Probabilities Regarding Peruvian Ancient History

(This is taken from John D. Baldwin's Ancient America, originally published in 1871.)

It has been the fashion to depreciate Montesinos, but I find it impossible to discover the reasons by which this depreciation can be justified. It is alleged that he uses fanciful hypotheses to explain Peru. The reply to this seems to me conclusive. In the first place, he is, in this respect, like all other writers of his time. That was an age of fanciful theories. Montesinos is certainly no worse than others in this respect, while he has the merit of being somewhat more original. He brought the Peruvian civilization from Armenia, and argued that Peru was Solomon’s Ophir. Undue importance has been accorded to several of the old Spanish chroniclers, whose works contain suggestions and fancies much more irrational. In the second place, his theories have nothing whatever to do with his facts, by which they are sometimes contradicted. He found in Peru materials for the scheme of its ancient history, which he sets forth. Readers will form their own estimates of its value, but no reasonable critic will confound this part of his work with his fanciful explanations, which are sometimes inconsistent with it. For instance, his theory assumes that the first monarch of the old kingdom began his reign as far back in the past as the year 2500 B.C. But he reports only sixty-four rulers of that old kingdom. Now, if there were so many as sixty-four, and if we allow an average of twenty years to each reign (which is sufficient), we can not carry back the beginning of that first reign to the year 1200 B.C.

There is another objection, which must be stated in the words of one of the critics who have urged it: “Montesinos treats the ancient history of Peru in a mode so original and distinct from all others that we can perceive it to be a production alike novel and unknown.” If this means any thing, it means that it was highly improper for Montesinos to find in Peru what was “unknown” to poorly-informed and superficial Spanish writers, who had already been accepted as “authorities.” It would have been singular if his careful investigation, continued through fifteen years, had not given him a great amount of information which others had never taken pains to acquire. His treatment of the subject was “original and distinct from all others,” because he knew what other writers did not know. His information did not allow him to repeat the marvelous story of Manco-Capac and Mama Oello, nor to confine Peruvian history to the time of the Incas. But when the result of his inquiries was announced in Europe, Garcilasso and others regulated the fashion of Peruvian studies, and the influence of their limited and superficial knowledge of the subject has been felt ever since.

The curious theories of Montesinos may be brushed aside as rubbish, or be studied with other vagaries of that age in order to understand its difference from ours; but whoever undertakes to criticize his facts needs to be his equal in knowledge of Peru. His works, however, tell us all that can ever be known of Peruvian ancient history, for the facilities for investigation which existed in his time are no longer possible. It may, however, be useful to consider that the main fact in his report on the subject is no more “original and distinct” than the testimony of the monuments around Lake Titicaca. The significance of this testimony is now generally admitted. There was a period in the history of Peruvian civilization much earlier than that of the Incas, a period still represented by these old monuments which, so far as relates to this point, are as “novel” and “original” as Montesinos himself.

That the civilization found in the country was much older than the Incas can be seen in what we know of their history. Their empire had grown to be what Pizarro found it by subjugating and absorbing a considerable number of small states, which had existed as civilized states before their time. The conquest of Quito, which was not inferior to the Valley of Cuzco in civilization, had just been completed when the Spaniards arrived. The Chimus, subjugated a few years earlier, are described as even more advanced in civilization than any other Peruvian community. The small states thus absorbed by Peru were much alike in manners, customs, manufactures, methods of building, and general culture. It is manifest that their civilization had a common origin, and that to find its origin we must go back into the past far beyond Inca-Rocco, the first of his line, who began the work of uniting them under one government.

Moreover, there were civilized communities in that part of the continent which the Incas had not subjugated, such as the Muyscas on the table-land of Bogota, north of Quito, who had a remarkable civil and religious organization, a temple of the sun built with stone columns, a regular system of computing time, a peculiar calendar, and who used small circular gold plates as coin. They were described by Humboldt.

The condition of the people composing the Peruvian empire at the time of the Conquest bore witness to an ancient history something like that reported by Montesinos. There were indications that the country had undergone important revolutionary changes before this empire was established. The Peruvians at that time were not all one people. The political union was complete, but there were differences of speech, and, to some extent, of physical characteristics. Three numerous and important branches of the population were known as Aymaraes, Chinchas, and Huancas. They used different tongues, although the Quichua dialect, spoken by the Incas, and doubtless a dialect of the Aymaraes, to whom the Incas belonged, was the official language in every part of the empire. There was a separated and fragmentary condition of the communities with respect to their unlike characteristics, which implied something different from a quiet and uniform political history. These differences and peculiarities suggest that there was a period when Peru, after an important career of civilization and empire, was subjected to great political changes brought about by invasion and revolution, by which the nation was for a long time broken up into separate states.

Here, as in Mexico and Central America, there was in the traditions frequent mention of strangers or foreigners who came by sea to the Pacific coast and held intercourse with the people; but this was in the time of the old kingdom. As the Malays and other island people under their influence formerly traversed the Pacific, this is not improbable. Some have assumed that the Peruvians had no communication with the Mexicans and Central Americans, and that the two peoples were unknown to each other. This, however, seems to be contradicted by the fact that an accurate knowledge of Peru was found among the people inhabiting the Isthmus and the region north of it. The Spaniards heard of Peru on the Atlantic coast of South America, but on the Isthmus Balboa gained clear information in regard to that country from natives who had evidently seen it. To what extent there was intercourse between the two civilized portions of the continent is unknown. They had vessels quite as good as most of those constructed at Panama by the Spanish hunters for Peru, such as the balsas of the Peruvians and the “shallop” of the Mayas seen by Columbus, which made communication possible up and down the coast; but whether regular intercourse between them was ever established, and every thing else relating to this matter, must necessarily be left to a calculation of probabilities.





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