It happened, completely by chance, that my family and I made two consecutive international vacation trips in 2019 – Spain in March 2019 during kids’ spring break, and Peru in May-June 2019 at the start of kids’ summer vacation. Both ended up being amazing trips, but it was not till we landed in Lima that I realized that we had visited the colonial power, and were visiting one of its former colonies within a span of few months.
While touring Spain was an amazing experience, certain historical facts about Spain stood out for me, especially details regarding the Spanish Inquisition and how Queen Isabel of Spain sought to make Spain a Catholic country through promotion and imposition of Catholicism; this diktat was extended to all its colonies as well.
As we toured Peru, and visited site after site of Inca “ruins”, it became more and more clear what such policies entailed, not just for Peru, but for so many “third world” countries that were, once upon a time, colonies of European colonial powers. The crimes of colonialism are many — the looting of people’s wealth and resources, impoverishing an entire society, but most of all branding a far superior civilization as “savages”, destroying their indigenous culture and architecture to impose your way of life on them, advancing yourself at their expense – such intolerance!
The impacts of those policies carry on to this day. Spanish cities are beautiful! The Catholic churches, cathedrals, basilicas and monasteries are ornate and rich and extravagant. The source of most of these riches can be traced back to colonial loot. In the Inca capital at Cusco, rooms full of gold and silver were carted off to Spain from just one sacred temple — Coricancha – the Temple of the Sun — which was stripped bare by the colonials.
First Image: Coricancha – Sacred Temple of the Incas in Cusco – now it is the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo; Second Image: 3 such rooms filled with gold and 1 room of silver were initially giifted to the colonialists thinking that they would then leave the Inca empire alone… ; Third Image: The Moon Temple Inside Coricancha – the bare alcoves show the empty spots where centuries ago idols of the deities of the Incas used to reside. These walls were painted white with the Catholic imagery by the Spanish (white colored paint remnants can be seen throughout) but a few years ago the paint was washed away because of a storm and the Peruvians realized what was underneath!
Today, parts of Lima, the capital of Peru, look like an urban slum. Peru struggles with corruption and unstable governments. With the Spanish inquisition, the vast majority of Peru’s population capitulated and converted to Catholicism. Yet, according to our guide in Cusco, many have a hard time being 100% Catholic, especially in the highlands of Peru in the Andes. “I haven’t completely accepted it”, said our guide, “I kind of follow a mix between what I have inherited from the Spanish and what my ancestors used to follow – worshipping Mother Earth – Pachamama and other deities from the Inca and pre-Inca times.”
And so it is with all aspects of life in Peru these days – things can be suppressed for only so long – there is a cultural renaissance / nationalistic revival as people are going back to their roots. Increasing emphasis is being placed on learning and speaking local languages (such as Quechua) vs. Spanish and there is a deep desire to rediscover their heritage and traditions. According to our guide in Lima, “so much of this stuff was hidden from us, so much has been suppressed…the history that we learnt as kids about Peru and our ancient civilizations was a completely different history.”
These observations have struck a chord with me because I see many parallels between Peru and India. In many ways, India was worse off having faced repeated barbaric invasions from Islamic invaders and having suffered over 500 years of Mughal and British colonial rule. Yet, it is a proud testament to the forbearance and resistance offered by our ancestors that these invaders and rulers, while having successfully destroyed indigenous civilizations across many lands, hit a wall in India and were never able to eliminate Hindu civilization. More on this some other time. Adios for now.