My two guides and our chef and several porters on the Inca Trail were Quechua. They spoke Quechua, lots of Spanish, and English if we were really lucky. They ranged in age from late teens to fifties. They grew up in the Andes, on farms in small villages. Their lives were and are very different than mine. This is a culture of people that have a unique and beautiful history, so different than ours, yet what they do works.
I was thinking about this after posting about Chick-fil-a in my previous blog post because what we tend to think as classic Christian values are not recognized by other cultures, necessarily. And even in the instance of the Quechua, where many of them have been Catholics since the Spaniards conquered the Incan empire, they do things differently, for very good reason, because they have a system that works for them.
Jose, my guide on the trail, told us about the Quechua customs on marriage and family. Years ago their families were huge, eight to ten children was the average. Now they have dwindled down slightly to maybe more like five or six. When our porters introduced themselves, they gave us their names, number of children they had, and relationship status. Most of them had children, unless they were single. Those that had young children were not married, but spoke of their girlfriends. And the older men, whose children were probably grown, judging by their age, were married. On average, the people tended to find a partner when they were fairly young, begin a family, then marry much later in life. This spoke to a lifestyle in which producing crops and running farms and making a living is top priority. And in order to do that they need help. So they have lots of kids!
Why not marry before children? There are reasons why, although differing. Many times they have trial marriages. Separations are no big thing. And communities work together to farm, raise livestock, and rear children. With a community so large helping eachother, maybe contributing children to the work force is all that is needed, and coupleship hasn't been as important until later in life when you marry the person you will be with forever. One thing is certain, however, and that was whatever their rules and regulations are surrounding marriages and relationships, those are separated completely from the government. During the "taming" of the natives once the Spaniards arrived, the Quechua partaked in Roman Catholic confessions where they made no qualms about the fact that they were having affairs outside of their relationship with their "spouse." The priests gasped in shock at the admissions, but I bet if you asked the "spouse" if they cared, they'd say "no."
These things are so fascinating to me. Infidelity hurts. But does it hurt because I've been raised to believe it's bad? Because the Bible tells me it's wrong? Because I'm just a typical jealous woman who doesn't like to share? What if it was just the norm. It's a big contrast from polygamy, where technically it's not infidelity I suppose if the husband is sleeping with his wives and they are all married...and maybe the Quechua men have the right idea by not putting a ring on it just in case they change their minds later in life. Whose to say which is right and wrong? Well, usually religion! When I think back to my moral teachings growing up they all stem from religion.
But WHAT IF the institution of religion has it wrong. WHAT IF religion is really trying to pull the wool over your eyes. I'll give you an example: La Qorikancha. This was the most sacred Incan religious site, period. It sits in the middle of Cusco. Although today it is a convent after having been taken over by the Spaniards in the 1500's. When I finally toured this site I had already started my trip in Puno, where the legend of Incan folklore begins. I had walked the twenty seven miles along the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu and explored its splendor at sunrise. When I visited La Qorikancha it impacted me emotionally to such an extreme that I cried at several points during the tour. Particularly when looking at the religious paintings done by the Cusquenan artists of the Cuzco School. These were large religious paintings commissioned by the Roman Catholic Church and painted by the natives they conquered, who were not Catholic. The paintings are gorgeous and incorporate rich earthy reds and browns along with lots of gold leaf. They have Peruvian flares such as Jesus dining on his last meal, a plate of cuy (guinea pig). The reason the church commissioned these paintings was for the people who were illiterate and therefore could not read the Bible.
Wow, think about that for a moment. People that are following mere mortals, men in religious cloth who committed acts of violence in order to gather gold and land. I don't know if they would be trustworthy to follow! But when one is in desparate need of leadership, it's amazing who one will follow. It's no secret the patrons of the arts chose to use the opportunity to rewrite history. My favorite painting was a large piece with Pizarro and a Bishop sitting atop horses, with the Incan King, Atahualpa, on another horse, graciously accepting Jesus Christ as his savior. This didn't actually happen. Atahualpa did not accept Jesus, or Catholocism quite like this. He was about to be burned alive. Horrified by Pizarro's choice of execution since the Incans didn't believe the soul could ascend if burned, a Bishop convinced Atahualpa to convert to Catholocism. So Atuahualpa was baptized and renamed, and executed by strangulation with a garrote instead. The funniest thing about the painting depicting a fictional scene is that although it is supposed to have taken place in Peru with the Spaniards approaching Atahualpa, in the background is a Spanish castle. Thankfully we know the real story and do not have to rely on the artwork to tell us inaccuracies. But it makes me wonder how often that has happened in history. And how many times man has rewritten in order to tell a biased story.
Anyway, I guess my point is, that we should be very careful when we use religion to back up our arguments. Man is not infallible. Even if one believes the word of God is infallible, man has a history of distortion in order to tell the story he sees fit. In order to impose rules that are his personally, and may not be those of God. What works for one group of people may not work for another, but who are we to write or re-write history? Who are we to re-write facts? Who are we to say what is right or wrong? Why do we fight against others and their rights when we are not a higher power? Who put us in charge and what makes one group of people better than another? We are only human. What if we do all this hollaring over the giving and taking away of (our interpretation) of rights, only to stand forth in front of our higher power who says to us, "What did you go and do that for? That was MY job?" What if we are wrong? Maybe we should just stay out of the way and let our Higher Power guide.