By Paula Bayarte
Lima, Jun 21 (EFE).- What were the Incas really like?
A new 250-piece exhibit on display beginning Wednesday in Peru’s capital seeks to provide answers to that question, looking beyond their warlike and bellicose image and delving more deeply into the daily life of that indigenous society.
“The Incas are very important as a distinguishing aspect of national and cultural identity,” the director of the Lima Art Museum (MALI), Sharon Lerner, told Efe. “But the idea is to complement that perspective with much more profound knowledge of their daily life.”
“Incas Beyond the Empire” showcases the results of five years of research and includes pieces from state and private collections that provide insight into key influences predating the birth of that civilization, while also shedding light on the splendor of the Inca Empire and the colonial period.
“The goal of the exhibition is to provide the public with lots of information that specialists in different disciplines – anthropology, history, archaeology and linguistics – have been working on. It’s the first time a museum in Peru has had the chance to pose the question or rethink who the Incas were,” MALI’s pre-Columbian art curator, Julio Rucabado, told Efe.
Rather than the traditional focus on gold and silver treasures, this new exhibit showcases pieces that range from colorful drawings on “queros” (wooden drinking vessels) to farming equipment and ceremonial jewels.
“We want to offer the public experiences (that allow them) to see, through objects and works of art, who (the Incas) were, not only in the flourishing of a great empire, but also to see what happened starting in 1532,” the curator said.
“How their culture was transformed and how it survived after the colonial era and on through to our era, in such a significant way that you see it manifested in art design and the living culture of the 20th and 21st centuries.”
“Peru is an archaeological giant,” the mission head of the Swiss Embassy in Peru, Stefano Vescovi, said at the inauguration ceremony, noting that the questions posed in the exhibition encourage further exploration of all different facets of Incan life.
Among the items on display are various bodily adornments that provide evidence of the Incas’ different social strata and customs and the various roles that existed within the state apparatus, while the “unkus” (tunics) the Incan people wore offer insight into aspects pertaining to war and ceremonies.
The exhibit sheds light on the “acllass,” girls of remarkable beauty who were chosen to serve the Inca sun god, Inti, and the “coyas,” the primary wives of the Incas (rulers) who also had governing powers.
It also makes clear that Quechua, a language attributed to the Incas, was “just one of the languages that was used during the period of empire,” Rucabado said.
“It originated several hundreds of years prior” to the imperial period, basically with the Waris who were in the area of Cuzco,” the city that was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th century until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.
But when the Incas started to forge ties with their neighbors and create an empire they used Quechua as a sort of lingua franca, and in the colonial era that language became widely used throughout the Central Andes.
Quechua has persisted to the present day and is now spoken by 7 million people in Peru.
Lerner said experts on the pre-Columbian period worked side-by-side in the exhibition with specialists on the colonial era, a collaboration that “allows us to understand a rich historical journey.”
In that regard, the colonial section of the exhibition shows how members of the Inca ruling class integrated with their Spanish counterparts, a mixed local elite system seen in Christian pieces with Andean decorative elements and in garments that show a mixture of the two worlds.
“We want to expand visitors’ perspective about the Incas and show other treasures of the empire much greater than one might imagine,” Lerner said. EFE