Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Historical crossroads.

Cajamarca was a physical crossroad, where we had opted to turn to the right and head off east. But it was an historical crossroad in 1532. It's also another wonderful case of the "What Ifs?"

A brief history. The Inca Lord, Atahualpa has defeated his brother and is heading north to the empire's capital in Cusco, there to claim his crown. He stops off at the thermal baths in Cajamarca for a clean and spruce up, when his vast civil service of informants and messengers informs him that Pizzaro, the conquistadorian Spaniard is marching out of the coastal town of Piura. The Inca has a possible ceremonial army of 80,000 to attend on him, Pizzaro has 62 mounted horsemen and 106 foot soldiers. You wouldn't bet against those odds. Pizzaro does.

Cajamarca slaughter

The first great 'What if'?' question has to be...why didn't a minor portion of that vast army deal with this insignificant, irritating intrusion at one of the many potential ambush points? We've ridden some of the route; all he had to do was roll a few boulders down a hillside onto the advancing aliens. Nature's been doing that to us for some time. The valley sides are so steep the caballeros would have been leading their horses, the foot soldiers would have almost certainly have shed their plate armour in the high humidity and tangled confines of the valley floor. The radicalising friar would have been preaching, encouraging, threatening, 'hell, fire and damnation'. Sound familiar? Recurring religious history does.

The andeancondor pecks the heart from the Spanish Bull

More history. The conquistadors make it into the plaza, and distribute themselves throughout the buildings that cover the three sides of the square. Atahualpa enters and is confronted by the Dominican friar Vicente de Valverde who proceeds to preach unintelligibly at the Inca Lord. A sacrilege is claimed and the man of God calls on the Christains to "come at these heathen dogs who reject the things of God". Or at least that's the version that the victors claim, bearing in mind that the only barely literate character in this whole scenario is the friar. Two cannons loaded with grapeshot are fired, carnage and slaughter ensue. 5000 ceremonially armoured troops and unarmed civilians are butchered. Atahualpa is captured and a ransom agreed. A room is required to be filled to the specified line with gold and silver, all within two months. But something happens; actually Pizzaro and his cohorts get greedy, they 'try and find guilty' the Inca. He's executed. The Spaniards pocket the ransom. Is there nothing new in history?

Why did Ataualpa delay an attack? Was it arrogance, ignorance, or plain bad management? Who knows? Had he dealt with Pizzaro, almost certainly another character with a thirst for gold would have come along. Had he or they prevailed, it would be his language that I would today be trying to make myself understood in.

However those histories are still an interesting exercise in consequential chronologies. The wealth that flowed out of the defeated Inca empire fuelled the Spanish conquest of the Western Hemisphere. Which in turn prompted an English queen to unleash her crown-sanctioned slaver pirates: Drake, Hawkings, Cavendish, et-al on plundering that same wealth to create an English, and subsequent British Empire. Thus creating an atlas of imperialistic regal border drawings, for which much of today's troubled world is still trying to solve the consequences. The Middle East and Africa are obvious examples. I'm sitting today, in British recorded terms, on another less well documented, border dispute.

More regal dabblers in history

Yet more history. It's 1830, not long after the break-up of the Spanish empire, Ecuador has seceded from Gran Colombia, but finds itself in debt to a group of British investors. It clears said debt by swapping away a large tract of her Amazon basin. From these mercantile beginnings are birthed a series of wars that have only now been finally (possibly?) resolved. It explains the troops of fatigued, chanting soldiers off for their morning jog that we've been passing over the last few days. I do enjoy their exertions, if only because the ever-present dogs find more sporting interest in a group of squaddies than they do in passing cyclists.

Even yet more history. I was educated under that curious Scottish conundrum. To study History or Geography...."either or" but never both. I chose the latter on the adolescent grounds that it was more relevant to a modern world, then spent my subsequent adult life realising that the two subjects are mutually inseparable. Crossroads litter life, both past and present. For me, it's interesting to speculate what's down each of the roads; for our decision makers it's an imperative. History always repeats itself.