secrecy as possible. For, like Christians who preserved relics of Christ’s Cross or who honored Christ’s final journey up the Vía Dolorosa, Andeans also revered the recovered fragments of their destroyed w’akas and ritually traced and worshipped at the sites where their w’akas met their physical destruction at Spanish hands. “In one village that lies near the Sea,” wrote Arriaga,
…a Spaniard threw four sacks of these damned relics deep into the ocean without the Indians knowing and in the rest of the coastal villages they have done the same. In other parts they have thrown these objects into the Rivers without the Indians seeing them. And it is necessary to take great care in breaking the objects up, or burying them, or covering them where the Indians cannot see them, or do not understand what it is they are seeing and this will require a lot of work but you must never trust an Indian, even if he is very good and very loyal. Because it is known for certain that the Indians Huaylas, even though they lived at a great distance, came and worshipped on the bridge in Lima because some of the Huacas that Fr. Francisco Cano had seized from them had been tossed from that bridge into that river.
The persistence of Andean traditions in the face of repression paradoxically depended on the unchanging features of the landscape, and, at the same time, on the mutability of Andean religious forms, and the flexibility of the people themselves to respond to and take in the vast social and cultural changes that they encountered.
1673-1699—General Palomino Flores and the Installation of the Devotional Cult of the Virgin of Monserrat in Baños
By the time that General Don Antonio Palomino Flores bought the Juive and Baños estancia from Capitán Alonso Martinez de la Puente in 1673, the Virgen de Monserrat had intervened in the Andean life of her devotees, protecting them during terrifying earthquakes in 1645 and 1699. She had interceded and aided her devotees in their daily interaction with the Andean world and she had left Baños only to be recalled back to its fertile valley. Through this process, Andean devotees recognized her as their own. After nearly 100 years in the Andes through her miraculous engagement with Andean people and land, the Virgin of Monserrat shifted her gaze from Cataluña to Tungurahua and in the process her devotees changed her name to Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Agua Santa de Baños.
Competing histories surround General Don Antonio Palomino Flores, the Spanish landholder who bought the Juive and Baños estancia in 1673. Historian León Vieira, a member of a powerful Baneño family, supports a history that describes Palomino Flores as a beneficent, pious and generous patriarch who succeeded in bringing a priest to Baños in order to found the town and minister to its citizens. Enrique Freire, rival historian with a Marxist edge, argues differently. He writes that Palomino Flores’s donations to the church were not motivated by
…pure devotion… nor out of a desire to patronize the cult of the Virgin, as everyone would believe, nor even to found the town of Baños which already existed, but rather to sponsor a submissive priest on his own hacienda, which transformed it into a center of attraction, where for this or that reason they were able to secure the obligation of ‘the pious and Christian Indians,’ so that they might be ‘indoctrinated’ in obedience and submission to ‘Christians’ i.e., the white man.
According to Freire, the presence of the priest served as a venue for quieting Palomino Flores’s uneasiness over his rapid and brutal accumulation of wealth. “With money amassed through the tears of slaves and the spoils of the natives’ stolen inheritance, [Palomino Flores] childishly attempted to placate divine justice by funding enormous fiestas, rosaries and perpetual mass celebrating a variety of anniversaries.”
This “heretical” history prompted Baneño authorities to jail Freire for a time in the mid 1970’s and eventually run him out of town. Freire’s history highlights the ways that Spanish and criollo landholders fostered devotional cults around powerful Catholic icons thereby establishing and extending socio- economic power. Through the forced observance of these fiestas and the constant presence of the Virgin at the Baños estancia, the strategic colonial display of this sacred icon secured Indian devotion, obedience and labor.
The brutal and manipulative tactics that Christian colonial agents employed throughout the Americas to destroy indigenous religious traditions, secure Christian conversion and, in the process, gain control over native land and labor, has prompted scholars to apply a syncretic model to describe the complicated religious negotiation that took place. The syncretic model highlights the ways that indigenous religious traditions survived despite oppression through the secretive practice of forbidden rituals and the strategic veiling of sacred cult objects, beliefs and ceremonies behind the guise of Catholic rituals and icons.
The devotion surrounding La Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico provides the standard example. On December 9, 1531 a woman appeared to the poor Chichimeca peasant Juan Diego whose Indian name was Cuautlaohuac as he crossed Tepeyac Hill, home to the Aztec Goddess Tonantsi (“Our Lady Mother”). The Virgin told Juan Diego that her Indian name was María Coatlalopeuh. Coatl is the Nahuatl name for serpent and lopeuh means "the one who has dominion over serpents.” After appearing to Juan Diego, the Virgin imprinted her image on his cloak. Because Coatlalopeuh sounds like Guadalupe, the miracle was attributed to the Virgen de Guadalupe and the meaning of her name interpreted as “she who crushed the serpent” signaling the domination of Catholicism over Aztec traditions. The people of Chichimeca continued to worship Tonantsi, their local deity, in the guise of La Virgen de Guadalupe. The Catholic Virgin provided a strategic foil for the continuation of forbidden Aztec traditions.
Until very recently, many Andean historians have dismissed Catholic influences on Native Andean belief and practice as a “nominal” and strategic incorporation of Christianity in the face of profound oppression. In an attempt to sort out and focus in on the truly “native” aspects of Andean society, scholars have credited the impressive survival of Andean social structure, belief, and ritual, to the ways that “Indian communities managed to wall themselves off from intrusive cultural influences” combined with a culture of resistance that formed in the face of cultural intrusion. Informed by Marxist theory the critique rises, in part, from a historical bias against Christianity and the assumption –because of the violent aspect of the history—that if Andeans incorporated Christianity into their belief system it was against their will. Michael Taussig writes of the survival of “crypto-paganism” in the Andes and quotes a variety of Andean scholars—Juan Victor Nuñez del Prado B. (1974), Weston LaBarre (1948), and Adolph F. Bandelier (1910)—to support his view. It is worth quoting Nuñez and LaBarre at length in order to identify the ways that their theoretical framework may prohibit them from engaging Andean religious traditions on its own terms.
Victor Nuñez describes the survival of Andean traditions and attributes it to a wall of resistance and clandestine practice. In the Andes, he writes:
[w]e find that the supernatural world has characteristics very similar to those it had during the Inca empire, although the worship of some deities has died out and the veneration of others has appeared. The surprising thing is not, however, that the supernatural world has changed, but rather that it has not disappeared entirely, considering that the culture under investigation has co-existed for 400 years with another that has constantly tried to eliminate native beliefs and replace them with its own. We can attribute the phenomenon of persistence to the fact that the pressure, discrimination and segregation applied to the Indians, first by the invaders and then by the dominant mestizo group, have generated a protective barrier behind which native tradition and ritual have been able to maintain themselves thanks to their clandestine practice. [1974:250]
Nuñez rightly points out that there is a strategic protective barrier around native traditions, but this is also a product of geography and sheer numbers. Many Native Andeans still live in remote areas on their own native lands without the significant daily presence of mestizos or even priests. “Clandestine rituals” may include thousands of indigenous people who join a pilgrimage to a remote sacred site (but fail to invite a foreigner) or the healing ceremonies, open to those who need help, that take place in yachaj’s homes on any night of the week. While a Catholic priest, a Westerner, or an unknown stranger may not be welcome at these rituals, and while there may be ritual information that the yachaj guards (a normal responsibility for a religious practitioner), it does not follow that these are clandestine practices. Closed to nosy outsiders, perhaps, but not secret.
Weston LaBarre goes further and argues that the Christianity Andeans profess is a mere façade behind which Andeans observe their “real” native beliefs and rituals:
Centuries of nominal Christianity have merely added another alien mythology to the body of Aymara belief. A brutally oppressed and bitterly exploited people, many of them have taken fanatically to the sado-masochistic symbols of the blood-dripping, thorn-crowned figure on the cross of the more extravagant Iberian iconography of colonial times, and to the tragic-faced all-merciful mother whom some of them identify with their own ancient earth-goddess. Although they are all accounted Christian, many of the Aymara, however, hate the religion with the same vehemence that they hate its representatives.
Here LeBarre’s description betrays a rote analysis that processes the Andean cultural experience through a standard Marxist formula of oppression, exploitation and alienation. Through this lens Andeans become alienated people who have been “nominally” Christian for centuries. “Brutally oppressed” and “bitterly exploited” they “hate the religion” and its representatives but are “fanatical” about its “sado-masochistic symbols.” A more nuanced discussion of the political possibilities of believers defending their faith (an Andean Christianity) from corrupt institutional control cannot enter LeBarre’s analysis. Instead, Andeans respond to the “tragic-faced all merciful mother” because they really identify her as their “own ancient earth-goddess.” Ironically, in an attempt to address the very real suffering of Andean communities at the hands of Spanish, mestizo and religious authorities, the particularity of Andean religious experience disappears behind a Western interpretive frame that cannot permit an authentic Andean engagement with the Christian material. The text betrays itself as the offspring of an ongoing theoretical Western argument between Christians and Marxists—a foreign battle that plays itself out on Andean soil. Unable to even name the “ancient earth-goddess” (PachaMama—the living earth who is our mother who is not really a goddess per se but more like sentient sacred dirt); or seriously consider Andean’s passionate religious response to “extravagant Iberian iconography,” it is the scholar who appears most alienated by the Andean realities he encounters.
Like the colonial authorities before them, for many Western scholars informed by a strict notion of binary opposition, the Andean epistemological framework that engages and incorporates multiple and seemingly competitive realities at the same time remains an alien theoretical frame. The structure of Andean cosmology incorporates an extensive system of binaries unlike the Platonic and Hegelian forms. Andean binaries are complementary and propel circles of exchange along a moving axis. What to Westerners seems like two apparent opposites make up one complementary whole. For instance: the sun Inti, associated with the Father rules men and soil, moves through the day and the year marking his own calendar. On the other end of the axis, the moon Quilla, which rules women and water, moves through the night and the month marking her calendar. Inti and Quilla approach, their light and darkness inter-mingle, but they never quite connect. Men and women, too, maintain complimentary differences, which they negotiate sometimes in cooperation, at other times in tension as they move toward and away from each other in a constant dance. Andean fiesta dances mirror this axis of tension and attraction combining lines and circles as women and men approach each other on a line and then move back, or follow each other on a circle, tightly controlled by a repetitive melody and rhythm.
Andean binaries allow the incorporation of very different others by highlighting complementary relationships of exchange. Andean communities value extensive relationships between large groups of people from other places precisely because it allows the incorporation of distant produce and products into the home place. The strength of any given person or community depends on the extent of their trade capacity and their ability to receive a wide range and variety of people, produce and objects from many places and, alternately send out their own produce, products and symbolic representatives to distant communities and lands. The powerful person or place exists at the nucleus of multiple axis. In the Andes, Andean traditions and Christian traditions exist in this kind of binary relationship of tension and attraction. So that while Andean religious traditions may have been anathema to Christians, Andeans interpreted the Christian saints within their epistemological frame which privileged transformation and accretion emphasizing complimentary differences and thus made room for binary oppositions. The cult of the Christian saints allowed Andeans to incorporate additional powerful icons into their network of sacred relationships—icons whose sacred range led all the way to Spain.
The Corpus Christi celebration of 1555 provides an example of the Andean incorporation of the saints while maintaining ritual presence of the w’akas. The celebration, which incorporated all of the saints in the Cuzco diocese, was “modeled directly on those staged in many Spanish cities.” It was scheduled to coincide “with a period of intensified ritual activity in the pre-Hispanic calendar associated with the heliacal rise of the Pleiades on 8 June and the solstice on the 21st.” Garcilaso de la Vega’s description of the fiesta follows:
More than a hundred saints attended, sumptuously dressed and borne on litters around the plaza, followed by the Eucharist in a monstrance of gold, silver, and jewels. The saints were drawn from the city parishes and from the rural encomiendas; in some instances the Indians of an encomienda had one saint and the encomendero another, the object of his personal devotion (Garcilaso de la Vega [1617, part 2, book 8, chap I] 1966, 2:1415-19).
Sallnow argues that while superficially this ceremony resembled a traditional Corpus Christi celebration in Spain there remained a crucial difference. “[T]the Indians accompanying the Christian images in Cuzco were organized not according to any Iberian model but on the basis of national affiliation—affiliation, that is, to one or other of the diverse ethnic groups of the region.” This is an affiliation to place—the sacred center of Andean life. What’s more:
Each nation paraded in its distinctive ceremonial costume [traditionally ordered by the mountains], carrying aloft along with its saints an image of its bird or animal totem [i.e. its w’aka in bird or animal form], or a picture of its paqarina—spring, river, lake, mountain, cave, or whatever. Each had its band of flutes, drums, and tambourines, and they sang not in Quechua but in their native tongues, ‘so as to differentiate one nation from another.’
In other words this was an Andean sacred celebration of ethnic difference and place, in Cuzco the center, the powerful sacred navel of Tahuantinsuyo. Additionally, Garcilaso de la Vega describes that the saints were “sumptuously dressed.” Art historian Carol Damian argues that Andeans used textiles as the primary means of displaying ritual power and authority and that, after the conquest, the very clothes that the Christian saints wore displayed and maintained a through line of sacred Andean information. Chapter Four of this dissertation further explores the roles of textiles in the Andean religious imagination. Given this information, it is clear that the 1555 Corpus Christi celebration maintained Andean ritual traditions by celebrating place and ethnic difference and incorporating the historic changes to the Andean landscape, which included the arrival of the saints and new holy days like the Spanish celebration of Corpus Christi.
Kenneth Mills, in his book Idolatry and Its Enemies: Colonial Andean Religion and Extirpation, 1640-1750, argues that “…colonial Andean religion, like its pre-Hispanic forbears, was changing while it was enduring. Colonial Andeans resisted Christianity at the same time as they reacted to its presence and included aspects of what began as the invader’s religion into their emerging and reinterpreted ways of seeing and managing the world.” Through a process of resistance, reaction and inclusion, Native Andean traditions were preserved precisely because of their ability to absorb and respond appropriately to change. “Andean beliefs and practices survived,” Mills writes, “because they changed and were adapted to colonial realities (such as being declared forbidden and demonic) by the people themselves, and because people assimilated Christian terms, ideas, rituals, and explanations into an expanding religious framework.” As Salomon argues, the structural patterns pervading the Andean mythic material offered continual examples modeling how to engage change, providing paths toward incorporating the unfamiliar aspects of Christianity and creating in the process, a new Andean whole permeated with complimentary differences.
Mills’ work demonstrates how the Andes maintained a long tradition of religious assimilation promoted by the Inca Empire as well as pre-Incaic rulers. Religious history throughout the region included fierce competition between distinct religious cosmologies, mythically retold in the various battles of the w’akas, and these experiences created a precedent in the Andes for resisting, reacting and/or including newly valued elements of the competing world view. The mythology itself provides examples and strategies for protecting identity through the process of transformation and strategic metamorphosis offering practical assistance to communities surviving under a variety of imperial powers. Upon the arrival of the Spanish to the Andean world, “[s]o-called idolatry and Christianity could meet as well as compete, especially when the increasingly faint line that separated the two ‘religions’ was less rigorously monitored than during an idolatry investigation, and especially when colonial religion is viewed as a developing manner of living and thinking instead of a stark arena for the cosmic battle of antithetical worlds.” Since Andeans were mythically informed by stories that told how the world is continually transformed by encounters with strangers, they held within communal knowledge an intellectual framework tailored to absorbing change while maintaining a through line of traditional identities.
By incorporating Christian history, characters, narrative lines, and themes into the “formal architecture” of conventional Andean mythic and ritual forms, Andean religious tradition shed its skin and “morphed” into a new expression while still conserving Andean identity. This religious transformation followed sanctioned patterns of change indigenous to the Andes. Andean Catholicism, the religious “creature” that emerges on the other side of post-contact mythic transformation, preserves this Andean value of “complimentary difference.” It does not conform precisely to either the pre-contact Andean or pre-contact Catholic religious traditions, rather through the encounter with others a new religious identity emerges different but complimentary to the old Andean and the old Catholic way of seeing things. This new form creates a bridge between radically different world-views and ethnic communities. And yet this social bridge is a conservative, traditional, indigenous creation invented and implemented by Andean social architects, fundamental to the survival of Andean people and the continuation of Andean culture.
Encountering Others and Incorporating Change in Andean Myths
Stories, myths, and legends were all ways in which Andeans changed and adapted their religious traditions to the religious realities of the colonial conquerors. At the end of this chapter and in the following chapter, I will discuss the primary myth surrounding the Virgin of Baños, which describes how the Virgin wanders from her chapel in order to bathe in Tungurahua’s volcanic springs. This myth shows the particular inflection that the Virgin of Baños adds to the regional Andean cycle of sacred stories. But before turning to the bathing Virgin of Baños and Tungurahua’s springs, I will first discuss the broader mythic spectrum that emerged out of the post-contact Andean religious world.
The colonial interaction of Iberian-Catholic and Andean religious forms created new mythic narratives which continue to resonate with stories about change from the pre-contact Andes. The sacred stories about the lives of the w’akas describe how the world was created and altered in response to their travels, battles and adventures. The stories reveal how encounters between strangers bring about evolutionary change. The narratives depend upon a morphic logic where identity is in constant tension with the world and changes, accordingly, to continually match the realities of the moment. In this next section I want to look first at Andean myths that have yet to incorporate Christian elements and fully transform into post-contact narratives and then examine a post-contact myth that marries elements from both traditions into a truly w’aka story celebrating “complimentary difference.”
Throughout the Andes the most famous ancient stories of wanderers center on the travels of Viracocha and Paria Caca whose adventures are detailed in the manuscript of Huarochirí. Both myth cycles center on the way that these w’akas create and transform the world as they travel through it. Features of the earth and sky all serve as proof of their travels. Ayllus in the altiplanos of Peru, for instance, believe that the milky way is a river of night which grows weak towards dawn and then dives beneath the earth to feed on the under waters deep within the planet’s belly. This star river is the trail of Viracocha’s sperm seeding the night.
The Huarochirí manuscript relates how the w’aka Cuni Raya Vira Cocha “used to go around posing as a miserably poor and friendless man, with his cloak and tunic all ripped and tattered. Some people who didn’t recognize him for who he was yelled, ‘You poor lousy wretch!’” The Quechua term huaccha, “poor and friendless,” used in the Huarochirí manuscript suggests a person who is an orphan and therefore poor because they do not have the wealth of a wide spread network of connections. Here the people do not know Vira Cocha and thus assume that he is powerless because he has no connections that they can recognize and benefit from. The text also suggests that he is covered in lice. In Mochica imagery, lice growing on a shaman’s body function as miniature signs of the shaman’s power.
Traveling in disguise as this beggar, Vira Cocha fashioned villages, made fields, terraces, and irrigation canals. In his travels he performed “all kinds of wonders, putting some of the local w’akas to shame with his cleverness.” In his pursuit of the young virgin Caui Llaca, (whom he craftily inseminated by feeding her a fruit filled with his sperm), Cuni Raya Vira Cocha encountered animals who encouraged or discouraged his search. Accordingly, he rewarded or punished these creatures by transforming them in some fundamental fashion. Cuni Raya Vira Cocha blessed the condor for instance who told him that Caui Llaca was just around the corner. “You’ll live a long life.” Vira Cocha told the condor, “You alone will eat any dead animal from the wild mountain slopes, both guanacos and vicuñas, of any kind and in any number. And if anybody should kill you, he’ll die himself, too.” The skunk that told Vira Cocha that he’d never find Caui Llaca, received a curse. “As for you, because of what you’ve just told me, you’ll never go around in the daytime. You’ll only walk at night, stinking disgustingly. People will be revolted by you.” As he continued to wander Cuni Raya Vira Cocha continued to transform the world he encountered. “Whenever he met anyone who gave him good news,” the Huarochirí manuscript tells us, “he conferred on him a good fortune. But he went along viciously cursing those who gave him bad news.”
In the Ecuadorian Amazon, the story of the creative wanderers traces the mischievous adventures of the twins Quillar and Ducero. Through their many interactions with the world the plant, animal and land life around them transforms in response to the twins’ actions. In the Amazon, the world is made, in part, through the exploration and playful reaction of the wandering twins to the unfamiliar creatures and landforms they encounter.
These Andean and Amazonian tales insist that this animal looks and acts like this, this river stops and opens up into this deep pool, because of an encounter this animal had, this river had, with some other force, being, or creature of nature. These mythic stories emphasize a world in motion, in the process of transformation and whimsical change. These tales reveal how we are all—people, animals, plants and land—creatures in motion, transformed through cross–cultural and cross–creatural contact.
In part the structure of these Andean and Amazonian creation myths respond to a richly varied topography where the combined effect of the equator with the extreme change of altitude gives rise to radical shifts in landscape, flora, and fauna as one travels across relatively short distances. Intrinsically, the rugged Andean terrain highlights movement and change. Religious narratives in this region incorporate these themes in creation stories, which illustrate how the world came into being through the interaction of travelers with the environment, other people, plants, animals, elements and land forms. This understanding of the creation of the world inherently incorporates the experience of migration and immigration, the arrival of the foreign and encounters with the strange. Evolutionary in structure, these narratives address the ways that both the foreign elements and the familiar world were transformed in these encounters. Unlike the Judeo-Christian creation story, which posits a world that springs into being through verbal command and in a kind of immediate and orderly progression, Andean and Amazonian creation stories insist on many creations always in motion. Out of each valley, from each mountain ridge, arose a new people.
For example, Father Bernabe Cobo relates an origin story that came from the Ecuadorian province of Cañaribamba (present day Cañar) in the Diocese of Quito. According to this myth, two brothers survived the great flood by escaping to Huacañan, a high mountain on their land. After their provisions ran out, they would leave their simple hut during the day in order to gather herbs, roots and any other food they could find. One day they returned after a long day to their hut, tired and hungry, only to find a fire in the hearth and a supply of tasty foods and chicha, corn beer, awaiting them. They had no idea who had brought the food. After two weeks of this, the brothers decided that one of them should hide in the hut and see who was coming to care for them. They dug a hole in the darkest part of the shack and one of the brothers hid there.
That day, the brother saw two beautiful guacamayos, a kind of brilliantly colored large parrot, fly into the house. Upon entering the house, the birds transformed into two noble Cañares women. They took off their llicllas, their shawls, and began to prepare the food they had brought with them. The young brother jumped out of his hiding place and so startled the two women that they ran out of the house transformed themselves back into birds and flew away. The other brother was furious when he found out that the women had escaped. The brothers decided they would both await the guacamayos’ return and finally, on the third day, the birds came back, turned into women and entered the house again with their food. This time the brothers waited while the women settled into their work. Only then did the brothers jump out of their hiding place, embrace the women, and block their exit. The women were so befuddled that they could not turn back into birds. Finally they calmed down and on the brothers’ insistence the women told them that Ticciviracocha (a manifestation of Vira Cocha) had ordered them to come and care for the men so that they would not die of hunger. After much conversation, the women agreed to stay with the men and become their wives. These were the ancestors of the Cañares people.
Like many Andean myths, this creation story describes encounters with the unfamiliar—the young brothers meet up with guacamayos (radically different from men) who turn into women (creatures who differ from men in a complimentary fashion.) This narrative encounter with the unfamiliar imbeds flexibility into the narrative fabric allowing the myth to readily incorporate new characters and plot lines while maintaining the Andean or Amazonian setting. These creation stories form a flexible narrative structure where creation, transformation, and destruction take place in encounters with others. In this way, the Andean and Amazonian creation stories readily receive new characters and incorporate new plot lines. What remains constant or “true,” however, is the physical setting of place.
1699—1724: The Virgin of Baños is Left Alone with Tungurahua
In 1699 a devastating earthquake leveled the town of Baños and the Virgin’s cane chapel as well. The earthquake disrupted the Dominican’s plans to create a large and permanent mission center in Baños as an access point for the Canelos Amazonian region to the East. In the face of the absolute destruction of the town, the Dominican authorities left Baños, apparently “abandoning” the Virgin in Baños for twenty-five years.
Here there is a space in the history books—an ellipses—a moment of historical silence when the writers of colonial history disappeared from the scene, moving their chapels and focusing on their estancias that existed on firmer ground. During this silent space it is unclear where the Virgin stayed. But during this time, the Virgin’s local interaction with the people and the landscape may have burgeoned with little ecclesiastical control over the interpretation of the relationship between the Virgin and the nearby Volcano. When the history picks up again in 1724, Dominican authorities ordered to have the Virgin removed from Baños and relocated to the town of Mainas. While further historical research needs to be done, it is possible that local interpretations of the Virgin’s activities in Baños may have sufficiently troubled Dominican authorities that they chose to remove the Virgin rather than leave her unattended by official representatives of the Church. After all, without a Church representative, who could control the Andean stories blossoming around the Virgin?
Themes of Change in Post-Colonial Andean MythologyThe Christian church and Christian myths arrived into the Andean narrative landscape, which received and responded to the new mythic material. Christianity engaged with Andean people who received the story into their own frames of meaning. They responded by weaving the Christian story into their own lives, rituals, myths and land. In the process both Andean people and Christian story changed.
Andean myths embraced and incorporated characters and key features of the Christian story. The Cañares myth of the guacamayo sisters above, for instance, continues on even today, in new form, on rural edges of Ecuador’s capital city of Quito. There, Quito Runa tell this same story with a post-colonial twist. The story recounts how the first man and woman of Llano Grande met each other after the Flood. In this version the First Man, who the Llano Grande Runa identify as Nuestro Señor or Our Lord Jesus, lived all alone in a small hut. Every day he went out to look for food. One day, in the late afternoon he returned to find fire in his hearth and food on his table. Like the brothers in the guacamayos myth, he too decided to hide and see who it was that was caring for him. In the early morning, a sweet little turtle dove came through his door, removed its feathers, and transformed into a beautiful Otavalan woman. She began to make the fire and prepare food. Nuestro Señor jumped out and caught her. He held her and whispered loving things to her and convinced her to remain as his wife.
This reforming of the Cañares myth maintains the structural pattern of the First Man marrying a w’aka who has transformed from bird to woman. However, this contemporary version of the older myth identifies Nuestro Señor as the founder and progenitor of the Llano Grande people thereby making a blood link between the Llano Grande community and Nuestro Señor. From the Andean perspective the new plot twist improves on the past by amplifying and extending relationships which in turn grant access to additional resources, social connections, etc. This blood link of ancestry affirms Jesus, or Nuestro Señor´s indigenous connection to the Andes while, at the same time, highlighting the special nature of the community’s connection to the famous mythic foreigner—“Look who we come from!” A win-win solution, this narrative improvement is “good for Jesus” and “good for the community.”
In addition, in this region the turtledove is associated with animal manifestations of the Virgin of Quinche, a nearby patron saint. Regional folklore frequently suggests that Nuestro Señor is married to one of the many local manifestations of the Virgin. So that, if only in shorthand, this post-colonial Andean myth suggests that Jesus marries the Virgin Mary. The incestuous linking reflects and retains Andean sacred histories of mythic incestuous unions (like the Inca marrying his sister). For the Inca, Creation is portrayed as an act of cosmogenic incest; Mama Huaco [the First Woman of the Inca] emerges from the inner world (Pachamama) wrapped in a pink apu [or shawl], she then gives birth to a son without the intervention of a man, and the progeny of the union between mother and son become the sibling spouses who then become the rulers of Tawantinsuyo.
By marrying Nuestro Señor to the turtledove—a manifestation of the Virgin of Quinche who is, in turn, a manifestation of the Virgin Mary the mother of Jesus—this post-contact story forms bridges between the imperial past (the Incas) and the imperial present (the Spanish) in one swift narrative move.
Like the Llano Grande origin myth, post-colonial Andean mythologies create marriages between traditional w’aka plot lines and the casting of Christian mythic characters. The myth cycle which relates how Viracocha travels as a beggar and transforms the world as he encounters it, plays itself out over and over again across the contemporary Andes and upper regions of the Amazon. In Ecuador a whole series of highland and lowland Runa myths recount how Jesus or Nuestro Señor plays out the w’aka’s role of the wandering beggar who comes right to the rivers and fields where the storyteller lives. In Baños, for instance, the fields right above the house where I lived during my research became so rocky because they once belonged to an hacendado who failed to give food to such a beggar. The beggar, who turned out to be Nuestro Señor, cursed the rich man and cursed his planted potatoes, which turned at that moment to stone.
Similarly, the following myth comes from the Agua Rico River in Ecuador’s eastern jungle province of Napo. A mythic celebration of collage and powerful evocation of palimpsest, this particular account melds traditional stories of the wandering w’akas, combining an amalgam of Amazonian and Andean story elements, with some of the Gospel narrative features from the Mediterranean version of Christ’s passion. As such, the story builds bridges between Andean, Amazonian and Iberian-Catholic communities. The story gains depth and breadth by displaying symbolic elements valued as “cultural capital” by a variety of communities. The Agua Rico River is an important trade route in the Ecuadorian Amazon. As a lively example of a “cuento de frailes y viajeros” this myth works as a bridge maker for travelers and traders alike connecting to a variety of hosts and clients through story-telling. By incorporating a range of cross-cultural elements the myth potentially reaches a wider audience who responds with new ears to a surprise turn in an old familiar tale.
The post-colonial Agua Rico story reveals the way in which indigenous values are preserved within the mythic context through dexterous narration that maintains the Andean and Amazonian setting, marries w’aka and Christian plot lines while insisting on the value of indigenous character traits. In other words, the larger cosmological realities of the Andes and Amazon take precedence and become the stage out of which the Christian plot emerges. A good story made even better by improving the setting and spicing up the details, the narrative depicts Nuestro Señor as an Amazonian yachaj, a knower or healer. From the indigenous stand point, this “re-costuming” makes Christ even more powerful because of his sacred Amazonian knowledge. At the same time, the Andean and Amazonian myth gains force through the radical potential of the Christian story where good is destroyed by evil but wittily wins in the end: the dead come back to life with new powers gained from the grave. But here, even the grave gains new meaning as it is imbued with the mythic history of the Amazonian cerros. By maintaining the landscape, the meaning of the myth privileges an Andean cosmology despite the playing out of a sacred plot originally cast in the Mediterranean.
The Agua Rico story begins by conjuring the most familiar of creation tales, the story of the wandering beggar w’akas. Like Viracocha or Paria Caca before him, Nuestro Señor disguises himself as a beggar and wanders without resting throughout the world. As he travels, Our Lord Jesus has the curative powers to see, counsel, and aid those he encounters. His powers, however, attract the envy of brujo diablos, demon witches who use their power to kill rather than heal, to curse rather than bless.
In the Amazon and in the Andes, envy is a primary sin. Within the logic of the Aguarico world (as well as within the extended Ecuadorian Amazonian and Andean world), the cause for the brujos’ envy is implicit—the Son of God is a powerful yachaj. He possesses knowledge and has established an extensive network of relationships with the land, the plants, the elements, and therefore possesses the ability to thwart or foster life, luck and love. Because of this mastery, the yachaj continually risks attack from competitors who want to steal his power. The addition of envy into the story provides an immediately accessible rational for Nuestro Señor’s troubles. Gone is the complicated historical and political intrigue surrounding the Mediterranean account of the crucifixion of Jesus. With a simple alteration, the Agua Rico story cuts to the chase by dispelling any confusing background material and adeptly identifies a powerful motivation behind the enmity that rapidly propels the tale.
The moment that Nuestro Señor encounters the killing envy of the brujos, he returns to his jungle home seeking shelter from the plants in his chacra or vegetable garden which fail to care for him and are punished in kind. Nuestro Señor flees again, blesses those who aid him and curses those who don’t, finds aid from the snow and fog, and finally returns home to face his inevitable fate:
…his hour arrived and of his own will the Son of God allowed himself to be caught. He returned to his homeland, to a mountain, a cerro named Calvario, Calvary, and he arrived to the house of some women. There he hid in a room. When the diablos arrived, they searched through the whole house until they found him. They caught him, whipped him, insulted him and beat him. Afterwards they made him carry the cross. They called on a blind diablo and had him kill the Son of God piercing him through with a lance.
Because of his willingness to submit to his fate, he has some control over the parameters of his death and goes home. In Ecuador, many traditional Andean and Amazonian people believe that when they die they go to live inside their home mountain, the place out of which they were born. Transformed by this indigenous narration, we find that Calvary is the Son of God’s pacarina, his place of origin, or home cerro. It is in this context that the Son of God returns home, to his tierra, to the locus of his power—his cerro Calvario —to die. The suggestion that Christ, too, has a pacarina (to use the older Andean term) reveals the way that this key Christian mythic figure has been fully re-framed by native cosmology. This basic inclusion suggests the impossibility of imagining Christ arising out of an alternate reality. His accessible power as a foci of Native Christian worship depends upon his familiarity with and participation in the Andean and Amazonian worlds.
At this point the myth shifts in source material from the Andean stories of the traveling w’akas to the Gospel accounts of Christ’s passion. The women at the cross translate into friends who protect the Son of God by hiding him in their home. The image of the cross itself appears suddenly and disappears quickly. The story acknowledges the symbolic importance of this cultural object and recognizes it as an object of ritual humiliation, but its lack of resonance within the Amazonian practical world results in its rapid dismissal from the plot. The story swiftly dispenses with the unfamiliar cross and changes the details of Christ’s death by translating the Roman Centurion’s spear into a familiar deadly weapon, an Amazonian lance. The brujos trick a blind demon into piercing the Son of God through the heart. Jesus’s blood splashes into the eye of the blind demon, and heals him. Upon recovering his sight, he exclaims in horror: “This was the Son of God! Why did you make me raise my spear against him?” This narrative ploy allows the spectacular unveiling of the stranger—revealing his identity as the true Son of God. The myth suggests that, like the blind demon, the previous men with “bad hearts” would not have treated this stranger so poorly had they realized his true identity. Sadly, these realizations come too late:
When the Son of God died, the Demon became blind again. Afterwards they buried the Son of God beneath his house.
The demons took possession of all of his things and took over his house and they began to eat all of his chickens. They even proceeded to cook the white rooster, which is the rooster of God. While they were eating, the cock farted three times, each time with such force that it was like an earthquake shaking his whole body. And because they were witches, they became frightened and they wondered amongst themselves, “Could this rooster still be alive?”
“No, no it’s not possible, certainly he is dead. Why are you afraid?” But then, after that, the Son of God came back to life. In that same instant the white rooster began to crow from the pot where they were cooking him, “Resuscitó!” “He’s alive! He’s resurrected!”
The rooster opened up its wings and shook them as he crowed and as he did so he flung the ají from the soup straight into the devils’ eyes. With that, all the devils turned into frogs.
And then the Son of God sent them all down to the Kingdom below, down to hell.
Finally, like the Roman centurions gambling over Jesus’ robe, the demons take possession of the Son of God’s Amazonian property. They bury Nuestro Señor beneath his house in traditional Amazonian fashion and proceed to cook the white rooster of God, the rooster that crowed when Peter denied knowing Jesus. In this indigenous translation of Christ’s passion, rather than crowing three times, this rooster farts over the outrageous betrayal of his dead master. The fart adds humor at a depressing moment in the story, while, at the same time, hilariously gesturing, in strength and effect, toward the earthquake of Golgatha at the moment of Jesus’ death, which is traditionally clocked as 3:00 in the afternoon.
At the moment of the resurrection, the cock, comes back to life and speaks, crowing, “Resucitó! Resucitó!” In an inverse gesture of the earlier splashing of Christ’s healing blood, the rooster flings the ají into the demon’s eyes and turns them into toads. Here again, Christian elements harmoniously combine with Amazonian details to create a powerful story improving on the original versions through the embellishment of “complimentary differences.” We don’t see the resurrected Christ, instead the White Rooster of God rises up out of the pot his white wings flung open. Shape shifting—from human to bird and back again—is an essential feature of w’aka myths. Within Catholic churches the Christian symbol of the Holy Spirit, the white flying dove, often accompanies images of Jesus. With his wings wide open, the white rooster echoes this visual form. Within both the Andean and Amazonian frame, the White Rooster could easily be Nuestro Señor. After all, if he rose from the dead, what would be so hard about appearing as a rooster? On the other hand, this shift in the shape of the Christian resurrection story gains an eerie angle when the resurrected Jesus appears as a bird. Through repetition, the account of the resurrection grows too familiar. But in this new costume, the idea of a powerful divine entity coming back from the dead suddenly gives you the creeps and with those goose bumps come a whole another understanding of this pivotal New Testament story.
The Agua Rico myth re-figures Our Lord Jesus as a clever Amazonian shape-shifting yachaj. Nuestro Señor is not a foreigner—a gringo, rancia, or extranjero. Instead Nuestro Señor’s success in vanquishing his enemies arises out of his indigenous knowledge and mastery of Amazonian forces and world. His autochthonous power as yachaj allows him to win Amazonian and Andean allies alike—the plants, the snow and fog, the white rooster of God—which all work with him in conquering the brujo diablos. Traditional Native Amazonian tales continually recount battles of wit and strength between opposing forces. W’akas, yachajs and other mythic heroes are valued precisely because of their ability to outwit and dominate their strong enemies. The Agua Rico myth confirms the ways that Andean and Amazonian people identified the Catholic saints as w’akas. While colonial Andeans argued “that the Huacas of the [the Spaniards] are the images of their saints,” the Llano Grande origin myth and this Agua Rico account reveal how, after 500 years, over time these saints have become w’akas whose miraculous authority springs out of Andean soil.
By replaying Christ’s passion on the Amazonian and Andean stage the meaning of Nuestro Señor’s life, death and resurrection takes on an altered significance permeated with the cosmological values of the Native world, including the pleasure of a final, witty encore. The Agua Rico narrative provides what is known in Ecuador as a yapa, a little something extra thrown in to establish good will: in this story, the bad guys get punished not once, but twice. The rooster turns the devils into toads (creatures associated with killing yachajs and the dark side of the cerros) and on top of that horrible fate, the Son of God sends them all to hell (an unpleasant Christian location reserved for evil people.)
Like a many-headed creature, the Agua Rico myth tells multiple stories at once and in so doing, mesmerizes the audience with its wondrous creation. In its extraordinary strangeness, the post-contact myth itself becomes w’aka. The Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, remember, recounted how Andeans used the word for objects which for “their beauty or excellence stand above other things of the same kind,” for “ugly and monstrous things,” and for an “eerie thing that is out of the usual course of nature.” Similar w’aka myths spin around the Virgin of Baños. Like Nuestro Señor, the Virgen Charrito also develops an intimate relationship with her home mountain, the cerro Tungurahua. Like a double–yolked egg, this w’aka story balances two entire worlds—the Virgin and the Volcano—in one thin shell.
1724-1773: The Virgin Leaves Town and Returns as a Mountain Negotiator
From 1724 to 1730, the Virgin spent six years in the town of Mainas away from the Volcano Tungurahua, the thermal pools, the waterfall, and from her faithful devotees in Baños. In her absence a space opens up in the Virgin’s story that mythically requires an explanation for why she left the Baños chapel and what she did while she was away. Historically, her devotees missed her and clamored for her return and, in 1730, through the donation of Bernadina de Aguilar, the mother of a Quiteño priest, the town began to build a church that was inaugurated in 1745.
In 1773 the Virgen de Baños revealed the powerful potential of her intercession in the Andean landscape. On Sunday, February 4, during the Fiestas of Carnival, the people of Baños carried the Virgin on her litter out of the church to process through town. In the middle of the procession, Tungurahua violently erupted. The members of the procession fell to their knees in despair and pled to the Virgin to save them from certain destruction. And, as the miracle paintings in the basilica recount, the Virgin heard the prayers of her devotees. She had mercy on them. Nuestra Señora de Agua Santa turned toward the mountain. She raised her hand in greeting and she blessed the mountain. When Tungurahua saw this, the mountain fell silent.
As evidenced by this account, by the late 18th century, the Virgin of Baños had forged a powerful and persuasive relationship with the cerro Tungurahua. Within Andean traditions, in order to negotiate with mountains, a person has to develop and maintain an intimate ritual relationship with that cerro. The person and the mountain make a marriage pact, sealed when the person bathes in the mountain’s springs. Accordingly local legend recounts how Charrito climbs down from her niche above the high altar and wanders out into the night so that she can bathe in the Volcano’s pools. The sacristan, who spies on her bathing, stops this Virgin’s wandering by chopping off her foot with a machete. His rationale: “Demasiada andariega,” too much of a wanderer.
In the next chapter we will see how the myth of the Virgin’s cut foot gives voice to beliefs about a woman’s place in Andean society and expresses colonial anxiety over the religious implications of the Virgin’s new-formed relationship to the sacred Andean landscape. In light of Andean cosmology, the Virgin’s wandering suggests that she has established an intimate relationship with Tungurahua through her springs. It is this adulterous, idolatrous behavior that provokes the sacristan’s wrath.