Category Archives: indigenous cultures

The Spaniards in Peru : a discovery at Senate House Library

This post is republished with the kind permission of Senate House Library. View the original post here.

Historia General del Peru
Garcilaso de la Vega
Cordova: Widow of Andrés Barrera, 1616
Ct [Vega] fol. SR

First impressions can deceive. A Spanish book recently came to light in the BOLSA (Bank of London and South America) collection which initally looked dusty and ordinary, but soon turned out to be intriguing. Its author was born in Cusco (Peru) in 1539, and was one of the earliest Hispanic American intellectuals recognised on both sides of the Atlantic. His real name was Gómez Suárez de Figueroa, son of the Spanish conquistador Sebastian Garcilaso de la Vega and an Inca princess, Isabel Suarez Chimpu Ocllo, who was the granddaughter of Inca Túpac Yupanqui, and niece of Inca Huayna Capac. Because his father had a privileged position, he later inherited his father’s name to become known as Inca Garcilaso de la Vega – despite the fact that the law stipulated that noble Spaniards should only marry Spanish women. Sebastian did in fact marry a Spanish woman – but he made a provision in his will for his illegitimate son to be educated in Spain. During his childhood, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega’s education took in both his Spanish and Inca heritage, a mix which is reflected in his writing.

His best-known work was Comentarios Reales de los Incas, where he describes the history, culture and traditions related by his Inca relatives during his childhood. The first part was initially published in Lisbon in 1609. Considered seditious and dangerous, it was banned in the American colonies as of 1781, following the rebellion led by Túpac Amaru II against the Spanish in Peru in 1780. However, it continued to be published in Spain.

Peru-1616

 

The second part of the Comentarios Reales covers the history of Peru from the arrival of the Spaniards in 1531 to the execution of Túpac Amaru I in 1572, and sets out to justify the Spanish conquest. The work was finished in about 1613. The printing process took longer than expected and three years later, on 22 April 1616, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega passed away. The work was posthumously published in 1617 under another title, Historia General del Peru. According to some versions the change in title came from the authorities in Madrid, according to others, from the publisher, who did not think the original title very inspiring.

In itself, even the 1617 imprint is not common; Copac lists six copies in Great Britain from that year. The Senate House Library copy is one of very few with an earlier date of 1616 in the imprint. Of the six copies dated 1616 that we have so far located around the world, only one, at the Complutense University of Madrid, has the same title page as ours – a rare and valuable book indeed.

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En la colección Bolsa (Bank of London and South America), salió a la luz un libro en castellano. La primera impresión era que no pasaba de ser otro libro más, probablemente con cierto nivel de información a la vez que polvoriento y sin representar un interés particular.

Sin embargo primeras impresiones pueden dar lugar a equívocos. Apenas apareció la portada con su título quedó demostrado que se trataba de una publicación antigua, con el agregado de que el autor que allí figura fue uno de los primeros mestizos de Hispanoamérica que fue reconocido por sus atributos intelectuales y literarios en ambas orillas del Atlántico. Su nombre de bautizo fue Gómez Suárez de Figueroa y la historia lo recuerda como el Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, hijo de un conquistador español, Sebastián Garcilaso de la Vega, y de una princesa incaica – Isabel Suárez Chimpu Ocllo – quien era nieta del Inca Tupac Yupanqui y sobrina del Inca Huayna Capac.

Gracias a la privilegiada posición de su padre, más tarde pudo llevar su apellido, a pesar del hecho de que la ley estipulaba que los nobles españoles debian casarse con mujeres españolas (y de hecho, él se casó con una peninsular). Sin embargo, al morir, dejo previsto que su hijo fuese educado en España. Durante su niñez, el Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, tuvo una educación donde se mezcló lo hispánico con lo indígena y esa particular cosmovisión fue reflejada en su vida y en sus trabajos.

Su obra cumbre fue Comentarios Reales de los Incas, donde describe la historia, cultura y tradiciones que sus parientes indígenas le transmitieron durante su infancia a través de relatos e historias familiares. La primera edición de lo que se convertiría en la primer parte de este título fue publicada en Lisboa en 1609. Cabe mencionar que después de la rebelión encabezada por Tupac Amaru, el libro fue prohibido de publicarse en las colonias americanas, porque se consideró que podía usarse para incitar sediciones y por lo tanto, muy peligroso. Sin embargo la prohibición no fue aplicada a la península Ibérica.

La segunda parte la finalizó, aproximadamente, en 1613. Pero su publicación se demoró mucho más de lo esperado y 3 años más tarde, el 22 de abril de 1616 el Inca Garcilaso moría en Córdoba, España. El libro terminó siendo publicado en 1617 con otro título “Historia General del Perú …” Algunas versiones afirman que el cambio fue decidido por las autoridades de Madrid, otras que lo decidieron en la casa editora porque se entendió que el original no era atractivo.

Hasta aqui, la copia que es actualmente preservada en Special Collections podría ser considerada como una pieza valiosa de la primera edición. Sin embargo, esta copia en particular tiene un agregado que la hace aún más peculiar, la fecha es de 1616.

Ya la edición de 1617 no es muy común. Haciendo una búsqueda en los catálogos online de algunas de las mayores bibliotecas de Europa, Sudamérica y Estados Unidos, en muy pocas de ellas apareció este título con el año mencionado. En COPAC solo se ha podido encontrar 6 ejemplares con esa fecha en toda Gran Bretaña.

Del año 1616 otros 6 más, pero a nivel mundial. De los cuales solo uno tiene la portada similar, en la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. A pesar de que es un tema no concluído, se puede afirmar, que este ejemplar es una valiosa y extraordinaria adición al patrimonio de la biblioteca.

Julio Cazzasa, Senate House Library

 

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Direct travel experience versus photography storytelling

Being a photographer, researcher, and keen traveller at the same time, often puts me in a difficult situation. Seeing an exciting scene, my natural instinct stubbornly prompts me to take my camera out and start shooting. But then afterwards I realize, that it makes me poorer in fully experiencing the event. Even the widest camera lens considerably limits one’s scope. By focusing my attention on the camera’s viewfinder, I put myself on ‘the other side of the camera’ – like the future spectators of my work. By doing this, I deprive myself of the direct, fresh and instant encounter with the situation I choose to document. How far is it possible to create an engaging series of photographs and at the same time fully experience the situation? Or is it always about some kind of compromise?

How do we experience a situation of a travel, a visit to a new place? We do it by our five senses: we see what is around, we hear the sounds, we smell, we can taste (if we decide to eat or drink something) and we feel through our skin: if we touch, if we feel the heat or the cold, or the humidity, or tiredness, or the breeze, or the sunshine etc. When I travel, what I remember most is what I feel in my skin. I lie on the beach on a sunny day, squeezing warm sand in my hands, feeling the sunshine on my face and a slight breeze on my skin. This is the memory I want to ‘freeze’, capture and re-use once I am back in cold, rainy London’s morning, waiting for a train on my way to work. These elements are obviously combined into complex interrelationships. The variations are endless. And it all combines into dynamic sequences, as these experiences are happening over period of time, with fluctuating conditions, and constantly changing impression and interpretation of what is going on.

Whenever we use any of the technologies to capture this experience, we start to ‘translate’ it into different language, and it always is a huge simplification. Having thought about it, especially having visited so many wonderful places, I felt completely impotent when it comes to sharing this experience with my family and friends. As a result of this realization, I started to collect a growing number of non-existing images. Situations of amazement, so often experienced when traveling, deeply engraved in my head, but without an attempt of any physical ‘translation’. Situations I might speak about, and try to give some justice to the complexity of the experience, describing not only what I have seen, but how I felt, if it was a pleasant experience or not, what was the most intense sensation.

Sometimes taking a photo might be simply impossible for various reasons, even if we are willing to take one. In September/October 2012, I was in the Colombian jungle, climbing Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on my way to the Ciudad Perdida, Lost City from the extinct Tayrona culture. On my way, I was interviewing some Kogi people, who live in the mountains. Kogis and Arhuacos are descendants of Tayrona, they both wear traditional white clothes and beautiful, dark, long hair. As I was there, there were many situations which I wanted to photograph, but I did not. Sometimes, because I was too slow to take out my camera. Sometimes, because I was too amazed seeing what I could see, which paralyzed me from doing anything else. Other time – and this is the most common reason I regularly collect non-existing photographs – because I was too intimidated to take the picture. Sometimes it was a question of protecting my camera in extreme weather conditions. Sometimes, it was a combination of all the reasons.

An example: I climb the mountain, sweating more than I could ever imagine I would, feeling really tired, and wondering why my backpack weighs more and more with every step I make. It is the same morning when two people get bitten by a scorpion, and an elderly Kogi man I interviewed warns me about the number of snakes in the area. I got into the trans of the walk, not feeling much more but the monotonous rhythm of my steps: left, right, left, right. I am surrounded by a tropical forest, a very dense flora of the jungle. Suddenly I am thrown out of my meditation by an unexpected scene: a Kogi family, parents and two kids, all dressed in white and all barefoot, cheerfully run down the hill to energetic rhythms of bachata, flowing from a small transistor radio the father of the family carries on his shoulder. I stop in amazement to watch that. The bachata and the barefoot jog was so surreal, that I didn’t even reach for my camera.

Non existing photographs are very personal and very subjective. We all know people who build up on their memories so much, that the imaginary parts melt into the real memories to the point, that after a while it’s impossible to tell them apart. That’s how the legends of one’s past emerge. We become stronger/weaker, older, more or less resistant, and a long walk might seem a short stroll after a while, or a five day trek in a jungle – an impossible physical task. Also, the question of objectivity and subjectivity comes into importance here. What might seem a lovely place for me, for example a great adventure of climbing in the jungle, admiring the abundance of nature, for some of my friends might seem a nightmare full of snakes and unnecessary physical exhaustion. Also – a regular trip to Colombia, a beautiful and welcoming place, for someone fearing the dangers of so-called third world, might be a synonym of insecurity and threat. These subjective emotions are also part of the non-existing photos, but you cannot include them in the real images. Or at least it’s a very hard task.

I would argue there is no way of creating satisfactory translation of the richness of travel experience in any known medium. It might well serve as a memory preserved in the image, but it will never replace the complexity of all senses of the direct experience.


Agata Lulkowska is a photographer, filmmaker, and Researcher of Indigenous Cultures of Colombia, pursuing her practice-based PhD at Birkbeck, University of London and regularly exhibiting her photographs in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bologna and other places in Europe. Central point of her research is the power of the visual media to create meaning.