Friday, June 18, 2010

Tiwanaku and Evo Morales

Most of us have heard of the Incas, but they were only the last of a line of empires that rose in western South America. Before them, in the high and mostly dry plateau of the Andes, called the Altiplano, the Tiwanaku flourished. The indigenous Aymara of modern day Bolivia consider themselves descendants of the Tiwanaku. In January 2006, a day before he assumed presidential office, Evo Morales, an Aymara himself, attended a ceremony at the principal archaeological site of of this ancient culture, two hours from La Paz.

The Spanish colonized this part of the world with much brutality in the 16th century; Bolivia became independent in the 19th century but it was a sham independence: the Spanish descended elites still held power. Evo Morales’s remarkable ascension to the highest office in Bolivia in 2006 – he had been a Coca farmer once – was a truly historic moment. Hence the coronation at Tiwanaku. Like the blacks of South Africa, the majority Aymara too were denied for a long time. Evo Morales may be viewed skeptically in the West because he is socialist, but it is from the perspective of indigenous empowerment that his rise is significant. In 2009, a month before I visited La Paz, he was reelected with an even stronger majority.

Above, you'll find some pictures of relics from the Tiwanaku site. The Spanish missionaries of the sixteenth century couldn’t let them be. They "exorcised" the spirit of the second relic by scraping a cross on the right shoulder. No doubt, this nasty bit of sabotage stemmed from a deep insecurity. If the God of Christianity was indeed the only worthy and true God, then why did that fact have to be imposed in a coercive manner?

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