The return of the chunchos

The return of the chunchos

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By Pablo Cingolani

"The chunchos are coming, the chunchos are coming" - it was the cry of alert and fear that circulated from mouth to mouth from the "chunchu apachetas" or "viewpoints of the chuncho" that still resist in the memory of the old towns, those who are hanging between the clouds and the buttresses of the Andean foothills. However, there is always a story inside, below or behind the story, there is always another story.

Chuncho is a word of mythical projections and magical resonances. "Chuncho" or "chunchu" is a word that in the Quechua language, which in the Andes, is simply translated as "wild", in the same sense that the classical Greeks, the fathers and mothers of the western philosophy. The term appears in many of the early colonial chronicles and using the same mechanics as its European counterpart, it serves to define everything that was not Inca, Andean, organized, established and culturally inferior from the view that extended from above (the sierra, the altiplano) downwards (the jungles, the plains). "The chunchos are coming, the chunchos are coming" - it was the cry of alert and fear that circulated from mouth to mouth from the "chunchu apachetas" or "viewpoints of the chuncho" that still resist in the memory of the old towns, those who are hanging between the clouds and the buttresses of the Andean foothills. However, there is always a story inside, below or behind the story, there is always another story.

* * *

Felipe Guamán Poma, in his Nueva Crónica y Buen Gobierno, tells about the sixth Inca, the Inca Roca. The narration, being very concise, is loaded with images and meanings. It's a perfect micro-story.

Inca Roca was a big man, a colossal and frightening rune, who also spoke a lot and "spoke with thunder." To these virtues, he added that of being a great gambler, an evil looter ("friend of taking property from the poor," noted the chronicler) and a "whore" of those. These merits, over the centuries, have always been qualities that distinguished –to stigmatize them- the “conquerors” out of the ordinary, those men, like Alexander, like Attila or like Genghis Khan, who also had one foot in the world of the divine, demigods not consecrated but that in the soul of the peoples, of their peoples, they were that.

Inca Roca, following that perverse line of canonization of the beast, “conquered all chuncho”, that is to say the Antisuyo, one of the four parts of the Kingdom of the Suyus, the Tawantinsuyu, and everything that went down towards the jungle, from Cusco or from the hills.

I said that the history is very rich: according to Guamán, the Inca did what he did by becoming a jaguar, at his convenience, with which here we already have an exceptional character, mythical and magical at the same time, who hooks with the totemic and shamanic tradition which at the same time, as an example, turned the khan of the Mongols into a wolf of the steppes.

This story gives a lot to think about, it is very evocative and it continues like this: the Inka-Jaguar (The Inka-Otorongo) lived most of the time in the jungle, where he had children and caste, according to the good Felipe, who in two paragraphs memorable, changes the whole story, denies it, inverts it, leaves it in suspense.

He writes the "eagle-puma" of the colonial letters: "others say that he did not conquer them, but made friendship and company." For that matter, it is what is also happening with that revised and revisited Alexander the Great, who is mutating his classic image of a bloodthirsty murderer to a man forging an intercultural ecumene. In this framework, one has every right to doubt: what if the history, the myth or the legend of the Inca Roca were exactly the other way around? What if the jaguar-king really came from the jungle?

There is a powerful motive. According to the informant, Inca Roca was the one who introduced coca into the Andes and the one who taught the Indians above how to cultivate it. In the present of mystifications where we live, the testimony provided by Guamán Poma (dating from 1615) is not only extremely suggestive, it is revealing. Coca, the emblematic plant of the Andean culture, is culturally jungle. Not only is it a natural vegetable of the tropical mountains, but its inhabitants had domesticated it, harvested it and consumed it.

The man who became a jaguar, the man with super powers that only nature gives to his chosen children, the man who is first described as a thief and a scoundrel, can't we imagine it the other way around? Can we not conceive of him as a great leader, a sage, a bearer and irradiator of culture that rises and takes root in the Andes and not only leaves his magical imprint on the memory, but even brings coca, the sacred coca, with him? all its past and present implications? There is no doubt that the history of the Inca Roca is connected and nurtured or vice versa with the Tunupa saga, the Aymara Christ, the Christ of the Andes, on which Kusch, Restrepo and a few others reflected so much.

I expanded on this story because it makes you wonder about the relationship between the peoples of the highlands and the peoples of the lowlands, before the arrival of the Spanish invaders.

Recently, in an academic conference on the ethnohistory of the Amazon, held in the city of La Paz, a philosopher and anthropologist from Beniano or Mojeño, Mojeño or Beniano, my friend Daniel Bogado, pointed in that direction when he claimed that about the persistence in the Andeancentric vision (whether the researchers are French or Finnish) of insisting on studying only the penetration or presence or Inca or Andean influence in the forests, it was necessary to investigate the opposite and / or the complementary thing: the penetration or presence or influence of Amazonian cultures in the highlands.

To tell the truth, after so many unidirectional centuries, there is little, very little that we can know or testify in that perspective, beyond the obvious, and something of what has already been noted: animals and plants emblematic of the Andean culture originate from the jungle . An entire iconography -from Tiwanaku- was nourished by it, and this cannot be considered a minor fact. Even less, and in the same ideological direction as, and it is just another example, the leader of the Great Indian Uprising, of 1780-82, chose Tupac Amaru's nom de guerre, La Gran Serpiente.

All this cultural (and mental) distance is abolished and rather it is the strength of the tiger (and not the condor) or it is the cunning of the viper (and not the fox) that defines the symbolic contours where leadership or leadership is projected. rebellion, on one side and the other of the Andes.

Here I will only write down another magic word: Paititi, the sacred city or loss, the hidden kingdom, or how you want to evoke it, but that always triggers a meaning, univocal and terribly mysterious but that dictates, in perfect conjunction with Bogado's pro-Amazonian sentiment. , something essential but that we still do not see or it escapes our hands: the truth, The Great Truth, which is still hidden in the middle of the jungle. I jot down another magic word and won't say anything else: Kallawaya.

This truth, we said, keeps little evidence, evidence is demanded, data from the archives, the annals, testimonies. History, inoculated with science, it is true, has become a dry and boring specialty. Today, in the face of so much social history that does not finish decapsulating, good old Herodotus would be considered a charlatan, a storyteller, a madman. Either way. Even so, if we rummage through the trunk of the past, we will always find something and being daring -a la Medinaceli, or rather as the late Thierry Saignes was-, there may be some flash that illuminates that obsessive denial.

* * *

This story is as fascinating as the previous one. Two fascinating stories?… How many, the hell! would say with emotion Paul Valery.

In 1677, a very diligent Franciscan friar named Juan de Ojeda entered the Amazon, the country of the chunchos, on the side of Carabaya, [1] one of the four historical entrances to the jungle, located southeast of Cusco. Today, that route is the one that enters from the city of Puno.

In a letter, he narrates his arrival in a town of Indians that he baptized as Santa Úrsula, located “from San Cristóbal, the seat of mine and the last of Christendom, eighteen or twenty leagues,” that is, about 100 kilometers. The latest in Christianity ... it already says it all and with that flavor of the border that we are losing.

San Cristóbal was one of the gold deposits exploited in the San Juan del Oro sector, the first Spanish foundation on the eastern Andean-Amazon slope, in the jungle, around the years 1538-1540, when some soldiers of the wars Civilians who faced Pizarro with Almagro, got tired of the weapons and went to look for gold, which is what they most wanted. Others ended up founding the city of La Paz ...

Those who went for gold found so much yellow metal that San Juan was declared by Carlos V as an Imperial Villa, the first so named in the New World.

What was expressed in the letter of priest Ojeda about the inhabitants of Santa Úrsula is revealing: “the people of this town and nation, Araonas in their language, will be up to seventy people, of which there are fifty Christians and twenty have left to the inland. They say this nation will run more than forty leagues long and they count more than twenty towns the size of this one, a little more or less, and the last called Toromonas, which they say is very large, and has four chieftains who govern them, and of these never They go out here, and everyone from the other towns go there to look for almonds, of which they are abundant, for rescues. And having inquired about the traditions of these Indians, they say that they were tributary vassals of the Inca of Cuzco, where they brought tribute of gold, which they call vio, and silver, which they call çipiro, and feathers and other things of value from this land ... "

This quote alone is enough to change many preconceptions that are repeated about the history of the jungle. The reference to almonds - the Amazon chestnut - clearly illustrates the territories that Ojeda talks about: they are the tropical humid forests that characterize the northwest of Bolivia and the southeast of Peru, south but especially north of the Madre de Dios River , where there are more chestnut trees. The reader can search for any map and be guided.

The fact that really impacts, by what it implies, is when Ojeda affirms that the Araonas and the Toromonas brought their tributes to Cusco themselves, both in gold and silver as well as bird feathers and other products from the Amazon. That is, Araonas and Toromonas at least, they went to Cusco, they climbed from the jungle to the mountain range, they climbed from the heart of the Amazon to the Andes, to the very heart of the Inca state. What a trip!

If we take this at face value (and the question is: why not?), It configures a space of economic, social and cultural exchanges so vast that even today it is difficult to conceive.

It marks, at the same time, a horizon where to think about the question of these exchanges and their implications is completely different from that sanctioned by centuries of obscurantism, external and internal colonialism, republicanism, positivism and visceral racism against indigenous peoples, especially against indigenous peoples. from the jungle.

Break fossilized cultural distances. It poses the challenge of radically different views to the current conflicts that the Amazon is going through. Create synergies, make you beat and reinforce hypotheses as attractive as the king-jaguar.

There is more to Ojeda's testimony: it is another perfect micro-story like Felipe Guamán's, those unique lines that are vigorous snippets of history and are knowledge, sometimes more valuable than a whole book.

The little father Juan also wrote about the dramatic situation when the Spanish invaded the Tawantinsuyu. Thus, through the mouths of the Araonas contacted in the village that he baptized in memory of the martyr and the 11 thousand virgins, Ojeda learned that on the way to Cusco to deliver their tributes, “on the way they found a large crowd of Inca Indians, who thus They call those from Cuzco, who told them that their Inca was already dead by the Spaniards, and that all together they returned to this province, the Incas passing inland, which they say is flat and grassy ”.

What a test! This story - loaded with historical intensity but above all lyrical intensity: imagine that procession of the defeated going to seek shelter among their brothers in the jungle: abysses, mud, rolling stone, falling stone, moss, lichen, storm, the thunder over the coconut plantations of the Inka Jaguar ... until reaching the great rivers, the immense plains, the lush forests - this testimony, we said, does nothing more than corroborate everything we have been expressing, including expanding the space and the horizon since that Flat land and grasslands may well be the plains of the Mamoré River and its tributaries, in present-day Beni, where my friend Bogado lives.

What we do know and feel is that there is much more to inquire, much more to understand, but with an open heart, about how the world of chonta and the world of stone were intertwined and interpenetrated.

* * *

There is a story, just one more story, that I will try to write down in the manner of Felipe and the friar: there was a time when an asazaire shaman went up with his family and in a canoe through one of the tributaries of the great river Amaru Mayu or Madre de Dios, He went up the Tambopata, [2] to where now is San Juan del Oro, the former Villa Imperial. The journey took months, through virgin forest. What a trip!

The shaman wanted his son to recognize the sacred places, where the most tenacious spirits of the jungle dwell, and not forget them. That was (almost) fifty years ago when the jungle was not yet as threatened or as attacked as it is now.

In June of this year, we went with the shaman's son - a man who is now 76 years old -, with his grandson and with his great-grandchildren, to try to recreate and revitalize the magic circle, although it may not be possible. The encirclement of the jungle, the annihilation of the trees, the death of the animals, the acculturation of the Indians, is condemning to bury all this treasure in the depths of oblivion or on the screen of a 32-inch plasma television, which is the same.

What did happen is that the descendants of those inhabitants of San Juan, Putina and San Ignacio from the 60s remembered - some with sincere emotion - that story that their grandparents had told them, from that time, when out of nowhere, when from the jungle, when with their bows and arrows, when in peace and as if by a miracle, the chunchos had appeared and returned.

History repeated itself again, and again in an unexpected way: “The chunchos came, the chunchos came” - they said without shouting, with respect, from word of mouth and many gathered to see and hug them and, sign of the times, take a picture with them. I would like to believe that in that sincere and shared emotionality, there is the possibility of recovering a mystique, there is a seed of multiplication of hope, there is a passionate and collective fire, there is a trigger for the fight.

Pablo Cingolani - Río Abajo, July 27, 2012

Note: All the citations are from Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala: The First New Coronica and Good Government [1615]. Critical editing by John Murra and Rolena Adorno. Siglo XXI, 3 ed., Mexico D.F., 1992, and a copy of a letter that Father fray Juan de Ojeda, Franciscan Missionary, wrote to the Count of Castellar on September 13, 1677. In Judgment of Boundaries between Peru and Bolivia. Peruvian evidence presented to the Government of the Argentine Republic by Víctor M. Maurtua. Heinrich and Co., Barcelona, ​​1906. Volume twelfth, Misiones.


[1] Carabaya is the Spanishization of the term Kallawaya.

[2] It is worth transcribing what Don Felipe Guamán said of the Tambopata Indians: “From Tanbo Pata they have their taquies and hayllis and arauis de las mosas and de los mosos, pingollos. And the Antis and Chunchos are naked Indians and here they are called Anti runa micoc ”. To be understood: taquies: ceremonial dances; hayllis: songs of triumph; arauis: sing of other people's deeds; pingollos: flutes and this is the best of all: Anti micoc rune: those of the Anti, men eaters. Guamán described a cannibal party! The pendulum, this time, was tilting in favor of the official story. The Tambopata is the Bahuaja river, from the Ese Eja people.

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  1. Torben

    Did you yourself come up with such an incomparable phrase?

  2. Rodrik

    I can not decide.

  3. Mogue

    the excellent question

  4. Kagashakar

    It's unbearable.

  5. Kitchi

    Question deleted

  6. Falke

    Accept bad sales.

  7. Dillan

    Endless discussion :)

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