I’m in the same time zone with you, but I’m worlds away. Son Caleb and I are on a long overdue trip together. We have stamped a few passport pages down though the years and this time it was his pick of destinations. So we landed in Lima, Peru and joined other travelers on a two-week discovery tour in Peru. Yes, it’s true, even when I’m on vacation, I do what I do for a living, that’s how much I believe in the value of group tours!
While in Lima we visited one of the top museums in the world, the Museo Larko. Started by a young man of 25, his personal collection of over 45,000 artifacts is impressive. The items were recovered from his family’s land and the discovery led to the development of a timeline of history from the Incas. I know a lot of people don’t get too jazzed over museums, but the sheer number in this collection is overwhelming. On display in a glass case was several ceremonial items that were used in the belief it would gain favor with their Inca gods. It’s a bit hard in the 21st century to think of a culture that believed in the cult of the dead.
They communicated with the underworld and the world above where the gods lived. Elaborate funerals included offerings and sacrifices. Rites for the passing must be performed in order to ensure that their dead leaders would be transformed into ancestors that would secure a better life for them. Fancy drinking vessels and woven fabrics were placed with the dead. Of course there are many cultures that practice preparing their deceased with “stuff” they might need in the afterlife. The Chinese included an army (Terra Cotta Warriors), the Egyptians packed a lunch (Pyramids). I stared into that display and realized the only ones that benefited from the lavish send off were the grave robbers that looted the tombs.
Another fact stirred my imagination. Looking at ancient dress of a wealthy ruler, the garment was covered in squares of gold the size of business cards. There were golden earrings, and a nose ring, and mouth piece that hid expressions. A huge impressive headdress topped it off. We’ve seen images of these great Incan gods, but the small description placard noted something I’d never considered before. It said that in our present day, brightness comes as no surprise to us, we are surrounded by things that shine like lights and mirrors.
Over two thousand years ago, the only shiny things to be seen by an ordinary person was the moon and the stars. With the discovery of gold and silver, the governing elite took control of the mining production. Jewelers enjoyed a very important place in the society as they were commissioned to decorate the ruler to look like heaven. Addressing the people in a shimmering gown from the top of a pyramid must have been very awe inspiring. Only the stars in the heavens did this, and the ordinary people couldn’t understand how one could shine so brightly, they must be gods on earth. They bowed to their power. Throw in the element of sound like pounding drums, and it demanded attention.
Fine metals and precious stones went from being things dug from the dirt of the earth to status symbols. The placard stated the European inhabitants have (and still do) place a great value on precious metals in the terms of economic importance. But if we can put aside our western world understanding to see how in Peru, in this ancient time, natural elements that had no economic worth, they were shiny and bright, came to be valued.
I’m way over simplifying, but it seems we still make gods out of the bling and bright, the ones that pull our attention and get us to bow to their perceived greatness. Deep thoughts huh? Tomorrow I’m going to go look at llamas.