Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Religious Fanaticism and the Ice Maiden of Peru

In 2004, I had the great opportunity to visit Peru to have a glimpse of this country full of relics of ancient Inca culture.
We were fortunate enough to be able to get to Machu Picchu, as the train had only just resumed running two days after their worst flash flood.
©2004 Am Ang Zhang

The other highlight was Lake Titicaca (elevation 3812 m), where we visited the floating reed huts of the Uros people.
©2004 Am Ang Zhang

To our amazement, we found these huts were buoyed up by empty two-liter plastic bottles – a sort of adaptation to modern culture, I suppose. Electricity for their TVs and even computers was supplied by solar panels, another modern invention.

We combated altitude sickness, some with the local coca tea and coca candies. Some of us chewed coca leaves.

Those with high blood pressure had to suffer the humiliation of having oxygen administered from tanks now and again, and so did highly trained athletes because of their low heart rate. The only ones in our group who seemed to take it in their stride were the heavy smokers. There is no justice!

In the chapter “Religious Fanaticism” of my book, there is a story about a 12-year old girl who attempted to hang herself, after seeing shadows and hearing voices:

“……Mother assured me later that she did not think there was any sex abuse but it did cross her mind that all the dramatic teaching of Revelation might have something to do with her daughter’s hearing voices and especially those of her father.

At that time I had just come back from Peru, with images of Juanita still fresh in my mind. The tribal rituals of virgin sacrifice in the Andes, visions and religious fanaticism suddenly took on a new meaning.

She respected her father and what he said had to be done, even if it was hallucination. Sacrifice would be nothing and if she was to go to heaven anyway, she would have avoided the torture of hell……”

We saw Juanita in Museum of the Universidad Católica de Santa María of Arequipa, Peru. Juanita is also known as “The Ice Maiden” and was believed to have been sacrificed in ancient times by the Inca to appease the gods, especially the gods of the mountain.

Following the volcanic eruption of 1990, it was discovered in 1995, and Time Magazine hailed it as one of the top ten discoveries of the year. Juanita’s age at the time of the sacrifice was estimated to be between 12 and 14, similar in age to the patient in my story.

Was it the ignorance of these very advanced Inca people that made them believe that the unfavourable weather was an act of the gods whom they had to appease? Were they fooled by the rulers and priests of this ancient culture whose interest was to ensure ignorance of their people so that they could maintain control? Is there something we could learn from such a discovery?

©2004 Am Ang Zhang

This girl in Peru could have been another Juanita if she had lived in Inca times.

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