Blood Flowed Here Before Water Did

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Social Science on 2012-10-02 21:00Z by Steven

Blood Flowed Here Before Water Did

Trinidad Express

Jan Westmaas

The writer continues his series on Peru and South Africa after visits to these countries in July and August

I’ve just read this morning in the daily press a story about Spanish energy company Repsol’s major oil and natural gas find in the Peruvian Amazon. This news  has put a smile on President’s Ollanta Humalla’s face but, at the same time, for prophets of doom,   it spells plunder and mayhem unparalleled even by the likes of Pizarro six centuries ago.
But travellers to Peru hardly ever get to the Amazon and often bypass Lima as they make for the sierra. In their estimation, it’s in the highlands that the real Peru begins — a land of dramatic, snow-capped mountains and  colourful poncho-wrapped peasants of pure Inca origin. The capital city was, and to some extent still is, seen as a western enclave on the Pacific from which  Spanish creoles could survey a vast hinterland peopled mainly by “untutored Indians” speaking another language and practicing another religion. The great 19th century German explorer Humboldt summed it up well when he said that “Lima is more remote from Peru than London”.
A parallel, if a little strained, is that many visitors to South Africa, once they get there, make straight for Wild Life Reserves  and a Safari Lodge. It’s as if the only reality worth experiencing is witnessing a leopard lazing under a tree with the remains of his recently caught prey, an impala, strung up on a branch overhead! At the crack of dawn in Kruger Park it was, indeed, an exhilarating experience for us to be privy to such a sight. Spectacles like this one can eclipse, for a moment, the complex human drama that has unfolded ever since the first European landed in Southern Africa.
Peru’s reality is that while Cusco and Machu Picchu may offer to the world a window to the achievements of a great indigenous—mainly highland — civilisation, the Inca, this country today is largely mestizo (mixture of European and Indian) with a far smaller proportion claiming pure indigenous blood than before. In addition, at least 1/3 (10 million) of its diverse population, including descendants of  Chinese and Japanese immigrants, now live in the throbbing, thriving, if sometimes chaotic, metropolis of Lima. It’s also interesting that despite significant miscegenation, descendants of  Europeans, as is the case in South Africa, still account for some 15 per cent of the population of both countries.

A walk through Plaza Mayor in Lima and a visit to the V&W Waterfront in Cape Town are indeed lessons in ethnic diversity. What an irony that a black face is a rarity in Lima when in Spanish colonial times 45 per cent of the population of that city were of African descent! It’s only in the middle of the 19th century that the trade in African slaves who replaced the indigenous people in the mines and plantations was declared illegal.

Nowadays Afro-Peruvians account for less than 1 per cent of the general population. Faced with the prospect of post abolition marginalisation in a Spanish-creole dominated post Independence Lima, many blacks, according to one commentator, opted to lighten the coffee in order to achieve social mobility, or in order, simply, to survive…

…And so it was that not long after the conquest but centuries before diversity became a buzz word, Peru gave to the world the Patron Saint of Social Justice, the Dominican San Martin de Porres. By birth “illegitimate”, this son of Lima has come to symbolise inclusion and diversity as he ministered faithfully to the poor, the sick, and the marginalised while embracing his mixed Afro-European heritage…

Read the entire article here.

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