Allies at Odds: The Andean Church and Its Indigenous Agents, 1583-1671

Publication: Church History
Author: Megged, Amos
Date published: December 1, 2011

doi:]0.1017/S000964071 1001466 Allies at Odds; The Andean Church and Its Indigenous Agents, Ï583-1671. By John Charles. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 2010. xi + 283 pp. $27.95 paper.

In John Charles's brief but exquisite study, the complex and often conflictive interplay between the oral and the written is, indeed, the core issue that unfolds before us. In the foreground of it all is tbe grand theme of Western literacy versus orality and non-alphabetic cultures, explored in the past by Jack Goody (1963, 1977, 1993) and Jan Vensina (1983), and more lately by Walter D. Mignolo (1989, 1995). In the foreground is also the stance taken in the past by leading historians, like Pierre Nora, who relegated excessive effect to Western literacy in transferring collective memory, at the expanse of orality, or non-alphabetic means of literacy. Likewise, in an introduction to his grand project, Realms of Memory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996-1998), Pierre Nora thus explains that "history is made necessary when people no longer live in memory but become conscious of the pastness of the past and need the aid of written documents to recall it" (1984-92).

The transition from the traditional pre-Hispanic systems of writing and recording into an alphabetical means of communication undoubtedly played a major role in the transformations that native societies in the New World underwent under Spanish colonial rule and Christianization. Part of this process could obviously be attributed to the works of extirpation carried out by men of the Church in order to eradicate any remnants of what they considered idolatrous. In pre-Columbian times, the Andean khipus were knotted cords that served as memory-aids and as prime instrument for the Inka State for the sake of text collection; for the telling of local and translocal lineage and state histories; for recording super-natural events; for keeping up with the calendar of the festivals; and for trade and commerce. Nonetheless, during colonial times, and under evangelization and Hispanization, the khipus were maintained as a powerful apparatus for recording parish activities (for example, attaining confession) and church attendance, community expenditure, and local litigation. Relying upon a myriad of native litigation records, the author solidly outlines how, throughout the early colonial era in Peru, both Church officials and travelling Spanish magistrates, continuously conceived the practice of cordkeeping records (khipus) as potential evidence of transgressions and "sources of all evil,1' which could easily lead the Andeans astray. The power struggle between Western literacy and Ajidean unique, as well as alternative, forms of literacy took place on both the otherworldly and worldly fronts, fn this light, as this book vividly emphasizes, native adoption of Western literacy was "more for the practical purpose of contending with the colonial legal system than for the spiritual purpose of reinforcing the Christian lessons they received" (39). Likewise, khipus were used in court for the sake of proving immemorial ownership over lands and for the reimbursement of property rights (91). However, as this book reveals, and in contrast to what was assumed by previous studies on the Peruvian Andes, notably by Gary Urton and Frank Salomon (2004), the struggle between the presumed supremacy of the alphabetic forms of literacy and lingering impact of the khipus continued deep into the first half of the seventeenth century (93, 94).

Moreover, as time advanced, the khipus received legitimacy from the colonial authorities and men of the Church. As Charles describes, Martin de Murúa, in his late sixteenth-century chronicle of the Inka kings (Códice Murúa), "endorsed a dual recordation method involving Khipus and written documents for ordering Andean spiritual life," and "missionary writers drew analogies between alphabetic writing and string registries, especially when relating indigenous performances of historical narration and catechesis" (7S1 79). Throughout the early colonial era, there were two major spheres where traditional, oral, and pictorial modes of communication withstood change and at the same time underwent a process of a solid adaptation and integration into alphabetization: the Spanish doctrinas, the parish framework (where members of the native elite were schooled by Franciscan, Augustinian, and Dominican friars), and the Spanish colonial court. It was within these two frameworks that an ongoing process of hybridization between indigenous and European mental and legal patterns and contexts juxtaposed the two and into what one might name as "marriage of convenience." Within the framework of the court, however, the emergence and development of Andean legal language obscured indigenous unique forms of expression and therefore contributed to its progressing process of transliteration and defacement ( 1 80).

Yet another major theme that emerges in this book is the role and function of native intermediaries in inciting new forms of social engagement and cultural change in the Andes. Centring on the Andean colonial extirpation records (already researched before him by a number of leading scholars in the field), Charies challenges significant queries that so fer had only been partially deciphered: were such intermediaries facing social ostracism by their own society? How did they view themselves, their communities and cultures of origin? Or, as Karen Spalding (2002) has also enquired prior to Charles: why did such "literate" indigenous lords perform ancestral ritual sacrifices publically and openly, in spite of their full knowledge of the likely consequences that awaited them? The native religious specialists indeed feared the ladino (bilingual) informants who appeared before the Spanish colonial court, for they considered them to have sided with the extirpators (137). Nevertheless, as the case histories of individual indios ladinos here attest, and as Charles firmly concludes, some of them co-existed on both sides of the spectrum with no apparent inner contradiction, and "the divide between loyal Christians and subversive idolaters . . . was hard to discern" (147). Among the more notable cases of such lettered intermediaries was Hacas Poma, studied also by Nicholas Griffiths (1996) and Salomon (1991), who combined Christian concepts of moral and ritual obligations with those of his ancestors. And as Charles rightly asserts, there was no clear-cut divide between their allegiances with the world of their co-patriots and the world of their European patrons, and that such solid coalitions had emerged across these lines, based on strong economic and social interests and goals, and put aside their spiritual disparities.

Author affiliation:

Amos Megged

University of Haifa

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