Human Interest

A journey into Peru’s past with a document signed by Pizarro

By Gonzalo Dominguez Loeda

Lima, Feb 27 (EFE).- In 1538, conquistador Francisco Pizarro ignored one of the most elemental pieces of advice and signed – without having read – the “libro becerro,” a compilation of hundreds of manuscripts prepared by his other “army,” this one consisting of scribes.

Today, that work, the oldest manuscript written in Spanish in South America, is an unbeatable time machine for getting to know the very earliest days of Spanish Peru.

“Surely he trusted the people who were part of his team. For us, signing a document without reading it is a mortal sin,” Ricardo Arturo Moreau Heredia, the head of Peru’s General Archive of the Nation (AGN), which has custody of the “Traveling Registry of the Conquistadors,” told EFE.

And how is it possible that we can know whether Pizarro signed – without having read – the document? The answer is simple: The man who headed the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, along with his brothers Hernando and Gonzalo, was illiterate. He had barely learned how to make his particular mark next to his written name.

The book lists loans, payments and other legal obligations, including legendary passages discussing the history of the conquest of Peru, including the capture of the Inca leader Atahualpa,

However, reading the original is complicated for many Peruvians and, to remedy that situation, the AGN has published a new version in which the Spanish of the 16th century has been translated into modern-day speech.

“Here we have specialists who have done an arduous job and we have been able to translate and update some terms so that this publication we’re offering can be understood,” Moreau said.

Those who peruse the volume now will be able to experience the same sense of surprise felt in a notary public’s office in Lima at the end of the 19th century, where the volume had been gathering dust waiting for someone to look into its contents.

In the document, after unraveling the text and adapting it for modern eyes, Peruvians will be able to see how a society almost five centuries old – but preserved in this “snapshot” – went about its business.

In the pages of the text are lists of the combat and exploration equipment purchased, including many horses and mules, payments to soldiers and assorted loans.

“There are purchase and sale contracts for horses (and) slaves, there are inventories of what the soldiers took with them, like for example the soldiers’ clothing … and also promissory notes that were made for loans,” the archivist said.

Among the items contained in the register are promissory notes from the Incas to secure the release of their sovereign, Atahualpa – whose name appears written as “Atabalipa” in the text – who was taken prisoner on Nov. 16, 1532, in a daring raid by Pizarro that proved to be the beginning of the collapse of the Inca Empire.

But the Pizarro brothers, who made a daily listing of their booty and other activities, were not the only ones keeping such lists. In addition, the registry documents some of the activities of the thousands of local people who had been subjugated by the Inca and who viewed the Spaniards as saviors who could free them from slavery.

In addition, accompanying the Spaniards on their quest was a group of Central American and African slaves, another element of the human journey that was under way.

The book, in particular, contains “the first contacts, the first forms of exchange,” Moreau said.

“You have to keep something important in mind: When the Spaniards arrived they brought with them a number of important things, but the main things were their religion, their culture and their laws,” he said.

And there can be no laws without scribes to write them down, with these professionals working much like notaries public today to draft, edit and legalize the documents and to show “the first interactions that developed in the process of transplanting the laws of the Castillian Empire to Tahuantinsuyo, as the Inca Empire was known.

“We’re going to see how religion, culture, the soldiers and the laws are going to be the first culture-shock to the (Inca) empire,” he said.

To understand that, as Moreau said, it is necessary to “provide the context for this documentation that has to do with an historical process that is part” of Peruvian culture.

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