Sunday, June 06, 2010

Rosaries in Peru

The Book of Guaman Poma

It's difficult to stay on topic while doing research. If you have any natural curiosity at all, you inevitably run across fascinating bits and pieces leading in all sorts of directions, and there's seldom time to follow them up properly. Reading an article about rosaries in the Andes recently led me not only to La Divina Pastora, but to a fascinating and unique book that is now online.

The Book of Guamán Poma is a stinging critique of Spanish colonial rule, written between 1600 and 1615 by a native Peruvian. Guamán or Huamán Poma (his Inca name) converted to Christianity and adopted the name Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala. His 1,189-page book was intended as a letter of protest to King Philip III of Spain but was never sent. The manuscript has been in the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen since at least 1660.

The full title of the book is El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno (The First New Chronicle and Good Government -- "corónica" being a mistake for "crónica"). In it he outlines the injustices of colonial rule and proposes a new system of government, which would include drawing on the structures of traditional local government and appointing native Peruvians to many positions of authority. Needless to say, such a system was never implemented.

What inspired him to write such a book was probably a combination of factors. Guamán Poma worked with various Spanish officials as a Quechua translator. He himself was from a noble Inca family and lost all his estates in a series of disastrous lawsuits. In the late 1590s, he apparently became involved as one of a team of scribes and illustrators for Fray Martín de Murúa's Historia general del Piru. This experience seems to have prompted him to begin his own chronicle from a native point of view, which was -- as one might expect -- very different from Murúa's. His illustration of Murúa, in fact, shows him kicking an indigenous woman seated at a loom and is captioned, "The Mercedarian friar Martín de Murúa abuses his parishioners and takes justice into his own hands."

The Royal Danish Library has recently put the entire Book of Guamán Poma online, and it's fascinating. The best starting point is probably the index page, which contains an outline of the book and at the top, controls for viewing and enlarging pages. Each page shows a scanned image from the manuscript and a transliteration of the original text with modern footnotes. The button marked "Amplicación" leads to a much larger image of the original page.

What I immediately noticed, of course, was that many of the nearly 400 drawings in the Book of Guamán Poma show native Peruvians using rosary beads. (After researching historical rosary beads for this long, my eye inevitably goes straight to the beads in any picture!)

Here, for instance, is image #835, which is captioned, ""A Christian married couple of the Andes kneels to pray before an image of Christ crucified."

A Christian married couple of the Andes, from the Book of Guaman Poma

I was especially struck by this picture since you can "see" the couple saying prayers, indicated by the "speech scrolls" coming out of their mouths. This is an artistic convention that I've seen before in native South and Central American art (nost notably the Maya).

(By the way, I've done some Photoshop work on the images on this page, as you'll see if you compare them to the originals on the Danish Library website. I've lightened them and tried to fade the lettering in the background to make the pictures clearer. The originals all show lettering coming through from the other side of the page, some of them quite strongly.)

I'm not sure whether it's also artistic convention or a reflection of real practice to show people holding their rosaries with the cross upward. The majority of the illustrations that simply show someone holding a rosary have it oriented this way.

Another example (image 775) is captioned,"Exemplary Christians: A local Andean lord, seated on an usnu [Inka ceremonial seat], reads to his wife."

A local Andean lord and his wife, from the Book of Guaman Poma

As is common in these pictures, the "lord" is wearing a mixture of native and Spanish style clothing -- note, for instance, his hat, which is almost identical to one worn in a portrait of Philip II of Spain. While the lord's wife is holding her rosary, he is wearing his around his neck, which as I've mentioned before was actually not uncommon in the 16th century.

Another example of mixed clothing is this image (image 806), "The chief local magistrate (alcade mayor), or túqrikuq, of the municipal council in this kingdom."

The chief local magistrate, or túqrikuq, from the Book of Guaman Poma

As you can see, these pictures are actually more or less just pen and ink sketches, so they don't contain a lot of detail and probably can't be relied on to be totally accurate. However it's interesting to see in this one that there is some empty thread between the bead he is holding in his hand and the next group of beads. This suggests -- and it's really no surprise -- that these are beads strung on a thread, and that each bead is moved along the thread by the fingers as its corresponding prayer is said.

A closeup of the next picture (image 808) shows how much or how little we can actually see of these rosaries. Here is "The local magistrate, or camiua, of the crown."

The local magistrate, or camiua, from the Book of Guaman Poma

And a detail of the beads he is holding:

Detail of image 808, from the Book of Guaman Poma

Quick though this sketch is, we can clearly see two sizes of beads, the smaller Ave beads and the larger, and more decorated, marker beads or Paters. The lower part of the rosary shows ten Aves on either side, but the top part of the circle has 9 beads visible on one side, 4 on the other, and only space for about another 4 or 5 hidden in the hand. So this probably isn't intended as a literal bead-by-bead rendering.

We can also get a good look at the sketch of the cross. The interesting things here are that it has some sort of bead or knob at the end of each arm, and also that it is equal-armed, instead of the cross with a longer bottom part that we are more used to seeing. There is also no indication of a figure of Christ on the cross -- again not surprising, since most rosaries at and before this date seem to have had plain crosses.

Several other images in the book also show rosaries. Image 837 shows a woman praying (similar to the couple in the first picture). I won't try to give a complete list, but image 757 shows another official holding beads, image 825 shows a royal messenger wearing his beads around his neck (his hands are rather full -- he's carrying a bag over his wrist, a staff and something that looks like a note in one hand, is blowing a horn held in his other hand, has a flag flying from his hat and is accompanied by a dog). Image 828 shows a rosary lying, along with a pen case and inkwell, on a scribe's table, and image 933 shows more people praying, this time holding not only rosaries but also candles about three feet tall. Image 841 shows the Virgin Mary and Saint Peter, the Virgin standing within a giant rosary. Probably my favorite image (because of the funny hats) is image 17, which shows Guaman Poma himself as a young boy (wearing a top hat), his father Martín (wearing a native-style headband) and his mother, the noblewoman Juana, being instructed in the Christian faith by a priest named Martín Ayala (wearing what looks like a teapot on his head -- but it's really a biretta or clerical hat).