Royal Commentaries Essay

The Lightning Bolt Yields to the Rainbow: Indigenous History and Colonial Semiosis in the «Royal Commentaries» of El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega

José Antonio Mazzotti





Among the many studies of El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and his work, it is still all too common to find simplified images of Garcilaso as an acculturated mestizo and master of Spanish prose whose narrative models were all drawn from classical and Renaissance historiography. Certainly, the reason that the Royal Commentaries enjoyed great success in Europe from the moment it appeared was that it broadly manipulated European themes to erect a framework of familiarity for its learned readers in the Old World. The text was written in two parts: part 1 is the history of life under Incan rule; part 2 describes the first four decades of the Peruvian Conquest (1532-72)1. Garcilaso's work is the first response published by an author born in the New World to the historical versions of the same past written by such prestigious Spanish historians as Cieza de León, Zárate, Gómara, Diego Fernández, Acosta, and Román. The Royal Commentaries, even in its title, thus presupposes a dialogue with a European reading of the Incas. Indeed, Garcilaso relies on many of the same rhetorical weapons wielded by the Spanish historians, which is why the authority of his text was nearly indisputable until the late nineteenth century2.

Nonetheless, I propose an alternative reading of the Royal Commentaries that centers on its dialogue with a potential Andean public. In particular, I argue that Garcilaso uses the knowledge of indigenous history that he acquired in Cuzco (before permanently departing for Spain at age twenty) to reinvent Incan history in order to invest his Incan mother's lineage with greater legitimacy than other noble Incan families enjoyed in Cuzco.

From this perspective, the reliability of Garcilaso's history matters little. What is important is identifying the symbolic, metaphorical, and stylistic configurations that unfold in the text and that permit us access to the subtextual Andean dialogue, which has understandably escaped critics whose analyses are limited to intertextual canonical references. My analysis relies on the kind of gnoseological, symbolic, and discursive exchanges that Walter Mignolo calls «colonial semiosis»3.

Mignolo's work can inform an Andean reading of Garcilaso's text by shedding light on the relationship between an indigenous referential universe and Garcilaso's account of it.

In this essay, I analyze some passages from the Royal Commentaries both to reveal the Andean subtext and to underscore the inefficacy of reading such an intercultural work armed only with the instruments of conventional literary criticism4. The passages are descriptions of the Incan fortress of Saqsawaman, at the northern border of the imperial city of Cuzco. I will show how Garcilaso uses the lightning bolt and the rainbow, primordial Andean symbols peculiar to the Incan royal court, to structure the meaning and strategy of his narration. In this way the Royal Commentaries escapes the rhetorical limits of contemporaneous European accounts and acquires a hybrid form that corresponds quite well to its mestizo writing subject.


An Andean Referent

One premise is that Garcilaso's text bears the stamp of his Incan lineage. As we know, his mother belonged to the royal family, or panaka, of the eleventh Inca, Tupaq Yupanqi. This family played an important role in the bloody war of succession following the death of Wayna Qhapaq, the twelfth Inca, late in the 1520s, about when the Spanish first arrived on the shores of Tawantinsuyu. Such wars were common among the Incas. Historians such as Franklin Pease and María Rostworowski de Diez Canseco have argued that violent ritual procedures were needed to consecrate one of the contending parties and legitimate its claim to rule5. Wayna Qhapaq's two sons, Waskhar and Ataw Wallpa, were both claimants but also half-brothers born to mothers from rival panakas. War broke out between Waskhar's side, the Tupaq Inka Yupanqi, and Ataw Wallpa's, the Pachakutiq Inka Yupanqi6. In the end, Ataw Wallpa's troops captured Cuzco and massacred all branches of the nobility that had supported Waskhar, beginning with the Tupaq Inka Yupanqi. Among the few members of that family who escaped was Chimpu Uqllu, the niece-granddaughter of the late Inca and the future mother of Garcilaso (Comentarios 1.9.14).

These events help explain Garcilaso's treatment of the rise of the Incan empire in the Royal Commentaries. By championing the eighth Inca, Wiraqucha, as the leader of his nation's final triumph over the rival Chanca nation and as the great reforming hero of the Incan state, Garcilaso overturns Spanish versions that give the credit to the ninth Inca, Pachakutiq, whose descendants supported Ataw Wallpa three generations later7. Such a reading rests on the certainty that representatives of noble families in Cuzco manipulated the virtues and shortcomings of Incan governors in their histories to advance the immediate political interests of their own panakas8. As Garcilaso's version is at least partially based on oral histories told him by his great-uncle Kusi Wallpa and other elders (Comentarios 1.9.14), it makes sense that he should champion Wiraqucha to favor Waskhar's bid for the succession, which for all intents and purposes was lost just when Pizarro's troops appeared9.




Saqsawaman's Duality

The Royal Commentaries states that the great northern fortress of Saqsawaman is located on a hill whose southern slope hangs perpendicularly over Cuzco. On that side the Incas built a single wall two hundred fathoms long; no greater protection was needed, given the chasm. On the other side, however, we find 10.

The half-moon imagery used to describe the walls is striking, both because the symmetry of its three concentric semicircles provides an ideal spatial plane and because its relation to the actual architecture is debatable, as we shall see. Garcilaso's text, on the other hand, contains one of the only references we have to three interior towers, whose existence was in doubt until 1934, when Luis E. Valcárcel found them buried in the earth11. The Spanish had apparently begun to dismantle them shortly after the Conquest, both to get stones for the rebuilding of Cuzco and to obliterate any religious power that native cuzqueños still vested in the towers. By the end of the sixteenth century, they had been destroyed. Garcilaso claims that the three towers form 12, that is, proportionally distant from the walls, and that he saw their ruins as a boy playing among the fortress walls and rooms with friends. The central, circular tower is called Moyoc Marca; the lateral, squarish ones


Figure 1: Saqsawaman, according to the Royal Commentaries.

are Paucar Marca and Sallac Marca (fig. 1). The similarity between Garcilaso's visualization of Saqsawaman and a stylized rainbow is clear.

We will examine the symbolic significance of the similarity later. For now it is important to note that the archaeological evidence partially contradicts the outlines we find in the Royal Commentaries. The three front walls do run parallel to each other and are connected to the southern wall at both ends, but they are not curvilinear, as Garcilaso's half moon suggests. Rather, they follow a zigzag pattern. Furthermore, the remains of the towers show that they were not positioned triangularly at all, so that the fortress in fact lacks an ideal symmetry (fig. 2)13.

It is unfortunate that most Spanish chroniclers emphasize Saqsawaman's military attributes only. Yet some, Cieza de León, in particular, note early on that the indigenous people referred to it as Inti Wasi, «House of the Sun» (Hemming and Ranney, 65). Indeed Angles Vargas claims that its ritual function would have been the primary one, since it made little sense for an expanding empire to construct such a fortress at the city gates (43-8). R. Tom Zuidema suggests that Moyoc


Figure 2: Aerial map of Saqsawaman, according to Hemming and Ranney. Note especially the location of the towers: (1) Moyoc Marca, (2) Sallac Marca, and (3) Paucar Marca.

Marca represents the connecting point between the forces of the underworld and of this world. The very design of the tower, composed of underground levels analogous to its above-ground ones, made it possible to find «the squareness of the circle in Ancient Peru», since this vertical, cylindrical center had the power to rule the four quadrants of the Incan earthly universe14. Some early chroniclers like Pedro Sancho even describe the towers as having five floors15, and a passage from the Royal Commentaries adds that 16. Garcilaso bestows to the subsoil a labyrinthine character that the indigenous people themselves dare not penetrate unless, he insists, they are guided by (ibid.). (Here Garcilaso evokes the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus to reach a European public).

The three zigzag walls on the northern side of Saqsawaman may have been built to represent three bolts of lightning extending from east to west, or vice versa. The Spanish chronicler Cristóbal de Molina points out that the cult of the god of thunder and lightning was inaugurated by the ninth Inca, Pachakutiq, who ordered the construction of Saqsawaman and other temples dedicated to that deity17. Sarmiento de Gamboa, a leading expert on the wawqi, or brother symbols of noble lineages, affirms that «Chuquiylla» or Chuki Ilia, the lightning, was adopted by Pachakutiq as his family totem, and the examinations of panaka iconography undertaken by Horacio Urteaga, Arthur Demarest, and Zuidema indicate the same18. Chuki Ilia was most likely a version of the pre-Incan deity Tunupa, also known in Quechua as Illapa, who lorded over all manifestations of the sky and was an important, though subsidiary, divinity (Demarest, 35).

In the Royal Commentaries, however, Garcilaso calls Illapa only an instrument of the Sun, not an independent deity. Given his importance to Pachakutiq's panaka, one suspects that the selectivity so characteristic of historical tales from the Cuzco nobility explains Garcilaso's downgrading of him. Such an Andean reading does not preclude the more traditional approach of noting European classical and Renaissance tautologies at work in Garcilaso's text; rather, the transformation of the lightning bolt into an instrument of the Sun, the greatest visible Incan deity (Comentarios 1.3.21), conjures up Jupiter and his lightning bolt. Garcilaso's «Romanization» of the Incas is quite explicit in part 1's «Proemio al lector», where Cuzco is compared to ancient Rome. Obviously, Garcilaso is dialoguing with two very different publics simultaneously.

Garcilaso also speaks of Kuychi, the rainbow or «sky arch» (arco del cielo), as a minor figure in the Incan pantheon, yet its importance in the Andean universe is evident in many texts. In a myth frequently cited by Spanish historians, for example, the rainbow appears as a sign of a new era shortly before the founding of Cuzco, when the Ayar brothers arrive at the peak of the hill known as Huanacaure. Molina mentions the rainbow's importance, but critics have argued that his descriptions of the Andean world are permeated with European themes, in this case with the rainbow as the sequel to a flood19. Molina and other Spanish chroniclers may indeed interpret evidence of a devastating flood in Incan history as proof of the Bible's universal truth; however, in pre-Columbian Andean mythology, too, destruction by water is a sign of cosmic renewal20. (The rainbow that follows is typically represented with four stripes rather than seven). Other evidence of the Andean origins of the rainbow image can be found in ceramic and pictorial works21. In the Andean universe the rainbow represents a privileged natural element positioned on the axis of two worlds, imparting heavenly order to earthly chaos.

After the 1520s war of succession, the rainbow was emblazoned on the coat of arms of the panakas that had survived Ataw Wallpa's massacres, that is, Garcilaso's mother's panaka and its allies. Later, because they had opposed Ataw Wallpa during the Conquest and had submitted to Spanish rule, they were able to negotiate the privilege of blazonry and continued to bear their coat of arms22. In part 1 of the princeps


Figure 3: Projection of Cuzco based on descriptions in the Royal Commentaries.

edition of the Royal Commentaries, Garcilaso includes a personal coat of arms, in which the left side is an Andean field. There, under a sun and a moon, a rainbow emerges from the mouths of two sacred serpents (amaru), and a royal crêpe (llawtu) hangs between them23.

In Garcilaso's text, the imperial city of Cuzco is enclosed by two confluent rivers and, at its northern border, Saqsawaman, by a rainbow (Comentarios 1.7.8-11; fig. 3). If one imagines the intersection of the city's north-south and east-west axes, it becomes clear that Garcilaso projects Cuzco as a cross crowned with the Incan «sky arch». I suggest that this triangular image is one of many Andean referents implicitly transformed in the Royal Commentaries. They do not contradict the text's explicit discourse but endow it with a subtext that reveals itself only in relation to an Andean iconographie tradition.

Not surprisingly, Garcilaso's syncretic projection of Cuzco differs from John Howland Rowe's archaeological hypothesis, according to which the city was laid out in the shape of a puma facing northwest. Whether it was or not has been debated at length by Zuidema and others24. However, even if we accept Zuidema's argument that Cuzco's borders extended beyond its center to include the many outlying communities whose purpose was to tend to the forty-one concentric lines (seq'e) linking more than 340 sacred places (wak'a)25, Garcilaso's image of Cuzco significantly alters this conception of sacred space and many symbolic aspects of the Incan capital.

Just as Garcilaso incorporates Christian elements, such as the cross, into his description of Cuzco, so too does he imply the Christianization of the city's virtuous rulers, who insist on peaceful conquest and wise and just governance. Garcilaso's Incan utopia represents a New World translation, not so much of Thomas More's Utopia (1516), already somewhat out-of-date by 1609, as of El príncipe cristiano, by the Jesuit Pedro de Rivadeneira, and of Del rey y de la institución de la dignidad real, by another Jesuit, Juan de Mariana26.

One might read such «accommodations» of the Andean world to a European universe only as an apology for Incan civilization. After all, Garcilaso neglects to mention the Incan practice of qhapaq ucha, or burying children alive as sacrifices to the gods. Furthermore, he constructs a history in which the rulers of Cuzco gradually and methodically expand Tawantinsuyu to the colossal size it has when the Spanish arrive; whereas archaeological evidence shows that the expansion of Tawantinsuyu was much less orderly and abruptly occurred during the last hundred years of Incan rule, starting with the ninth Inca, Pachakutiq. However, Garcilaso is not interested in some «truthful» version of the past and its symbolic attributes. His text purposefully interweaves indigenous and Europeanized versions of the past to create a complex, ultimately coherent vision of the Andean future.

Garcilaso's image of a Cuzco «crucified» and crowned with an Incan rainbow seems to represent an idealization based on virtues that Garcilaso himself establishes as foundational. Since the rainbow symbolizes the dawn of the productive season following the destructive but renewing rains, the Cuzco laid out in the Royal Commentaries displaces certain Incan icons, including the lightning bolt, in favor of ones more amenable to Garcilaso's sources and his vision of the Incan past.

Another reading of the idealized Cuzco centers on its surprising coincidence with representations of Incan power found on certain coats of arms. If the rainbow symbolizes Saqsawaman and the serpents the convergent rivers Watanay and Tullumayu, then Garcilaso's own coat of arms would seem to depict the sacred, fertile space of Cuzco. In Gisbert's description of the coat of arms of the first Inca, Mankhu Qhapaq, found in the Yábar Collection in Lima, the image of serpents and rainbow reappears in one of the heraldic fields (158). One of the oldest known coats of arms, preserved in the National Institute of Culture in Cuzco, bears the same symbols of the Incan capital. The coincidence of the image with that of Garcilaso's Cuzco attests to the need to explore the Royal Commentaries armed with knowledge of the city's cultural reference points, which are as important to the text as those of the European Renaissance.




The Writing of History and the Colonial Subject

I hope to have shown that the gnoseological exchange in the Royal Commentaries can be discerned only with wide knowledge of the Andean cultural world. One can deconstruct Garcilasian discourse on at least two levels: the surface and the subtext. Just as baroque churches in colonial Cuzco were erected atop Incan stone walls, so too does the Royal Commentaries constitute meaning from the layering of European classical and Renaissance models with transformed primordial images attributed to the indigenous world. Given its complex dual configuration, the narrative presupposes that someone will emit its discourse and grant it unity. That someone is the writing subject, who performs distinct narrative, ethnographic, descriptive, and even recitative functions (as, for example, in the speeches attributed to indigenous nobles). Only when narrative breaches occur -only when the subtext is read against the backdrop of the sixteenth-century Andean universe- do we encounter the subject's hidden face.

Within the learned world of late-Renaissance Spanish historiography, referring to oneself as a «Mestizo Indian», as Garcilaso did, challenged the norm that only wise, white, pure-blooded men qualified as authorities27. José Rabasa has argued that in an earlier work, titled La Florida del Inca, Garcilaso resolved his dilemma by writing from the borders of a universalizing culture, thus expanding the criteria that had traditionally defined the possession and wielding of the historical word28. Because he was mestizo, illegitimate, and born in the Andes, Garcilaso had to overcome immense obstacles to advance both his ideas and the cause of the surviving Incan elites of Cuzco, who faced impoverishment after the Conquest29. But his specific political and social motives in publishing the Royal Commentaries may well lie, alongside the aesthetic intention of idealizing the Andean past, in the abundant biographical sources that have yet to be rigorously examined.

Whether or not the biographical facts of Garcilaso's life support his having known «the whole truth» about Incan history and symbolism (he surely knew more than his Spanish counterparts), the writing subject of the Royal Commentaries uses narrative (both content and style) to distance himself from European historians, even though he has mastered their culture and has adopted many ideas of Italian Neoplatonism. Thus, Garcilaso's contradictory practice of exalting Christian values while infusing his subtext with «pagan» Andean symbols needs examination.

David Brading has argued that Garcilaso's work should be interpreted as a political proposal for the establishment of a Holy Incan Empire in the Peruvian viceroyalty30. The text is ultimately very critical of the Spanish colonial regime, particularly of the reforms of the viceroy Toledo (1569-81), who curtailed privileges that had been granted to Incan descendants and attempted to undermine the local power base of Spanish encomenderos, of whom Garcilaso's father had once been among the most important in Cuzco. Clearly, a thorough understanding of the authority the Royal Commentaries enjoyed in its own day must rest on the text's political and moral dimensions. Likewise, by deciphering some aspects of its subtext, I hope to have shown that Garcilaso's «history of the Incas» forged a new historiographical form, whose complexity of meaning stems precisely from its intersemiotic (indigenous as well as European) character. We must abandon critical approaches that presuppose a purely European public, since Garcilaso's rhetorical strategy also targeted a New World public that eventually decoded the Andean referents found in the passages on Saqsawaman and elsewhere in the Royal Commentaries31.

Inasmuch as Garcilaso's text sets in relief conflicting versions of Cuzco's indigenous past and transforms it in accordance with the ideological and stylistic forms of sixteenth-century Spanish historiography, it allows us to bear witness to the emergence of a new voice: the dominated yet privileged colonial subject. Garcilaso has already been read as a completely Europeanized writer by the majority of contemporary Garcilasistas; he has also been read as a faithful representative of Andean indigenous values32. What remains is the much more difficult task of understanding Garcilaso's internal complexity, which demands a novel, interdisciplinary approach to this foundational text in Latin American literature.







 
Book Description:

This edited volume offers new perspectives from leading scholars on the important work of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616), one of the first Latin American writers to present an intellectual analysis of pre-Columbian history and culture and the ensuing colonial period. To the contributors, Inca Garcilaso'sRoyal Commentaries of the Incaspresented an early counter-hegemonic discourse and a reframing of the history of native non-alphabetic cultures that undermined the colonial rhetoric of his time and the geopolitical divisions it purported. Through his research in both Andean and Renaissance archives, Inca Garcilaso sought to connect these divergent cultures into one world.This collection offers five classical studies ofRoyal Commentariespreviously unavailable in English, along with seven new essays that cover topics including Andean memory, historiography, translation, philosophy, trauma, and ethnic identity. This cross-disciplinary volume will be of interest to students and scholars of Latin American history, culture, comparative literature, subaltern studies, and works in translation.

eISBN: 978-0-8229-8098-8

Subjects: History

0 Replies to “Royal Commentaries Essay”

Lascia un Commento

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *