Enduring Echoes of the Past

Dancing the dance pokes fun at figures of the present. Coursing through the streets, the dancers enact a sort of morality play in which the wry dramas of everyday life are played out to the amusement of spectators. The finger of ridicule points to a landowner who abuses peasant workers, a judge who decides cases in favor of the rich, a priest who asks for money indeed, some priest masks have horns. Though the dances, found throughout Peru, and other south American countries, take place within the context of Roman Catholic religious festivals, they originated in pre-Christian times. One can trace their roots at least to the Inca, and no doubt they go back much further than that. The people of the north coast of Peru hold dual citizenship in the worlds of past and present. Their passports are the activities and arts of the Moche and other cultural predecessors that still endure-dances, pottery, weaving, boat making, ceremonies for the curing of the sick, and the ubiquitous chicha, corn beer brewed here from ancient times.
Wearing a fresh coat of white wash de la Ramada, a 16th-century church on the plaza in Morrope, display an architectural style depicted on numerous examples of Moche ceramics. The pillars and rafters of this church were hewed from the algarrobo tree, prized for its durable wood. For the roof, builders mixed cana brava, wild cane, with a slurry of mud that hardened into a tough substance. Brava's secondary meaning of "brave" is reserved for those who would venture amidst the canes, whose leaves are sharp as surgeons' knives.

For buildings of status and permanence, the Moche chose adobe brick. The biggest Moche pyramid, Huaca del Sol, was built outside the present city of Trujillo. Composed of some 140 million bricks, the Pyramid of the Sun stands 135 feet high and occupies more than 12 acres. The houses of common folk were probably made of wattle and daub. At many sites people literally built their houses one atop another over thousands of years. For the most part, only the later examples, such as those of the Chimu and the Inca, have tended to survive.

-Morrope craftsmen still churn out thousands of pots for the towns of northern Peru. They specialize in jugs some hauntingly similar in shape to those crafted by the Moche-that hold as much as 35 gallons of water or chicha. Made with coils of clay, the jars are formed with paddle and anvil and then fired. Whole villages or at least large groups of people would make a single type of ceramic. "With their extensive use of moulds, Moche potters revolutionized the making of ceramics.

Though weavers may spend weeks on a single item, the backstrap weaving device-produces goods that may outlast half a century. The backstrap loom is so called because a weaver wraps a strap around her back and ties it to the lower wooden loom bar. The other end of the loom is anchored to the ceiling or a post. By leaning back and forth the weaver can adjust the tension of the loom. Her hands are free to insert weft threads or, Most Peruvian weavers use wool and cotton. The weaver may spend as long as two weeks to complete single alforja. As more people leave rural areas to find work in town, fewer are left to continue this ancient tradition. The inventor of the backstrap loom is unknown Moche textiles from a times are rare, because El Nino rains dampened the soil, leaving textiles to rot. Those that have survived show the same high quality, complexity and detail that characterize their ceramics.

For what ails them, Peruvians employ the services of a curandero, or curer, a person skilled in the use of herbs and potions to heal bodily ailments and to fend off dark and threatening spirits Such curers apparently performed similar functions in Moche times; they appear frequently on Moche pottery. During a curing session in the village of Limoncaro, Pajarito, a curer's helper, exhales a mist of water and perfume towards a skull from a pre-Hispanic tomb. Participants believe the spirit of the skull will then protect them as well as the curer from sorcery during the session or perhaps from the evil spells of rival curers. The curers use chants and prayers. The session, takes place mostly in total darkness.

Iconography of the Moche


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