Cooperation and Conquest

In this week’s reading (A Culture of Stone chapters 2 and 3), Carolyn Dean details the ways in which Inkan use of stone represented both cooperation with and conquest of the land and its peoples. Stones, she says, represented the ambivalent relationship the people had with the environment—on the one hand, they relied on the earth for the fulfillment of their basic needs, but on the other, their use of the earth—personified with the Mother Earth figure named Pachamama. Of particular interest are the ways in which the Inka attempted to return what is taken from the earth. Perhaps most shocking to western readers is rite of child sacrifice. As the mythical source of water and rain, mountains, personified by lords known as apu, were to be kept happy at all costs. Just as the apachita served as the mountains representatives on the mainland, so child sacrifices served as Inkan representatives on the mountains. Though it seems horrifying to sacrifice one’s own child, it is important to remember that the Inka saw mollifying the apu as crucial to their survival. Perhaps the Inka viewed surrendering their children to the mountain in a similar way to how western cultures view sending their children off to war—as a sad but necessary contribution of the one to the survival of the many.

 

Although Dean does have keen insights into Inkan culture, her detailed attribution of motive to seemingly every type of Inkan structure does make one wonder: is there really a deep meaning in every one of the structures she mentions? Didn’t the Inkas ever build a structure onto a stone outcropping simply because it was easier to use the materials already there than to from scratch, or carve images onto a rock because they looked pretty? And whence comes the urge to apply some hidden meaning to every bit of architecture? Does it somehow cheapen Inkan culture to admit that perhaps a building really is just a building?

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