Dear Friends: We are heading for Mexico this week and I want to get one more Chronicle out before we leave. These last few years, since settling into the house, it seems easier to travel while we’re here then during our six months in Portland. For one thing, we have more flexible time. For another, we get a discount on flights because we are residents of Ecuador and, ahem, tercer edad – “third age” or golden agers. We usually go to Spain but this year Michael was yearning to return to a place he has loved (and lived in): Mexico. We are spending three weeks in the Yucatán and Chiapas, and I’ll try to send a couple of travel blogs if I can figure out how to do it from my iPad.
So, back to Cañar, where we’ve been lucky to be invited by Tayta Antonio Quinde (above) to accompany him on some exploratory journeys to the past (me as photographer; Michael as guest). He is researching and writing about pre-Inca times, when the local “runas” (or native peoples, now identified as Cañaris), ranged over a wide swath of southern Ecuador and northern Peru. They left many traces, but much mystery, as the invading Incas overlaid their own culture on this territory in the mid-fifteen century, and the conquering Spaniards imposed their customs and religion on the region a mere 100 years later. Written history began with the Spanish chroniclers, and what we know of the early pre-Inca times was told to them by local informants in the aftermath of two violent upheavals of the original cultures.
Still, the landscape we saw on an outing into the highlands near Cañar last week probably hasn’t changed much since then (except for the roads). And folks still live perched on the sides of the mountains much as they have for millenniums.
And survive in much the same ways:
“We’ve been here at least 3,000 years,” Cañaris usually say in speaking of their history, but recent research indicates that South America might have been peopled much earlier, perhaps 9,000 years ago (red ocher cave paintings in Brazil) or 22,000 years ago (stone tools in northeast Brazil) or even up to 30,000 years ago (giant sloth hunters in Uruguay). And then there is Texas, where archeologists have recently found projectile points showing that hunter-gatherers reached Buttermilk Creek as early as 15,500 years ago.
We’ve come today to see a petroglyph that Antonio says is Cañari, which means it might be a mere 1000 years old. When I ask how he knows, he says the spiral form is indicative of native iconography of pre-Inca peoples. Near the spectacular site of the rock (here outlined in a piece of carbon from the fire), Antonio points out where, years before, he saw ancient terraces and stone pathways. He asks the man who lives in the nearby house what happened, and the man says, “My father-in-law cleared them to make space for the pigs.” So much for prehistory; but then I suppose a pig in the hand is worth more to a landowner/farmer than a pre-Inca site.
Later, Antonio showed us a worked stone near his highland property, revealed when a neighbor hired a tractor to plow the land and tip the stone to the edge of the field. Which just goes to show that Cañar’s prehistory continues to be uncovered.
Finally, indulge me with a few shots of the beautiful native flora we saw at this higher elevation, quite different from that in Cañar. Sorry I have no names, but if some of your request it I will ask a Cañari friend for local identifying info.