The Climate of Idolatry: Drought and Environmental Knowledge in the 17th-Century Andes

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 10:50 AM
Central Park West (Sheraton New York)
Javier Puente, Smith College
After more than half a century of colonial domination and evangelization, Jesuit priest Pablo Joseph de Arriaga condemned the endurance of “fables, rites, and ceremonies” among the indios of Lima’s archbishopric. Arriaga traveled throughout the sierra of Lima, compiling information on the ídolos, huacas, sacrificios, and fiestas held by indios as well as the roles of ministros and sacerdotes of idolatrous rites. Idolatry in Lima’s highlands included the well-known worshipping of the Punchao (Sun), the Quilla (Moon), the Mamacocha (Sea), and the Mamapacha (Earth). Arriaga’s report also included information on water-related rituals as important as those associated with major deities. In parallel with the adoration of the Sun and the Moon, indios worship “a los puquios, que son los manantiales y fuentes […] pidiéndoles que no se sequen” and “a los ríos […] les piden hablando con ellos que les dejen passar, y no les lleven.” In an agrarian world struck by droughts and floods, ritually expressing the possession of knowledge about the environment and water cycles was an essential social feature of everyday life. This presentation brings back the chronicles of extirpación de idolatrías under the light of modern climate knowledge. Lima’s highlands have been identified as one of the most environmentally vulnerable regions to droughts and floods, sequías and huaicos. The verticality of these provinces, the scarce vegetation on the central Andean western flanks, and the proliferation of inactive river basins provide geophysical foundations for environmental disasters. During the seventeenth century, in times of cultural uncertainties and constant agrarian distress, hechiceros’ capacity of foretelling weather conditions and anticipating agrarian production nourished social prestige and religious power. This presentation reintroduces colonial hechiceros, yachanis, camascas as ritual specialists, whose presence reveal endurance of mastering environmental knowledge as source of distinctive sociopolitical roles within indigenous communities in colonial times.