Across the 1200 pages of his epic 1615 letter to the Spanish king, the Andean intellectual Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala chronicled the history of the Inca, the Spanish conquest, and the abuses of early colonialism. Guaman Poma described Inca beliefs and cultural practices, and he detailed the complex interactions between the Inca and the Spanish. He wrote of indios ladinos, indigenous men like himself who spoke Spanish and practiced Christianity, noting the derision that such men faced. He also wrote about diseases, medicinal treatments, and healers, and he described the greedy, cunning notaries who preyed upon indigenous peoples.1 These issues remain of concern and interest to historians writing four centuries later, as the works reviewed here demonstrate. Read together, these studies bring innovative new methods, questions, and interpretations to the field of colonial Peruvian—and colonial Latin American—history.
Carolyn Dean's A Culture of Stone is a creative interpretation of pre-conquest Inca understandings and uses of rock. Through a consideration of Spanish colonial accounts, post-conquest indigenous chronicles, colonial Quechua-Spanish dictionaries, contemporary indigenous stories, and a close reading of the rocks themselves, Dean offers new ideas about Inca stones. While other scholars have considered Inca carvings and the making of grand Inca structures, Dean is the first scholar to fully consider the meanings of rocks to the Inca. Although Dean is an art historian, she stresses that her study does not treat Inca rocks as art. To do so would be to impose a decidedly non-Inca vision upon these stones.
Through Dean's work, we come to see why the Inca treated some stones with such reverence, building with them, but also bringing them food and clothing, and talking to them. Some stones were waka: divine or sacred beings, things, or spirits. While not all waka were rocks—waka were also rivers, caves, mountains and mummies—the Spanish priest Cristóbal de Albornoz remarked that fully half of all Inca waka around Cuzco were stones. Other rocks were people: they were the petrified brothers of Inca rulers, warriors, or guardians of a given area. Even rocks destined for construction had emotions. The sayk'uska were rocks that had grown tired or weary as they were taken to their destination. Sometimes crying tears of blood, these recalcitrant rocks were spared further suffering as the Inca would leave them to rest permanently on roadsides.
Dean excels in her explanations of essence over appearance. To the Inca, certain stones had an intrinsic sacredness, regardless of how those rocks actually looked. The challenge for the contemporary scholar, then, is to determine which stones mattered and which rocks were just rocks. Dean provides a method for such a determination; she shows how the Inca used techniques like framing stones in masonry, carving and contouring rocks, as well as setting important rocks at a distance from other rocks or buildings. Dean supplies beautiful photographic examples of these techniques, giving the reader a clear understanding of her explanations.
Terraces and integrated outcrops—surface rock formations combined with structures—represented the conjunction of natural and built worlds, a conjunction that Dean argues communicated the Inca's belief in their own union with the earth. The basis for much of this argument, the heart of the book's second chapter, is a contemporary Quechua story, recorded in 1971. Such a methodology is controversial, as Dean herself notes, as it risks essentializing Quechua cultural beliefs through a failure to adequately recognize change over time. Dean's interpretations of that story, however, are more...