Sunday, December 24, 2006


While studying Africa, it occurred to me that we had studied a country on each of the continents except for South America. I checked out books on several South American nations, and settled on Peru, whose ancient mysteries intrigued me. I was curious about how native customs and imported customs would intertwine.

Peru is a place of mystery and enigma, beginning with the inexplicable Nazca Lines. These lines, created by the removal of dark stones to expose light earth, create symbols and designs that can only be recognized from the air. The Nazca Indians of 200 BC to 700 AD (or CE if you prefer) could not have seen their completed designs which are intricate and stylized, representing things such as spiders or hummingbirds. Were the lines geographic signposts pointing to the rising sun, or "walking temples" similar to the labrinths of other cultures? No one really knows.

Setting high in the Peruvian Andes are the fascinating ruins of Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas; a place forgotten for centuries by everyone but the locals. Even in modern Peru, there remain traces of cultural traditions that are unique in all the world, such as the Floating Lake People, or Uros, of Lake Titicaca. The ancestors of today's Uros created free-floating islands to escape the threatening Inca and Colla. Today, the Uros still live on floating mats which they weave of Totura reeds, which they pull by hand from the lake upon which they float. Though today this way of life is a tourist attraction, it reverberates with the echoes of a past the Uros are gently floating away from.

Set against this backdrop of ancient native traditions, in a setting of almost other-worldly beauty, are the cities and villages of modern day Peru. The stately pagentry of the Catholic Church has been embraced by many, leading to Christmas celebrations that resemble those of other predominately Catholic nations. If the Christmas tree is a focal point in many North American households at this time of year, the Nativity scene is central in the Peruvian commemoration of the birth of Christ.

We named our 2002 Christmas Doll Louisa. I made her costume and headdress in the style of those worn by native Peruvian Dancers, but she carries the Nativity scene in her arms to show her Catholic faith. Peru is like our Louisa, blending the old with the contempory, native traditions intermingled with imported customs, Turkey dinner with tamales roasted in corn husks. Where else but Peru would the Three Kings arrive, laden with gifts for the Christ child, accompanied by a train of llamas?
photos by Aisling, December 2006

No comments: