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Ethnohistory 48.3 (2001) 544-546

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Book Review

Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ:
Corpus Christi in Colonial Cuzco, Peru

Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ: Corpus Christi in Colonial Cuzco, Peru. By Carolyn Dean. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999. xiv + 288 pp., acknowledgments, introduction, illustrations, bibliography, index. $18.95 paper.)

In this marvelously illustrated and learned exploration of art and history, Carolyn Dean analyzes the Corpus Christi processions of midcolonial Cuzco and their painted commemorations. In the process, the author takes us a long way toward solving one of the central riddles of Andean colonialism, namely: at this distance, and given the enigmatic visual and written record, what are we to make of the Christianized indigenous elites of the former Inka capital, particularly those who repeatedly aided the Spanish against fellow Andeans? Were these neo-Inka nobles—their bodies temporary showcases of indigenous and imported symbols, forms, and fabrics—simple collaborators, dupes of the Spanish colonizer? Or were they false converts, “masked” insurgents winking at viewers across the centuries?

Using a multidisciplinary and theoretically sophisticated approach, Dean argues that they were something else altogether. Inka Bodies begins [End Page 544] with a clear and concise historical analysis emphasizing the always triumphal and increasingly central character of Corpus Christi in the Catholic ritual calendar of medieval Europe and Conquest-era Spain. In communally reiterating the “fact” of transubstantiation, sacralizing each city block through repeated, symbolic motions, the “body” of Christ was thought to triumph over the profane world. This feast also starkly dramatized and reiterated social hierarchy and thus seemed prefabricated for colonial application. Indeed, when taken to recently conquered areas of Spain, like Granada, political triumph was incorporated into the feast through mock Moors versus Christian skirmishes.

Discussion of Cuzco begins with an attempt to reconstruct Corpus Christi celebrations as conceived by Spanish organizers; as in other parts of the Americas, early churchmen naively assumed that this imported ritual would easily displace local ones, in the case of Peru, raymis or Andean fall festivals. Of particular interest was Inti Raymi, the winter solstice/harvest festival of late June, and Dean explores its complex and much-debated relationship to Corpus Christi. Although a detailed contemporary description of the Cuzco Corpus Christi is absent, the author makes good use of fragmentary observations of Spaniard views of indigenous participation, dismissive and fearful remarks hinting at a sense of subversiveness. However, aside from “El Inca” Garcilaso de la Vega’s tantalizing glosses of early post-Conquest Corpus Christi and Inti Raymi festivals, precious little written evidence (from any angle) survives suggesting what was going on in the minds of native Andean participants.

Corpus Christi celebrations reached an ostentatious peak in Cuzco under Bishop Manuel de Mollinedo y Angulo (1673–99), and it was during his tenure that a famous series of canvases depicting several Cuzco Inka lords in full ceremonial regalia was commissioned. With these paintings as her Rosetta stone, Dean proceeds to argue, in essence, that the mix of Hispanic and indigenous elements (as depicted by indigenous artists for indigenous patrons) was neither a “survival” nor a “bastardization” of pre-Columbian forms; rather it was a selective archaism and revivalism reflective of James Lockhart’s notion of “double mistaken identity.” That is, Cuzco native peoples were here expressing themselves—unconsciously—in their own terms even while employing borrowed forms.

Spaniards such as Bishop Mollinedo not only allowed but encouraged the revival of pagan indigenous symbols as expressed in Inka regalia. The parade of “Inka bodies” at Corpus Christi was intended to buttress the colonial order by heightening contrasts, “reminding” observers of the legitimacy of Spanish calls for voluntary Andean political and spiritual [End Page 545] subjugation. Arrogant and totally dismissive of non-Spanish views (the scripted other side of Lockhart’s model), high authorities inadvertently allowed for substantial improvisation and even autonomy among indigenous participants, particularly those of status and means.

Such were the native nobles depicted in the Corpus Christi series. Dean focuses on each element of their ritual attire, including tunics, diadems, and...


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