Peruvian Religious Crafts

Francisco Pizarro To understand and appreciate Peruvian religious handicrafts, one must first start with the history of the introduction of Christianity to the Inca Indians. There are many interesting stories about how a handful of Spanish mercenaries, commanded by Francisco Pizarro, an illiterate pig farmer, could conquer the mighty Inca Empire. The most intriguing story derives from an Inca belief (also the basis for the theory that Peru has been visited by beings from outer space) that the Gods had come down from the skies and taught them how to live. Spanish ConquestedoresThey interbred with the Indians, and their offspring became the ruling nobility. When they departed back to their home in the heavens, they promised to someday return.

When the Spanish arrived in their "large" ships, the setting sun was at their back. Then, dressed in shinning armor and riding never seen before horses, they came ashore and towered over the Indians. It is not difficult to believe that the Indians would think that their Gods had, as promised, returned. No matter what the truth, it is fact that the Spanish were welcomed. Word reached the Inca king of this strange happening, and, as he was passing by during a change of palaces, he decided to see for himself these strange beings who were being talked about as the Gods returned.

Spanish/Inca BattleIn what is described in most history books as "a daring feat of arms", the small force of 168 Spanish Conquistadors attacked an army of over 80,000 and captured the Inca King. The King offered to pay ransom by filling a room as high as he could reach with precious gems and gold (the room still exists and one can still see where the line was drawn). Upon receiving the ransom, however, the Spanish thought it too dangerous to release the King. It was decided to kill him instead. He was given two choices: a heretic's death by burning at the stake (which, under Inca beliefs, would have condemned his soul to an eternity of wandering between heaven Death of Inca Kingand hell), or a merciful quick "Christian" death by garroting. When the King became a "Christian", so did all his loyal subjects - at least in word. Thus, Christianity came to Peru at the point of a sword, or, more aptly, at the end of a garrote.

Today, almost 500 years after his death, there are areas of Peru still in mourning for the death of their King, and the Peruvian Indian is still trying to incorporate Christian beliefs. For this reason, Peruvian Religious handicrafts, more aptly named religious folk art, provide some interesting conflicts: Many of the figures found in creches and nativity sets are made with strong Indian facial features. Some figures (to include the Christ Child) may be found wearing typical Peruvian hats. Also, if you look carefully at the nativity sets, you may find the Three Wise Men riding Llamas instead of camels! On many of the Last Suppers you may find a strange dish on the table - it is a custom in Peru that the highest honor you pay a guest is to serve him a dish of roasted guinea pig (a small rodent)!

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