Showing posts with label peru. Show all posts
Showing posts with label peru. Show all posts

8.18.2013

discoveries make me happy

I am always astonished to see stories such as these.
A tree-dwelling animal with a teddy-bear-like face and rust-coloured fur has become the newest mammal species discovered by scientists.

The olinguito, the smallest known member of the raccoon family, lives in the cloud forests high in the Andes Mountains of Colombia and Ecuador, reported a team of scientists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., which described it in the journal ZooKeys Thursday.

The animal has actually been displayed in museums and zoos over the past 100 years, but was mistakenly identified as a different, known species among its close relatives, the olingo.

"It's been kind of hiding in plain sight for a long time," Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and lead author of the new report, told The Associated Press.
And this.
Giant Maya Carvings Found in Guatemala

Archaeologist Anya Shetler cleans an inscription below an ancient stucco frieze recently unearthed in the buried Maya city of Holmul in the Peten region of Guatemala. Sunlight from a tunnel entrance highlights the carved legs of a ruler sitting atop the head of a Maya mountain spirit.

The enormous frieze—which measures 26 feet by nearly 7 feet (8 meters by 2 meters)—depicts human figures in a mythological setting, suggesting these may be deified rulers. It was discovered in July in the buried foundations of a rectangular pyramid in Holmul.


Maya archaeologist Francisco Estrada-Belli and his team were excavating a tunnel left open by looters when they happened upon the frieze. "The looters had come close to it, but they hadn't seen it," Estrada-Belli said.

According to Estrada-Belli, the frieze is one of the best preserved examples of its kind. "It's 95 percent preserved. There's only one corner that's not well preserved because it's too close to the surface, but the rest of it isn't missing any parts," said Estrada-Belli, who is affiliated with Tulane University, Boston University, and the American Museum of Natural History and who is also a National Geographic Explorer. His excavations at Holmul were supported by the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program.

Maya archaeologist Marcello Canuto agreed, calling the frieze "amazingly and beautifully preserved."
And this.
Archaeologists have discovered a hidden tomb of the Wari, a monument from an early civilization that predated the Inca, nestled in a site 175 miles north of Lima, Peru. The funerary chamber, ensconced in a stepped pyramid, had been filled with more than 1,200 artifacts, including gold- and silver-inlaid jewelry, ceremonial axes, looms and spindles.

The Wari mausoleum at El Castillo de Huarmey is the first pyramid discovered at the site that has not been looted, Milosz Giersz, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw who headed the expedition, said in an interview. It holds an altar-like throne and the bodies of 63 people, mostly women. Bodies were placed in seated position and wrapped in disintegrating cloth. Some were probably human sacrifices, and three of them are thought to be Wari queens.

“We know little about this culture,” Giersz said, “and this discovery is the first one which brings us so much information about the funerary practices of the highest-ranking elite and the role of the woman in pre-Hispanic times.”

The artifacts included ear-ornaments called orejeras, rattles, looms, spindles, as well as ceramics from all over the realm. A rare alabaster vessel bears depictions of fights between the coastal warriors and foreign invaders.

The Wari were an Andean civilization that flourished in the coastal regions from roughly 500 AD to 1000 AD, well before the Inca empire's 13th century rise. But very little is known about the Wari, because they appear to have left no written record of their lives. The Inca, though they were destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors, were also documented by them, and so archaeologists have a better record of their society.

For archaeologists studying the Wari, such pristine finds are invaluable additions to understanding this ancient culture, Giersz said.
I find it thrilling to realize that we humans have not completely discovered, mapped, and classified all that exists on our planet. More technology will be invented, of course, and doubtless more lethal weaponry. More art will be created, and words will be spun in some new order to inspire or horrify or entertain us. But more pieces of ancient civilizations to be discovered? A species humans have yet to study? Amazing.

I wonder which will come first, the total exploration of Earth or its total destruction.

7.11.2011

what i'm reading: cradle of gold, story of re-discovery of machu picchu


One hundred years ago, this week - July 7, 1911, to be exact - an American man named Hiram Bingham found the ruins of an ancient ceremonial city, mostly overgrown with Peruvian jungle. Some indigenous families were living on the site, tending small subsistence farms. Despite the fact that local people had always known about the ruins, and despite the fact that the clues of other explorers and many indigenous people enabled his route, Bingham claimed to "discover" these ruins. Those ruins are now one of the world's most famous and most remarkable places: Machu Picchu.

Over the next few years, Bingham would bring Machu Picchu to the attention of the larger world. He would uncover other nearby Incan ruins and open the ancient paths between them, now known as the Inca Trail. He would also violate an agreement he made with the Peruvian government, and illegally excavate, remove and steal ancient artifacts from those sites, including the remains of Incan people - the ancestors of people forced to work there.

As many of you know, I have an enduring fascination with both modern and ancient Peru. In 2006, Allan and I spent three weeks traveling through that country. It was a trip I had wanted to make all my life, and a gift to ourselves after emigrating to Canada.

I've just finished reading Cradle of Gold: The Story of Hiram Bingham, a Real-life Indiana Jones and the Search for Machu Picchu, by Christopher Heaney. Leaving aside the ridiculous subtitle, this book tells many intertwined stories. Cradle of Gold is a biography of Bingham and the story of his Peruvian expeditions, with the surrounding historical context. That supposedly heroic tale is intertwined with a much older story, one that is truly heroic and tragic: the final Incan resistance to the Spanish invasion. The book also analyzes the struggle between modern Peru and Yale University over the the tens of thousands of artifacts that Bingham stole from Machu Picchu and other Incan sites, that Yale refuses to return. In addition, and more briefly, the author writes about his deeply felt personal connection to these subjects.

Heaney has written an ambitious book that clearly represents an enormous amount of research. He succeeds in all his stories, but of course not all readers will be equally interested in each threads. I have little interest in biography, and when I do read a biography, it's either to study history (like Taylor Branch's monumental history of the US civil rights movement, framed by a biography of Martin Luther King), or to learn about a person whose life and contributions move me. I found myself distinctly uninterested in Bingham's personal story, and the story of the search for the Incan "lost cities" was written in more detail than I needed. But if you enjoy those kinds of tales, this is a good one.

The final chapters - on the case against Yale and the author's personal story - were, for me, the best parts of the book. Unfortunately, this was also the briefest part, and left me wanting to learn more.

* * * *

In the book's introduction, Heaney summarizes the Peru vs Yale fight this way.
In 2008, Peru sued Yale for the return of the artifacts and human remains that Bingham excavated from Machu Picchu. Peru claimed it had loaned Yale the collection of silver jewelry, ceramic jars, potsherds, skulls and bones and was now demanding its return. Yale called Peru's claim "stale and meritless" and asserted that now it owned the collection. Peru said Yale had 46,000 pieces; Yale said it had 5,415. Between these two distant poles, I have attempted to find the truth.
I interpreted this to mean that the author believed there is some middle ground, some compromise, between Peru's position and Yale's. I was wary and skeptical of how Heaney might justify a position.

I was relieved to be wrong. Heaney understands and beautifully articulates why Yale must return Peru's stolen history.
For years, Peruvian archaeologists grimaced while North American colleagues shook their head at the country's struggle to protect its culture. It was a patronizing argument that ignored progress: Peru's cultural institutions had moved forward in leaps and bounds since Bingham's era. More importantly, the executive orders [through which Peru loaned some artifacts to Yale] were proof that in the 1910s Peru did care about its history. The early negotiations over Machu Picchu's artifacts and Bingham's evasions were revelatory, and Peru was legitimately outraged that Yale denied their relevance.

Yale was surprised to learn that the third party in Bingham's later expeditions felt similarly. The National Geographic Society also wanted the artifacts' return. Its vice president, Terry Garcia, reviewed the society's documentation and felt there was "no question" that Machu Picchu's artifacts belonged to Peru. National Geographic attempted to broker a deal, but the university was uninterested. The society was shocked. "It's so patronizing of them to suggest that you can't return these objects to Peru because they can't take care of them - that a country like Peru doesn't have competent archaeologists or museums," National Geographic's vice president told the New York Times in 2007. "Maybe if you were a colonial power in the [nineteenth] century you could rationalize that statement. I don't see how you could make it today."
Much more than pottery and jewelry is at stake - although that must be returned, too. Bingham illegally removed the remains of 174 human beings from burial sites, people "whose ancestors now walk the streets of Cuzco and Lima". The Native American Grave Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) requires US museums to return human remains and spiritual artifacts to their living indigenous heirs. That law applies only to US tribes, but it sets a precedent, which was followed when, for example, the Smithsonian returned mummies to Cuzco.
The symbolism in the Yale case is deepened by the fact that the human remains are from Machu Picchu, the royal estate of Pachacutec - either one of the great indigenous leaders of Andean history or one of its great imperialists. Pachacutec's mummy is long gone, but the fact that the bodies and artifacts of the men and women who attended him are at Yale remains deeply unsettling. In May 2006, 1,200 residents of the town beneath Machu Picchu rode the train to Cuzco to demonstrate and call for the return of the Machu Picchu artifacts to their home. "What if Peru had George Washington's things?" the director of the Instituto Nacional de Cultura in Cuzco asked the year before. "We would have to return them. They would mean something to the United States, not Peru."
Heaney expresses more sympathy to Yale's position than I can muster, as he grew up around Yale's Peabody Museum, and he idolized Bingham. (Despite that, he does not present a sanitized or idealized version of Bingham; through his research, Heaney had to "grapple with Bingham's dark side," as he puts it.) Heaney describes a more recent visit to the Peabody, where a few dusty pieces from Cuzco are badly displayed, creating "the false impression that all Yale has are ceramics".
Leaving the Peabody, I feel torn. I do not believe the claims of major museums that if they send back one artifact, they will set a precedent by which all the world's art and artifacts will fly back to their creators' descendants. But I also believe there is some value in the international study and display of artifacts as examples of the world's diversity of art and culture. I grew up immersed in Peruvian, Oceanic, and African art and artifacts in the museums of New York. They filled me with wonder and sympathy. They made me want to travel. I want my future children to feel the same.
This really irked me. Privileged North American children can be filled with wonder and the desire to travel, at the price of another country's own heritage? Sure, it's more convenient for the author if artifacts stay in New Haven or New York!

But Heaney redeems himself by showing that he is merely acknowledging these selfish feelings, not suggesting policy should be based on them.
I draw the line, however, when a loaned collection becomes a trophy, and includes human remains. I believe that Yale University should return to Peru the skulls, bones, and artifacts that Hiram Bingham excavated and exported from Machu Picchu and other sites as soon as possible without conditions. Peru does not deny the importance of Yale's curatorship of the collection, nor how it has deepened interest in Peru. Instead, its representatives call for their return because they believe it is historically, ethically, and legally right. . . . The fact that these are not just artifacts, but the skulls, bones, and funerary remains of Peru's pre-Columbian dead, makes Yale's intransigence doubly incredible. It is indeed problematic when a country's government, like Peru's, claims to represent a historically marginalized indigenous group — but that should be a problem worked out between the government of Peru and its indigenous majority, not Peru and Yale. These are not Greek sculptures on display in Yale's art gallery, planting the seeds of a hundred new artists — these are the skulls and bones and possessions of people who once struggled, danced, and buried family members of their own. . . . If, at their core, history and archaeology are our attempts to understand and respect the lives of the past on their own terms, then the respectful treatment of human remains is the litmus test of whether our practices are civilized or cruel. Yale's possession of Machu Picchu's dead not only lends an unattractive colonial tinge to the university but also shows how Yale refuses to recognize the expedition's place in the hemisphere's history of exploitation.
* * * *

Bingham's expeditions take place against a backdrop of US imperialism; deep, well-justified suspicion and distrust by South Americans of North American intentions and, often, their own government's desire to profit from US imperialism; indigenous forced labour, slavery and repression - and resistance; and an American and European public fascinated by heroic adventures. One interesting thread running through Crater of Gold is the historically contradictory attitudes of white Americans towards indigenous people. It's a perfect illustration of the Peruvian expression "Incas si, Indios no", meaning, as Heaney puts it, "it is easy to romanticize the pre-Columbian past while ignoring the indigenous present".

After the US completed its conquest of the indigenous people within its own borders, it began its imperial march, beginning with Hawaii, and ending... well, we don't know, because it hasn't finished. While the country was fighting it out with Spain to re-colonize that country's colonies, jingoistic US pseudo-scientists were hot to prove that there had been advanced civilizations in the Americas before the Spanish conquest. Apparently the bitter irony was completely lost on them.
As for the Indian families already living in the ruins, Bingham dismissed them as "corngrowers [who] seemed to know little about the temples around which they had planted their crops. . . . They were of a different breed from the men who built the temples and had only dim traditions concerning them." . . . If Ishi and Peru's "corngrowers" were what Americans wanted to see in the indigenous present - nearly "extinct" hunters or "degenerated" and "dim" farmers - then the Incas and pre-Incas embodied the glorious pre-European past, whose proper heirs, the newspapers hinted, were the Americans who recognized them. The Christian Science Monitor simply and forcefully declared that Bingham's revelation left "the theory that civilization was first brought to these shores in Spanish caravels in a ridiculous light."
When the news of Bingham's "discovery" hit the press, it was an instant international sensation.
The story challenged racist beliefs that the Americas' indigenous peoples were incapable of building empires and settlements. By the same token, it fueled all sorts of wild and covertly racist theories — that the Incas were inspired by Egyptians, that they were Atlanteans or Asians — all implying that native Americans could not possibly have built an empire without external help. [Ed. note: Readers my age will recall similar nonsense about Peru's Nazca lines being built by space aliens.] . . .

Across the world, newspaper readers shook their heads at the wonder of it all. For Americans feeling regretful over the conquest of their own indigenous population, Machu Picchu offered a feeling of innocence and an almost imperial nostalgia for the pre-European past. It was easier to think of the noble, indigenous dead than the live Indians on and off reservations throughout the United States, fighting to protect native culture and treaty rights.

* * * *

As an aside, I was bemused to learn how far back the unethical corporate sponsorship of science dates. Heaney writes of the 1911 expedition:
The expedition's funding also hinted at its ethos. To cover everyone's food and travel expenses - each person needed $1,800 - Bingham collected $11,825, partly from businesses linked to America's frontiers, literal and imaginary. The Winchester Arms Company donated a rifle and $500. Minor C. Keith - whose all-powerful United Fruit Company owned railroads and plantations throughout Central America and would involve the US government in many a military imbroglio - put up $1,800 for another member and let the expedition travel on Untied Fruit's ships at half-fare. Finally, the Eastman Kodak Company donated cameras that Bingham promised to field test in Peru's rainy valleys.
Someone from the expedition crowed "that they were continuing 'the heroic work of the first explorers and founders like Pizarro.'" Again, no irony here.

And what of the "treasure"? What does Yale hoard? What was found at Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo and other sites through the sacred Urubamba River valley? I wanted to know: what didn't we see that should have been there?
They found a bevy of complete or near-complete ceramic vessels, as well as the potsherds of 1,650 containers, ranging from tall liquid vessels to ornamented handles with the faces of animals and humans. . . . In the grave of one man, they found a pot filled with animal bones, grains, and other objects. . . . They found caches of intriguing green serpentine counters and a finely grained stone box, about six inches wide, eight-and-a-half inches long, and two-and-a-half inches deep, covered with beautiful angles and spirals.

They built an excellent collection of metallic objects. There was no gold — the Incas carried around such finery, and little of it survived the conquest — but they found "about two hundred little bronzes and a few pieces of silver and tin." They found large bronze knives, a silver headdress, and a moon-shaped silver headpiece.

In early September, Erdis pulled the expedition's most fabulous find from the northwest corner of one room: a "bronze knife, with handle decorated with figure of man with breech cloth, on stomach, feet in air, pulling on a rope, to which is attached a fish," he wrote in his journal. It was a truly unique piece, and the figure was beautifully detailed, with an Inca nose, earflaps on his hat, and a look of "grim determination" on his face. William Holmes of the Smithsonian would call it "one of the finest examples ever found in America of the ancient art of working in bronze."

The year's finest treasure, however, remained the tombs that Torvis Richarte and Anacleto Alvarez turned inside-out for the expedition, willingly or not. . . . That afternoon he and Richarte found a cave that yielded the ruin's second most delicate piece of metalwork: a small bronze pin with a tiny bronze hummingbird on top, a piece of string still threaded through its hole. They found a broken pot with a baby's skeleton at its bottom. A curious double burial would yield two skeletons, one with a stone and silver necklace still "at the neck of the dear departed," and, fascinatingly, a green glass bead — a European artifact, the first sign that the site was perhaps inhabited through the conquest. . . . When they were through, Richarte and Alvarez had opened 107 graves, yielding the remains of about 173 individuals. . . . There were no royal Inca mummies draped in gold, but as time went by, the Yale expedition realized they had found something even more important: a cross-section of the site's inhabitants, spanning the privileged "priestess" to the humble, malnourished worker. For those who knew how to read them, these bones were a treasure of a new sort, windows to their owner's past, gender, diet, and cause of death.

By collecting almost everything in the graves, no matter how modest, from humble metals to potsherds, Richarte and Alvarez let Yale make the first archaeological report in history on both the noble and common people of Inca society. Everything — from the skeletons to silver to stone carvings — went into 93 of the expedition's food boxes. [Ed note: that is, the boxes were not officially inventoried, they were falsely labelled and smuggled out of the country.]

Yale would ultimately list 5,415 lots of artifacts, but when counted in terms of individual bone fragments and potsherds, there were upwards of 46,000 pieces. It was a massive and invaluable array — priceless precisely because of its comprehensive nature. It was the only intact collection of human and artistic remains from an Inca royal estate that escaped the torches of the Spanish conquest. Put another way, Yale had now assumed the sacred trust of caring for Machu Picchu's tombs.
I believe that one day the Incan bones and other treasures now housed in Connecticut will be returned to Peru. If that happens in my lifetime, I may have to return to that country to see and celebrate them.

4.09.2010

the story of bottled water

I missed World Water Day, but this excellent video is relevant every day. From the good people who brought us The Story of Stuff, comes The Story of Bottled Water.

We were in Peru in 2006. The water is not drinkable there, not for anyone for any reason. The very rich have filtration systems in their homes; everyone else boils water for a full 10 minutes before using it for anything.

For tourists, which is a big chunk of the Peruvian economy, there is bottled water. Women sell it along the roadside, at train stations, in parking lots - everywhere there are tourists, there are women selling bottled water. They sell it cheap (by tourist standards) and cold.

In many places where tourists are gathering, it's hot and very dry, and it's important to stay hydrated. You simply have no choice. You have to buy bottled water everywhere. And you can't refill the bottles, because you can't drink the tap water.

And... plastic is not recycled. Only glass is recycled. We were there for three weeks, in all areas of the country except the Amazon. I only saw glass bottles once.

So millions of tourists are drinking millions of litres of bottled water and tossing away the bottles. Where are the bottles going? What is happening to all this plastic? It really troubled me; I think about it still.

I also wonder if the bottled-water industry in Peru is preventing or obstructing clean-water projects from going forward. Various politicians campaign on a "clean water for all Peruanos" ticket... but nothing changes.

I don't know the answer to these questions, but I know we in North America can drink tap water, filtered if necessary. Every once in a while I still have to buy a bottle of water - because I'm out somewhere without my own water, and I need to drink, and I only drink water or coffee. Then I try, as I'm sure you do, too, to reuse the bottle as many times as possible, and I hope my recycling actually gets recycled.

But there are still people all over North America buying massive quantities of bottled water for their own refrigerators. Hard to believe, but true. Here's hoping some of them see this video.

The Story of Bottled Water.

4.13.2009

peru sets example for u.s. citizens

You may have heard that, last week, the Supreme Court of Peru sentenced that country's former president, Alberto Fujimori, to 25 years in prison. That's hopeful, exciting - and enviable - news.

Author James McEnteer offers his perspective about how Norteamericanos might learn from Peru's example.
Peru's Supreme Court sentenced former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori to twenty-five years in prison last week for creating death squads during his presidency - from 1990 to 2000 - which murdered dozens of people. More than seventy thousand people died during Fujimori's reign in the war between his iron-fisted administration and Maoist guerilla groups, the "Shining Path," and the "Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement."

After a fifteen-month trial, the presiding judge, Cesar San Martin, said, "The charges have been proved beyond all reasonable doubt." The court found that Fujimori targeted various political opponents for kidnapping and assassination. Fujimori was also found guilty of killing fifteen people, including an 8-year-old boy, at a suburban Lima barbecue.

Earlier Fujimori received a six-year prison term for ordering an illegal search. He still faces two corruption trials. He resigned from office while in Japan, which granted him political asylum because of his Japanese ancestry. In 2005 he left Japan for Chile, apparently to re-launch his Peruvian political career. He was detained there and extradited to Lima to face trial in 2007. Why did Fujimori abandon his Japanese safe haven? Was he deluded by a messianic belief that he could get away with anything, as he had for a decade as president?

The Lima judicial proceeding represents a major milestone, the first trial of a democratically elected head of state in his own country. It was also courageous, considering Peru's violent past and Fujimori's continuing popularity. His daughter is a member of the legislature and intends to run for the presidency in 2011. She has vowed to pardon her father if elected.

Equally courageous are the recent trials of Argentina's former military leaders, who presided over the disappearances of up to thirty thousand Argentine citizens in the 1970s and 80s. In 2005 the government of President Nestor Kirchner removed legal protections that had shielded abusers of power from prosecution, allowing their cases to proceed.

Trials of former Argentine government officials accused of state-sponsored terror (kidnapping, torture and murder) have not simply stirred up painful memories. Trial witnesses have disappeared. Judges and prosecutors have been threatened with death unless the trials are stopped.

Apologists say the brutal tactics of the military regime were necessary to combat terrorist threats. That defense should chill the hearts of U.S. citizens, since that is precisely Dick Cheney's rationale for the illegal kidnappings, torture and detentions without charge - our very own "dirty war" - that became U.S. policy in the Bush years.

Peru and Argentina understand that unless they identify and condemn the abuses of power committed by their own governments, their current and future regimes will lack legitimacy. "The past is not dead. It's not even past," as William Faulkner said. To pretend otherwise is to implicate current and future governments - of Peru, Argentina or the United States - in those crimes and abuses.

It took an outsider - a Spanish judge named Baltasar Garzon - to indict the notorious Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Enabled by Henry Kissinger and the CIA, Pinochet took power in a bloody coup on September 11, 1973, murdering the democratically elected President Salvador Allende. The Chilean justice system was too cowed and compromised by Pinochet's bloody reign of torture and murder to act against him, even after he left office.

Garzon's indictment caused Pinochet's brief detention in England in 1998. He was finally indicted in his own country in 2000, but died of natural causes at 91 in 2006 before he went to trial. Accused of assassinations, kidnappings, tortures, murders and drug trafficking, Pinochet told investigating judges: "I don't remember, but it's not true. And if it were true, I don't remember." (His words are reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's testimony during his Iran-Contra deposition.)

Garzon lamented that "justice was too slow," in Pinochet's case. Now he has written a 98-page complaint accusing former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five other ex-Bush officials (John Yoo, William Haynes, David Addington, Jay Bybee and Douglas Feith) of constructing a system that allowed torture in violation of international law. Garzon accepted jurisdiction because several Spanish citizens at Guantanamo allegedly suffered torture. Will justice be too slow in this case too? Will Americans be content to let Spanish courts do their legal dirty work?

Congressman John Conyers recently released a report entitled: "Reining in the Imperial Presidency," detailing a long list of possible Bush executive branch violations of the Constitution, human rights and the public trust. The Conyers report says: "The Attorney General should appoint a Special Counsel... to determine whether there were criminal violations committed pursuant to Bush Administration policies that were undertaken under unreviewable war powers, including enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and warrantless domestic surveillance." Conyers is very late with this, but better late than never.

As Mark Danner wrote recently in The New York Review of Books: "There is a sense in which our society is finally posing that ‘what should we do' question. That it is doing so only now, after the fact is a tragedy for the country..." How big a tragedy? Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, noted earlier this month, that "the U.S. leadership became aware... very early on...that many of the [Guantanamo] detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value and should be released."

But Wilkerson says that - after the incompetence the administration displayed during 9/11 and the Iraq invasion - Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were adamant that no more mistakes be admitted. "Moreover," writes Wilkerson, "the fact that among the detainees was a 13 year-old boy and a man over 90, did not seem to faze either man..." Wilkerson waited seven years to reveal these realities, a shameful injustice. But it would be a far greater injustice never to reveal them at all. Does anyone doubt that a serious investigation of human rights violations by Gonzalez, Woo, Feith, Bybee, Addington and Haynes will lead to Rumsfeld and Cheney?

There's more, but I can't bring myself to post something that implies that torture by US policy was specifically a Rumsfeld-Cheney innovation, and has now "withered and died". Such ignorance of history is sad and dangerous - or purposeful. (McEnteer is not saying that, he is quoting someone else who does.) But read on.

1.03.2009

1491: excerpts part 2

More from 1491 - New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann. Earlier posts here and here.
In 1994 Ruth Shady Solis, of the National University of San Marcos in Lima, began working fourteen miles inland from Aspero, at a site known as Caral. From the sandy soil emerged an imposing, 150-acre array of earthworks: six large platform mounds, one sixty feet tall and five hundred feet on a side; two round, sunken ceremonial plazas; half a dozen complexes of mounds and platforms; big stone buildings with residential apartments.

Haas and Creamer worked with the project in 2000 and helped establish Caral's antiquity: it was founded before 2600 B.C. While Shady continued work on Caral, Haas, Creamer, and Ruiz split off to investigate the Pitivilca, the next river to the north, and the Fortaleza, just north of the Pitivilca. They found, Haas told me, "major urban centers on a par with Caral in terms of monumental architecture, ceremonial structures, and residential architecture. And some of them were older."

Examination of Huaricanga and the surrounding communities is far from complete — Haas, Creamer, and Ruiz published their first findings in December 2004. They found evidence of people living inland from the coast as early as 9210 B.C. But the oldest date securely associated with a city is about 3500 B.C., at Huaricanga. (There are hints of earlier dates.) Other urban sites followed apace: Caballete in 3100 B.C., Porvenir and Upaca in 2700 B.C. Taken individually, none of the twenty-five Norte Chico cities rivaled Sumer's cities in size, but the totality was bigger than Sumer. Egypt's pyramids were larger, but they were built centuries later.

I asked Haas and Creamer where a race of alien visitors in, say, 3000 B.C. would have landed if they were searching for earth's most sophisticated society.

"I hate questions like that," Haas said, because they ask scientists to engage in the dubious enterprise of ranking cultures against each other on a scale.

"Wouldn't it depend on what the aliens thought was sophisticated?" Creamer asked. "I mean, who knows what they would think."

I asked them to indulge me.

"I know what you're getting at," Haas said, reluctantly. "In 3000 B.C. your aliens would have had a very limited number of options on the menu. And one of those options would have been the Norte Chico."

Because human beings rarely volunteer to spend their days loading baskets with heavy rocks to build public monuments, Haas, Creamer, and Ruiz argued that these cities must have had a centralized government that instigated and directed the work. In the Norte Chico, in other words, Homo sapiens experienced a phenomenon that at that time had occurred only once before, in Mesopotamia: the emergence, for better or worse, of leaders with enough prestige, influence, and hierarchical position to induce their subjects to perform heavy labor. It was humankind's second experiment with government.

* * * *

It has long been taught that civilizations arose around large-scale agriculture; because the oldest known civilizations did, it was postulated that all ancient civilizations developed along a similar path. It goes something like this. Foraging (hunter-gatherer) societies develop agriculture, which leads to a huge increase in the available food supply. More food leads to a huge increase in population. Society grows and stratifies. The elite organize the peasantry to work on large-scale public works projects, like irrigation systems, which in turn lead to more food, and more people.

Early civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China all developed with farming as the common cornerstone. But in Peru, farming was an afterthought. Thus it was believed Peru had no great early civilizations.

But an alternate theory has developed, referred to as the Maritime Foundations of Andean Civilizations, or MFAC. It proposes that there was little substinence agriculture around early Andean societies because those cultures were built around fishing, and that subsequent Peruvian cultures, including the Inca, originated not in the Andes but around the great coastal fisheries.

Mann describes MFAC as "a brick through the window of archaeological theory... Archaeologists had always believed that in fundamental respects all human societies everywhere were alike, no matter how different they might appear on the surface." The MFAC hypothesis was "radical and unwelcome" - but the evidence for it is massive, and cannot be dismissed.
Further evidence both for and against the MFAC hypothesis emerged in the mid-1990s, with Shady's pathbreaking work on the Supe River. (Aspero, one recalls, sat at the river's mouth.) Shady's team uncovered seventeen riverside settlements, the second-biggest of which was Caral. In her view, monumental buildings implied a large resident population, but again there were plenty of anchovy bones and little evidence that locals farmed anything but cotton. To Moseley, the fish bones suggested that the ample protein on the coast allowed people to go inland and build irrigation networks to produce the cotton needed to expand fishing production. The need for nets, in Haas's view, gave the inland cities the whip hand — Norte Chico was based on farming, like all other complex societies, although not on farming for food. Besides, he says, so many more people lived along the four rivers than on the shore that they had to have been dominant. Moseley believes that Aspero, which has never been fully excavated, is older than the other cities, and set the template for them. "For archaeology," deFrance said, "what may be important" in the end is not the scope of the society "but where it emerged from and the food supply. You can't eat cotton."

Evidence one way or the other may emerge if Moseley and Shady, as planned, return to Aspero. If they are correct, and Aspero turns out to be substantially older than now thought, it might win the title of the world's oldest city — the place where human civilization began. "Maybe we might actually stop people calling it the 'New World,'" Moseley joked.

There is also enormous disagreement among scientists of how the Mesoamericans developed maize. To call maize a staple crop is to undersell it. It was the foundation on which Mesoamerican society was based; it was life itself. But maize - as I learned from Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel was not found in nature and then domesticated, as the world's other staple crops - rice, wheat and barley - were. Maize was a completely human invention. How that occurred is hotly debated, and Mann walks you through the various theories. Then he reminds you that for our purposes, which theory is correct doesn't matter.
From the historian's point of view, the difference between the two models is unimportant. In both, Indians took the first steps toward modern maize in southern Mexico, probably in the highlands, more than six thousand years ago. Both argue that modern maize was the outcome of a bold act of conscious biological manipulation — "arguably man's first, and perhaps his greatest, feat of genetic engineering," Nina V. Federoff, a geneticist at Pennsylvania State University, wrote in 2003.

Federoff's description, which appeared in Science, intrigued me. It makes twenty-first-century scientists sound like pikers, I said when I contacted her. "That's right," she said. "To get corn out of teosinte is so — you couldn't get a grant to do that now, because it would sound so crazy." She added, "Somebody who did that today would get a Nobel Prize! If their lab didn't get shut down by Greenpeace, I mean."

As Jared Diamond made several appearances for me while reading 1491, so did Michael Pollan. I don't mean Mann referred to either author (although Diamond is cited in Mann's gargatuan list of references). I mean themes I read about in those author's books surfaced here, too.
Indian farmers grow maize is what is called a milpa. The term means "maize field," but refers to something considerably more complex. A milpa is a field, usually but not always recently cleared, in which farmers plant a dozen crops at once, including maize, avocados, multiple varieties of squash and bean, melon, tomatoes, chilis, sweet potato, jicama (a tuber), amaranth (a grain-like plant), and mucuna (a tropical legume). In nature, wild beans and squash often grow in the same field as teosinte, the beans using the tall teosinte as a ladder to climb toward the sun; below ground, the beans' nitrogen-fixing roots provide nutrients needed by teosinte. The milpa is an elaboration of this natural situation, unlike ordinary farms, which involve single-crop expanses of a sort rarely observed in unplowed landscapes.

Milpa crops are nutritionally and environmentally complementary. Maize lacks digestible niacin, the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, necessary to make proteins and diets with too much maize can lead to protein deficiency and pellagra, a disease caused by lack of niacin. Beans have both lysine and tryptophan, but not the amino acids cysteine and methionine, which are provided by maize. As a result, beans and maize make a nutritionally complete meal. Squashes, for their part, provide an array of vitamins; avocados, fats. The milpa, in the estimation of H. Garrison Wilkes, a maize researcher at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, "is one of the most successful human inventions ever created."

* * * *

One of the most fascinating parts of 1491 was the section on the Amazon. The Amazon is not the completely pristine rainforest most people believe it to be. It's very likely that the Yanomamo - people thought of as living as their pre-contact ancestors did, some of the earth's last hunter-gatherers - are in fact closer to the holocaust survivors I mentioned earlier.
More important, anthropologists, archaeologists, geographers, and historians who were reassessing the environmental impact of indigenous cultures in North and Central America inevitably turned to the tropical forest. And in growing numbers researchers came to believe that the Amazon basin, too, bears the fingerprints of its original inhabitants. Far from being the timeless, million-year-old wilderness portrayed on calendars, these scientists say, today's forest is the product of a historical interaction between the environment and human beings — human beings in the form of the populous, long-lasting Indian societies described by Carvajal.

Such claims raise the hackles of many conservationists and ecologists. Amazonia, activists warn, is sliding toward catastrophe so rapidly that saving it must become a global priority. With bulldozers poised to destroy one of the planet's last great wild places, environmentalists say, claiming that the basin comfortably housed large numbers of people for millennia is so irresponsible as to be almost immoral — it is tantamount to giving developers a green light.

The Amazon is not wild, archaeologists and anthropologists retort. And claiming that it is will, in its ignorance, worsen the ecological ailments that activists would like to cure. Like their confreres elsewhere in the Americas, Indian societies had built up a remarkable body of knowledge about how to manage and improve their environment. By denying the very possibility of such practices, these researchers say, environmentalists may hasten, rather than halt, the demise of the forest.

. . . .

Unlike maize or manioc, peach palm can thrive with no human attention. Tragically, this quality has proven to be enormously useful. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries many Amazonian Indians, the Yanomamo among them, abandoned their farm villages, which had made them sitting ducks for European diseases and slave trading. They hid out in the forest, preserving their freedom by moving from place to place; in what Balee calls "agricultural regression," these hunted peoples necessarily gave up farming and kept body and soul together by foraging. The "Stone Age tribespeople in the Amazon wilderness" that captured so many European imaginations were in large part a European creation and a historical novelty; they survived because the "wilderness" was largely composed of their ancestors' orchards. "These old forests, called fallows, have traditionally been classified as high forest (pristine forest on well-drained ground) by Western researchers," Balee wrote in 2003. But they "would not exist" without "human agricultural activities." Indeed, Amazonians typically do not make the distinction between "cultivated" and "wild" landscapes common in the West; instead they simply classify landscapes into scores of varieties, depending on the types of species in each.

Planting their orchards for millennia, the first Amazonians slowly transformed large swaths of the river basin into something more pleasing to human beings. In the country inhabited by the Ka'apor, on the mainland southeast of Marajo, centuries of tinkering have profoundly changed the forest community. In Ka'apor-managed forests, according to Balee's plant inventories, almost half of the ecologically important species are those used by humans for food. In similar forests that have not recently been managed, the figure is only 20 percent. Balee cautiously estimated, in a widely cited article published in 1989, that at least n.8 percent, about an eighth, of the nonflooded Amazon forest was "anthropogenic" — directly or indirectly created by humans.

1491: excerpts part 1

When I read a big, meaty book that excites me, I usually blog about it several times while I'm reading it. But for whatever reason, I found it difficult to write about 1491, so I'm posting about it all at once. Here are some sections I tagged for future reference.

* * * *
Nobody knows how many died during the pandemics of the 1770s and 1780s, but even if one had a number it wouldn't begin to tally the impact. Disease turned whole societies to ash. Six Cree groups in western Canada disappeared after 1781; the Blackfoot nation, blasted by smallpox, sent peace emissaries to Shoshone bands, only to find that all had vanished. "The country to the south was empty and silent," Galloway wrote. So broken were the Omaha by disease that according to tradition they launched a deliberately suicidal attack against their enemies. Those who did not die quit their villages and became homeless wanderers.

Cultures are like books, the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss once remarked, each a volume in the great library of humankind. In the sixteenth century, more books were burned than ever before or since. How many Homers vanished? How many Hesiods? What great works of painting, sculpture, architecture, and music vanished or never were created? Languages, prayers, dreams, habits, and hopes — all gone. And not just once, but over and over again. In our antibiotic era, how can we imagine what it means to have entire ways of life hiss away like steam? How can one assay the total impact of the unprecedented calamity that gave rise to the world we live in? It seems important to try. I would submit that the best way to come near to encompassing the scale and kind of the loss, and its causes, is to look at the single case where the intellectual life of a Native American society is almost as well documented as its destruction.

. . . .

Cut short by Cortes, Mexica philosophy did not have the chance to reach as far as Greek or Chinese philosophy. But surviving testimony intimates that it was well on its way. The stacks of Nahuatl manuscripts in Mexican archives depict the tlamatinime meeting to exchange ideas and gossip, as did the Vienna Circle and the French philosophers and the Taisho-period Kyoto school. The musings of the tlamatinime occurred in intellectual neighborhoods frequented by philosophers from Brussels to Beijing, but the mix was entirely the Mexicans own. Voltaire, Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbes never had a chance to speak with these men or even know of their existence — and here, at last, we begin to appreciate the enormity of the calamity, for the disintegration of native America was a loss not just to those societies but to the human enterprise as a whole.

Having grown separately for millennia, the Americas were a boundless sea of novel ideas, dreams, stories, philosophies, religions, moralities, discoveries, and all the other products of the mind. Few things are more sublime or characteristically human than the cross-fertilization of cultures. The simple discovery by Europe of the existence of the Americas caused an intellectual ferment. How much grander would have been the tumult if Indian societies had survived in full splendor!

Here and there we see clues to what might have been. Pacific Northwest Indian artists carved beautiful masks, boxes, bas-reliefs, and totem poles within the dictates of an elaborate aesthetic system based on an ovoid shape that has no name in European languages. British ships in the nineteenth century radically transformed native art by giving the Indians brightly colored paints that unlike native pigments didn't wash off in the rain. Indians incorporated the new pigments into their traditions, expanding them and in the process creating an aesthetic nouvelle vague. European surrealists came across this colorful new art in the first years of the twentieth century As artists will, they stole everything they could, transfiguring the images further. Their interest helped a new generation of indigenous artists to explore new themes.

Now envision this kind of fertile back-and-forth happening in a hundred ways with a hundred cultures — the gifts from four centuries of intellectual exchange. One can hardly imagine anything more valuable. Think of the fruitful impact on Europe and its descendants from contacting Asia. Imagine the effect on these places and people from a second Asia. Along with the unparalleled loss of life, that is what vanished when smallpox came ashore.


* * * *

The rekindled dispute over Indian origins has tended to mask a greater archaeological accomplishment: the enormous recent accumulation of knowledge about the American past. In almost every case, Indian societies have been revealed to be older, grander, and more complex than was thought possible even twenty years ago. Archaeologists not only have pushed back the date for humanity's entrance into the Americas, they have learned that the first large-scale societies grew up earlier than had been believed — almost two thousand years earlier, and in a different part of the hemisphere. And even those societies that had seemed best understood, like the Maya, have been placed in new contexts on the basis of new information.

. . . .

Next year geologists may decide the ice-free corridor was passable, after all. Or more hunting sites could turn up. What seems unlikely to be undone is the awareness that Native Americans may have been in the Americas for twenty thousand or even thirty thousand years. Given that the Ice Age made Europe north of the Loire Valley uninhabitable until some eighteen thousand years ago, the Western Hemisphere should perhaps no longer be described as the "New World." Britain, home of my ancestor Billington, was empty until about 12,500 B.C., because it was still covered by glaciers. If Monte Verde is correct, as most believe, people were thriving from Alaska to Chile while much of northern Europe was still empty of mankind and its works.


* * * *

In college I read a one-volume history of the world by distinguished historian William H. McNeill. Called, simply enough, A World History, and published in 1967, it began with what McNeill and most other historians then considered the four wellsprings of human civilization: the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, in modern Iraq, home of Sumer, oldest of all complex polities; the Nile Delta, in Egypt; the Indus Valley, in Pakistan; and, in east central China, the valley of the Huang He, more familiar to Westerners as the Yellow River. If McNeill were writing A World History today, discoveries like those at Huaricanga would force him to add two more areas to the book. The first and better known is Mesoamerica, where half a dozen societies, the Olmec first among them, rose in the centuries before Christ. The second is the Peruvian littoral, home of a much older civilization that has come to light only in the twenty-first century.*

Mesoamerica would deserve its place in the human pantheon if its inhabitants had only created maize, in terms of harvest weight the world's most important crop. But the inhabitants of Mexico and beans on dinner plates around the world. One writer has estimated that Indians developed three-fifths of the crops now in cultivation, most of them in Mesoamerica. Having secured their food supply, Mesoamerican societies turned to intellectual pursuits. In a millennium or less, a comparatively short time, they invented their own writing, astronomy, and mathematics, including the zero.

*I am not criticizing McNeill for failing to include the Americas on his list of civilizations; he was simply reflecting the beliefs of his time. I would criticize World History: Patterns of Change and Continuity, a high school text published two decades later, in time for my son to encounter it. Referring exclusively to the "four initial centers" of civilization, this "world history" allocated just nine pages to the pre-Columbian Americas. The thesis of the book in your hands is that Native American history merits more than nine pages.

what i'm reading: 1491

I recently finished 1491 - New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, but I've been having a lot of trouble writing about it. It's sweeping in scope, packed with fascinating, interrelated information, beautifully written, but not easily summarized. I'll give it a shot, and I'll also post excerpts that I've scanned, to give you a feel for the writing and the ideas.

Mann's basic premise is that the original peoples of the Americas were vastly more numerous, and their societies immensely more complex and advanced, than what most of us have been taught. There is also copious evidence to show that they were much older; there were advanced societies in this hemisphere for much longer than was previously believed.

A flood of new evidence pertaining to the pre-contact Americas - meaning, the Americas before European settlement - has been discovered, discussed and often hotly debated during the past 25-50 years. But, Mann says, almost none of it is has filtered down past specialist circles.

In his travels for writing and his own interest, Mann found himself stumbling on bits and pieces of this vast wealth of knowledge, all of it new to him and incredibly fascinating.
Gee, someone ought to put all this stuff together, I thought. It would make a fascinating book.

I kept waiting for that book to appear. The wait grew more frustrating when my son entered school and was taught the same things I had been taught, beliefs I knew had been sharply questioned. Since nobody else appeared to be writing the book, I finally decided to try it myself.

Generations of North Americans grew up learning that the indigenous people of North America were small bands of hunter-gatherers who lived lightly on the land. We know that the ancient peoples of Mexico, Central America and South America built great civilizations, because the Spanish conquistadors found (and destroyed) those societies, and their remains are still visible to us. But the famous ruins of the Inca, Maya, Aztecs and a few others are only a small fraction of the many diverse that cultures populated these lands.

North of the equator, we learned that pilgrims and settlers arrived on land that was pristine. Natural. Untouched. The people who lived there - we thought - lived simple lives, not shaping and changing their environment the way more complex societies did.

This is emphatically false.

The native peoples of the Americas - including what is now the US and Canada - actively shaped their environment, molded and influenced the land around them, just as ancient peoples did in Sumer, in the Indus and in China. These original Americans were around nearly as long, and they accomplished every bit as much. Mann gives us a glimpse of the many wonders they created - the technology, the inventions, the culture - and it is truly astonishing.

By now most of us know that the greatest contributor to the demise of the native people of the Americas was disease. There was a big assist from out-right slaughter, of course, but the number one genocidal killer was smallpox. Yet few of us realize the scope of the devastation.

At the time of contact, Europeans had already built up an immunity to smallpox, but were carriers of the disease. People in the Americas had no immunity; in addition, it's likely they were genetically predisposed to not develop one. The numbers - even the conservative estimates of death - are staggering. It was an all-out genocide, with all the social dislocation and deterioration that would naturally follow.

By the time of Plymouth and Jamestown (pardon my US-centric history here), disease had already depopulated the Americas. The pilgrims thought they were seeing an unpopulated wilderness. What they were seeing were the survivors of genocide. It's as if beings from another galaxy came to earth in 1945, landed in Auschwitz, and thought all humans were emaciated creatures in striped pajamas. So devastated were the people themselves, so utterly wiped out were their societies, that within a few generations, the descendants of the survivors didn't even know their former society had ever existed.

The enormous herds of buffalo, elk, and deer, the huge size and vast numbers of oysters, the billions of passenger pigeons that European settlers reported seeing were not nature in some pristine state. They were, in fact, evidence of ecosystems completely out of balance because their principal predator and means of population control had been removed.

Europeans who wrote accounts of their first glimpses of "the new world" had no way of knowing that what they saw was not what had always been. But the Indian population they encountered was a tiny fraction of survivors.

Much of the information Mann presents is still controversial among specialist scholars. He takes you through the outlines of several controversies, but always brings you back to the larger picture. For example, how many Indians - Mann uses "Indians" throughout, except where it is known what the people called themselves, and he explains why he made this choice - lived on these continents, pre-contact? How many people died from the number-one killer, smallpox? Was it 40 million, or 20 million? Who is right, the "High Counters" or the "Low Counters"? How can we know, what evidence is there?

After an overview of the different theories and the scope of the debate, Mann reminds us that, for our purposes, it doesn't matter. Either way, there were many more people than we previously realized.
To Fenn, the smallpox historian, the squabble over the number of deaths and the degree of blame obscures something more important. In the long run, Fenn says, the consequential finding of the new scholarship is not that many people died but that many people lived. The Americas were filled with an enthusiastically diverse assortment of peoples who had knocked about the continents for millennia. "We are talking about enormous numbers of people," she told me. "You have to wonder, Who were all these people? And what were they doing?"

Since Mann is reviewing and debunking our earlier notions about life in pre-contact Americas, 1491, by definition, deals with the history and sociology of science – how science is made, how society reacts, how politics and culture always influence what is known and disseminated. He offers evidence from physical anthropology, linguistics, genetics, the study of pollen, ice core samplings, and many more branches of scientific study. If you're an expert in any one of these fields, perhaps this book would seem overly reductionist. But for most of us, Mann is wonderfully adept at translating the science into more accessible terms.

As long-time readers of this blog know, I have an abiding interest in ancient civilizations, and a lifelong interest in the people of the Americas, especially of Mesoamerica and of Peru, the two cradles of civilizations in this hemisphere. So perhaps not everyone will find this book as compelling and fascinating as I did. But if you have any interest in the history of the land we inhabit - and if you enjoy exploding the myths of our stilted educations and learning something much more exciting, something much closer to the truth - and if you are interested in how we can know history, and what it can teach us, you will love this book.

Excerpts to follow.

12.16.2008

thinking about water

Tony Clarke is the director of the Polaris Institute, the author of Inside The Bottle, an Exposé of the Bottled Water Industry, and a leader in the fight against the bottled-water industry - which means the fight for safe, publicly-available water worldwide. This week, he wrote this in the Toronto Star.
Toronto's decision last week to ban the sale and distribution of bottled water on city premises was a watershed moment for water justice advocates the world over. What was truly significant about Toronto's action was not that it banned an environmentally destructive product, but that it included a commitment to ensuring access to tap water in all city facilities.

Toronto is now the largest city in the world to pass such far-reaching regulations controlling the distribution of bottled water on municipal property and promoting the use of publicly delivered tap water. Other Canadian and American municipalities have enacted policies encouraging the consumption of tap water and limiting the distribution of bottled water using taxpayer money, but none as large as Toronto has taken such a comprehensive approach.

Toronto's action is in many ways the result of a diverse North American public campaign that has successfully raised awareness about bottled water as an unnecessary and wasteful product when the majority of people in Canada and the United States have access to clean drinking water from the tap.

. . . .

In the days leading up to the Toronto vote, city councillors faced a barrage of lobbying from the bottled water industry. These frantic attempts to defeat the resolution continued over the two days of debates when the industry brought a battery of lobbyists, corporate executives and industry associations into the council chamber to influence the vote. Representatives from the Canadian Bottled Water Association, Refreshments Canada and Nestlé Waters, along with their hired lobbyists from the Sussex Strategy Group and Argyle Communications, intensively lobbied councillors during the entire six-hour debate. However, their high-priced strategy ultimately failed to influence elected officials, who voted with a two-thirds majority to ban bottled water and reinvest in the public delivery of drinking water.

For many, Toronto has now become the champion of the "Back to the Tap" municipal movement in Canada. To date, this movement has already seen 17 municipalities from five provinces ban the bottle. With 45 others indicating an interest to follow suit, Toronto's leadership will no doubt inspire more municipalities to stand up and speak out in support of public water. . . . [Full essay here.]

This got me thinking.

Although I'm aware of the global fight against water privatization, and I see it as a profoundly important - and enraging - issue, I only know the vague outlines. I'm familiar with the water protests that have rocked many countries, especially the protests in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

I know that Canada has a full 20% of the world's total freshwater resources, and I know about the fight to protect Canada's water, spearheaded by groups like the Council of Canadians. (In case you missed it, Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, recently was appointed to the United Nations as Senior Advisor on Water Issues.)

So, as I said, I'm aware of this, but like many important issues, it hovers in the margins of my attention. I haven't read about it depth or in detail.

In 2006, we were in Peru, where tap water is not drinkable. Peruvians with money have water purifiers in their home; the majority boils water before using it. Tourists buy bottled water. Buy and buy and buy.

If you're camping, you can boil water, but for most visitors, there's no choice. The tourist season - the non-rainy season - is warm, you need to drink, and you can't drink water from the tap. Everywhere you turn, women are selling bottled water. Every time you board a bus, or a train, or take a taxi, or walk to a site, or step into a plaza, there are women or children selling bottles of water.

Tourism is Peru's third-largest industry. According to Wikipedia, tourism is the most rapidly growing industry in Peru, growing 25% annually over the past five years, and growing faster in Peru than in any other South American country. A lot of people are drinking a lot of bottled water.

And - except for one snack bar in Machu Picchu which sells water in glass bottles - all the bottles are plastic. And plastic is not recycled.

Glass is recycled. In a country with so much poverty, there's no need for mandatory recycling. No one throws out anything that can be re-used. People scavenge for broken or discarded glass, and bring it to used-glass shops for spare change. But plastic is tossed in the trash.

The whole time we were in Peru, and long after we returned, I kept thinking, where is all this plastic going?

And I often wondered, why can't - why won't - a country provide safe drinking water to all its people? We were there just before an important election, and I saw banners reading "Agua Potable Para Todos" - Drinkable Water For All - but I assumed it was an empty slogan.

I wondered, does the bottled-water industry have a hand in this?

I confess that's as far as I got. Now I'd like to learn more. Clarke's Inside The Bottle seems like a good place to start, as does the book คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019Bottlemania - How Water Went on Sale and We Bought It, by Elizabeth Royte.

* * * *

Tangentially on the subject of Peru, just a few weeks ago, there were protests in Lima against Peruvian president Alan Garcia and the Resident, who was in the country for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. Earlier this year, when Canada signed a free-trade agreement with Peru, a progressive Canadian blogger asked sarcastically, What does Canada want, reduced admission to Macchu Pichu?

I was a bit horrified that anyone would so ignorantly dismiss another country's economic issues. A scant knowledge of world resources should provide an answer. Canada: mining industry. South America: mines.

12.08.2008

redsock link grab-bag # 2

This may become a semi-regular feature. To quote an earlier redsock link grab-bag:

In an attempt to clear up a backlog of links hanging around my inbox, I forwarded the whole thing to Allan . . . who put together this grab-bag of links. Maybe you will find something useful or interesting among them. - L.

* * * *

Three Things To Remember When The US Government Says "Support The Troops".

1. In March 2008, the military changed its definition of combat-related disabilities - meaning that many injured veterans will not be eligible for benefits. Here are two examples of what the Pentagon says are non-combat-related injuries:
Marine Cpl. James Dixon was wounded twice in Iraq - by a roadside bomb and a land mine. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, a concussion, a dislocated hip and hearing loss. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Army Sgt. Lori Meshell shattered a hip and crushed her back and knees while diving for cover during a mortar attack in Iraq. She has undergone a hip replacement and knee reconstruction and needs at least three more surgeries.

2. Chris Rodda, Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF):
[W]e get countless complaints about religiously based mental health and counseling programs, which, over the past few years, have been systematically replacing proven psychological and medical approaches to a multitude of issues faced by military personnel. I've seen so many truly insane, not to mention blatantly unconstitutional, ways that the military is playing with the mental well being of our troops since I began working for MRFF that I really didn't think it was possible for me to be surprised by anything anymore. Then I was sent a PowerPoint presentation by an airman at RAF Lakenheath, the largest U.S. Air Force base in England.

According to Rodda, this presentation "promot[es] creationism as a means of preventing suicide".

3. Joshua Eller, a former technician for KBR in Iraq, has filed a class-action lawsuit against the company (and its parent, Halliburton). Among his many claims is that KBR shipped ice in mortuary trucks that "still had traces of body fluids and putrefied remains in them when they were loaded with ice. This ice was served to U.S. forces."

Speaking of companies with unbreakable financial ties to the Pentagon, here is more information on
the corrupt relationship between Pentagon officials, defense contractors, cable networks, and retired generals. ... the gist of it was that the generals who you'd see on TV acting as nominally independent "analysts" were not, in fact, independent at all. They were getting their talking points straight from the Pentagon. And the coordination was motivated, in part, by the fact that they were also on the payrolls of various firms profiting from lucrative contracts with the Pentagon.

Bailout News:
The U.S. government is prepared to lend more than $7.4 trillion on behalf of American taxpayers, or half the value of everything produced in the nation last year, to rescue the financial system ... as regulators commit far more money while refusing to disclose loan recipients or reveal the collateral they are taking in return...

And as the clock ticks down on the Bush administration, it is trying to do as much damage to the country as possible.

Evidence suggests the CIA funded experiments on patients at Vermont's state hospital in Waterbury. [L note: a very disturbing article, and remind me to reference it the next time someone says, "But they wouldn't do that...".]

Because of our trip to Peru in 2006, we were fascinated by this story about a fortified citadel discovered deep in the Amazon rainforest that belonged to the Chachapoya, a white-skinned, blonde-haired civilization that was wiped out by disease and war in around 1475.

* * * *

Speaking of "wiped out by disease in 1475," I am trying to find an opportunity to blog about 1491. To be honest, I am trying to find opportunities to continue reading 1491. I'm finding it very difficult, both to carve out reading time, and, when I do, to concentrate. I love the book, though, so eventually I'll finish it and write about it.

Many thanks to Allan for putting this together, and to James for sending so many important links.

5.31.2008

uncontacted people seen in brazil, peru

An amazing story has emerged from South America. One of the world's few remaining uncontacted indigenous tribes has been photographed on the border between Brazil and Peru. Survival International, an international movement to support tribal peoples, says that more than half the world's remaining uncontacted tribes live in Brazil or Peru.

The group's director, Stephen Corry, says such tribes will soon be wiped out if their land is not protected. The people revealed in these photos are at risk from illegal logging. Corry described the threats to such tribes and their land as "a monumental crime against the natural world" and "further testimony to the complete irrationality with which we, the 'civilised' ones, treat the world".

The photos were first revealed by BBC News, but I thought the Globe and Mail did a better job with it today.
Brazil's government agreed to release stunning photos of Amazon Indians firing arrows at an airplane so that the world can better understand the threats facing one of the few tribes still living in near-total isolation from civilization, officials said yesterday.

Anthropologists have known about the group for about 20 years but released the images now to call attention to fast-encroaching development near the Indians' home in the dense jungles near Peru.

"We put the photos out because if things continue the way they are going, these people are going to disappear," said Jose Carlos Meirelles, who co-ordinates government efforts to protect four "uncontacted" tribes for Brazil's National Indian Foundation.

Shot in late April and early May, the foundation's photos show about a dozen Indians, mostly naked, wielding bows and arrows outside six grass-thatched huts. Mr. Meirelles said in a phone interview that anthropologists know next to nothing about the group, but suspect it is related to the Tano and Aruak tribes.

The foundation believes there may be as many as 68 uncontacted groups around Brazil, although only 24 have been officially confirmed.

Anthropologists say almost all of these tribes know about Western civilization and have sporadic contact with prospectors, rubber tappers and loggers, but choose to turn their backs on civilization, usually because they have been attacked.

The four tribes monitored by Mr. Meirelles include perhaps 500 people who roam an area of about 630,000 hectares. He said that over the 20 years he has been working in the area, the number of malocas, or grass-roofed huts, has doubled, suggesting that the policy of isolation is working and that populations are growing.

Remaining isolated, however, gets more complicated by the day. Loggers are closing in on the Indians' homeland. Brazil's environmental protection agency said yesterday that it had shut down 28 illegal sawmills in Acre state, where the tribes are located. And logging on the Peruvian border has sent many Indians fleeing into Brazil, Mr. Meirelles said.

A new road being paved from Acre into Peru will likely bring in hordes of poor settlers. Other Amazon roads have led to 50 kilometres of rain forest being cut down on each side, scientists say.

While uncontacted Indians often respond violently to contact - Mr. Meirelles caught an arrow in the face from some of the same Indians in 2004 - the greater threat is to the Indians.

"First contact is often completely catastrophic for uncontacted tribes. It's not unusual for 50 per cent of the tribe to die in months after first contact," said Miriam Ross, a campaigner with the Indian rights group Survival International.

More here, with some information about the people themselves.

It's almost overwhelming to think of uncontacted people surviving into the 21st Century - and possibly no further.

Illegal logging is not a simple issue. The loggers themselves are usually poor Andean people. They work for criminally low pay, under extremely dangerous conditions, reporting to a chain of middle-men that ends with a multinational corporation. But they themselves are offered few alternatives (if any) for their own survival. Because I met Andean people in Peru, I think about how stricter logging enforcement would effect them. It should be done, of course, but what will the Brazilian or Peruvian governments do for its victims?

For more information on tribal people - including these recently recently aerial photos - see Survival International. Survival's blog is here.

5.21.2008

mates burilados from huancayo, peru

When we were in Peru in 2006 - actually on the last day of the trip - we met a young man from Huancayo named Cristian Alfaro Nù?ez. He was selling the most amazing craft work we had seen in our three weeks in his country.

The Nù?ez family makes mates burilados, which translates literally as "engraved gourds". Here's what I wrote the day after we met him.
In an alcove to the side of one of the exhibits, a young man sat in a room full of a kind of handicraft we have not seen anywhere else. He gave us a beautiful description (in Spanish, dumbed down for me, I believe) of how they are made and what they mean.

They are gourds, meticulously engraved in the most painstaking detail, then rubbed with the black ash of a certain plant, then cleaned with another solution (all from plants found in the rainforest), so the inky colour stays only in the engravings. The drawings are playful and light, depicting festivals, music, work, family life, and other aspects of rural life in Peru.

I cannot begin to describe the intricacy of the drawings. We were positively flabbergasted. Some of the engravings were huge, on giant horn-shaped gourds. Others were small, about the size of a pear, or even smaller, the size of a small egg. The workshop of artists who make them are entirely the young man´s family.

Off to the ATM we went! We simply could not resist buying these unique figures from the artist themselves. After much decision-making - they were all so beautiful - we bought one medium pear-sized gourd, and a very small egg-shaped one. (They were priced according to how long they took to make.) When I asked the boy for his photo in front of his work, he gave me his email address and asked if I would send him the photo. Great!

I don't know if there's anything about this work online. He called it Mates Burilados. (I asked him to write it down with his email address.) Mates are the gourds; the etching instruments are burillas.

. . .

Allan took several close-ups of the amazing mates burilados, but, engrossed as I was in trying to communicate with the artist, I forgot to tell Allan about the close-up setting on the digital camera. So unfortunately, most of those are too blurry to post, and I'm still kicking myself over it. However, you can see the artist himself, Cristian Alfaro, and a few of his family's creations.

Here is Cristian holding one of the huge gourds, with a selection of them behind him. Please click to enlarge.

Lima, part 2


But to appreciate this work, you must see it up close. The intricacy and detail is mind-boggling. Here is one that we own; I placed it next to an apple to give you size perspective.

mates burilados 003


And here is some detail.

mates burilados 002


Cristian and I have stayed in touch since then. Sometimes I stop writing to him, not because of lack of interest, but because my written Spanish is so bad. It takes me forever to compose a simple email, and it's such a painful process, that I become frustrated and quit. Sometimes I use an online translator, but those are suspect. When I run Cristian's email through the translator, it sounds ridiculous, so my email must sound the same to him.

* * * *

When we were in Windsor last week, we went with Gito to a Ten Thousand Villages store to find a gift he needed. I have been to a Ten Thousand Villages in Toronto, but I didn't realize that it's a chain.

From the Ten Thousand Villages website:
Men and women around the world have a simple dream – to earn an honest living, provide a home, food and education for their children, and to be gainfully employed in a job that brings dignity and joy. Ten Thousand Villages partners with thousands of talented artisans in a healthy business relationship.

Often referred to as 'fair trade,' our philosophy of helping to build a sustainable future is based on the principle that trade should have a conscience. Through 'fair trade,' artisans receive respect, dignity and hope from working hard and earning fair value for their work.

Ten Thousand Villages is a not-for-profit, self-supporting Fair Trade Organization (FTO). FTOs are non-governmental organizations designed to benefit artisans, not to maximize profits. They market products from handicraft and agricultural organizations based in low-income countries, providing consumers with products that have been fairly purchased from sustainable sources.

Ten Thousand Villages is a member of the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT), a global network of Fair Trade Organizations. IFAT's mission is to improve the livelihoods and well-being of disadvantaged producers by linking and promoting fair trade organizations and speaking out for greater justice in world trade. Over 270 FTOs in 60 countries form the basis of this network.

There are TTV stores all over Canada and many in the US as well.

One of the many great things about this organization is that the artists are paid up front for their work, not on consignment. If the work doesn't sell, TTV takes the loss, not the craftspeople. TTV teaches business practices so the craft community can set up a sustainable collective and work with other buyers.

* * * *

In the store in Windsor, I suddenly remembered Cristian and the gourds. I asked the owner if TTV carries engraved gourds from Peru, and he looked it up: they don't. I got some information on how to suggest a work to the head office, and I tucked it away to deal with later this summer. I thought I would take some photos of the gourds we have, and also send some links to photos online, although there isn't much.

Then yesterday - great coincidence! - I got email from Cristian. Someone has created a website for his family's work! It's not finished yet, but it is really well done.

Mates Burilados y Bordados: La familia Alfaro Nu?ez de Cochas Grande, Huancayo, Perú

Now I have great incentive to speak to Ten Thousand Villages, and a way to showcase the work.

Please check out the Alfaro family's website. I'm going to put them on my sidebar, and I'll keep you posted if I make any progress with Ten Thousand Villages.

3.16.2008

follow-up: treasures of machu picchu still not in peru

In September, I blogged about a historic agreement, in which Yale University would return thousands of Inca relics excavated at Machu Picchu from 1911-1915 by Yale history professor Hiram Bingham. These include mummies, ceramics and bones. Some are museum-quality pieces, others are mainly of archaeological interest. But all belong to Peru. Peruvians - and Peruphiles, like me - were excited about the news.

But so far, the agreement is just a piece of paper. Eliane Karp-Toledo, whose husband, Alejandro Toledo, is a former president of Peru, wrote this in the New York Times. Emphasis mine.
Sure, it seemed like a great idea when, last September, President Alan García of Peru reached a preliminary agreement with Yale about the disposition of more than 350 artifacts taken from Machu Picchu. Everyone hoped the settlement might be a break for cultural understanding in the cloudy skies of international cooperation. News reports suggested that Yale would return more than 350 museum-quality artifacts, plus several thousand fragments thought to be of interest mainly to researchers — all of which were taken from the mountaintop Inca archaeological complex nearly a century ago — and that legal title to all the artifacts, even those to be left at Yale for research, would be held by Peru.

But having finally obtained a copy of the agreement, I can see that Yale continues to deny Peru the right to its cultural patrimony, something Peru has demanded since 1920.

When, in 1912 and 1914-15, the explorer Hiram Bingham III excavated the treasures from Machu Picchu — ceramic vessels, silver statues, jewelry and human bones — and took them from Peru, it was supposed to be a loan for 12 months (a period that was later extended a half-year). The National Geographic Society, which co-sponsored Bingham's explorations, has acknowledged that the artifacts were taken on loan and is committed to seeing them returned to Peru.

From 2001 to 2006, when my husband, Alejandro Toledo, was president of Peru, I participated in negotiations with Yale over the artifacts. Peru requested the return of everything Bingham had removed from Machu Picchu, and President Toledo, with the support of both the National Geographic Society and Senator Christopher Dodd, of Connecticut, discussed the request directly with the president of Yale, Richard C. Levin. Those talks broke down, however, when Yale refused to accept our first condition: recognition that Peru is the sole owner of the artifacts. The university also would not allow us to conduct an inventory of the pieces, under the pretext that the archaeologist we had selected was not qualified.

The Peruvian ambassador in Washington tried to revive the conversation with Yale, but by early 2006, it was clear that the university was stalling for time. President Toledo left office in July 2006, and a little over a year later, the latest agreement was announced. Fortunately, a final agreement has been delayed.

Under the "memorandum of understanding" between Yale and President García, Peru would promise to build a museum and research center in Cuzco, the city closest to Machu Picchu, where some of the collection would be displayed. Yale would act as adviser for the center, and would also be allowed to select which pieces would be released to the museum. Peru's sovereign right to the entire collection is not acknowledged, and it is clear that Yale would keep a significant proportion of the materials. Peru would still not be allowed to conduct its own inventory. Only when a museum has been built to Yale's specifications would even a portion of the materials return, allowing Peruvians to enjoy artifacts they have never seen.

I fail to understand the rationale for Yale to have any historical claim to the artifacts. Bingham had no authority to transfer ownership to begin with. The agreement reflects a colonial way of thinking not expected from a modern academic institution. In fact, Yale has gone a step further than it did in its negotiations with President Toledo; the university is now brazenly asking to keep a significant part of the collection for research for an additional 99 years.

I wonder if it is pure coincidence that Yale delayed negotiations with Mr. Toledo, Peru's first elected indigenous president, until Peru had a new leader who is frankly hostile to indigenous matters.

Why is it so hard for Yale to let go of these collections after almost a century of loan default? It is time for Peruvian scholars and citizens — especially the indigenous descendants of those who led Bingham to the ancient complex — to have access to the collection.
The present agreement should be discarded and new talks should begin, based on the recognition of Peru's sovereign right to all that was taken from Machu Picchu. Yale must finally return the artifacts that symbolize Peru's great heritage.

Here is an earlier wmtc post on the Machu Picchu treasures, and colonial cultural theft.

Several wmtc readers sent me this BBC story about a recent archaeological discovery in Peru. I thought it was amusing that the headline says the temple "could predate the Inca empire," as if that alone is a Big Thing. Pre-Inca sites are all over Peru; we saw them almost daily. Way to do your homework.

Many thanks to AW1L for always thinking of his Peru-loving friend.

9.28.2007

yale unversity to return treasures of machu picchu to peru

From BBC News, via AW1L:
Yale University has agreed to return to Peru thousands of Inca relics that were excavated at Machu Picchu from 1911-15 by a history professor, Hiram Bingham.

Peru demanded the artefacts back last year, saying it agreed to their removal on condition they would be returned.

More than 4,000 pieces, including mummies, ceramics and bones were taken to the US university.

Under the agreement Yale and Peru will co-sponsor the first travelling expedition of the collection.

Yale will also act as an adviser for a new museum in the Andean city of Cuzco, close to Machu Picchu, where the exhibition will be installed after its tour.

The museum's opening is planned to coincide with the centennial celebration of Bingham's rediscovery of Machu Picchu in 1911.

During three trips to Machu Picchu, Bingham dug up thousands of objects, including silver statues, jewellery, musical instruments and human bones.

The agreement between Peru and the Connecticut-based university came after months of negotiations.

Initial talks broke down last year under the administration of former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo and Peru threatened to take its case before a US court.

Yale had offered to divide the items up but it now acknowledges Peru's title to all the excavated objects.

This is excellent news! The BBC story has good photos of some Incan treasures and a timeline of Yale University's involvement in Machu Picchu.

Our own photos of Macchu Pichu - a small sample of the hundreds we took when we visited the site in 2006 - are here.

8.15.2007

i (finally) visit the rom

When my mom was here in early July, we were supposed to see "Ancient Peru Unearthed" at the ROM, but she had (and still has) an injured ankle, and we couldn't go. I went by myself yesterday, which is actually my favourite way to take in a museum.

As you know, I loved the design of the new addition to the ROM, and felt Torontonian attitudes towards it were closed-minded and provincial - although less so than I thought. It wasn't that people didn't like it. It's that they seemed unwilling to consider it on its own terms. All I was hearing was a kind of "ewwww... it's different," a rejection of anything unusual, only because it's unusual. At that time, I hadn't yet seen the completed work in person, only in photographs. So here's my take.

I love the way new building explodes out of the old one. I love the way the old and new are completely different, and don't appear to "go together," which is apparently a source of discomfort for many people. I love the way the new structure enlivens the mostly drab, poured-concrete of Bloor Street, the way it bursts out between the original ROM building and the Royal Conservatory of Music next door. I love the crystal shape, the way it appears to be growing.

I dislike the paneled metal skin. Many people have already said this, and I agree. The cut-outs of transparent glass show what the whole building, or at least most of it, could have looked like. The effect would have been dazzling. Instead, it looks like the crystal is clad in aluminum siding.

That's a real disappointment. It greatly detracts from what could have been a spectacular building.

* * * *

The ROM itself is a wonderful museum, light and airy, and beautifully curated. "Ancient Peru Unearthed" was small, but good. It brought back a flood of memories of our trip last spring.

The exhibit is about the North Coast culture of Sican. We didn't go to Sican, but we spent a remarkable day exploring a very similar, nearby culture called Sipan. The exhibit also referred to the other North Coast cultures we explored, precursors of Sican and Sipan, the Moche, the Chimu. But even without this connection I feel, the gold work and what it reveals are fascinating.

I wandered through some Egyptian and Greek galleries which seemed very good. I love hieroglyphics and there were plenty to look at. Also on the writing theme, I saw a small exhibit on early typewriters. I love old machines, especially the ornate Victorian kind. I've been writing on a keyboard since I'm 12, and have been earning my living through a keyboard most of my adult life, so that was a natural for me.

The ROM has a wonderful market cafe. Taking in a museum by myself, and having lunch there, is one of my favourite little pleasures. I see there's also a more upscale restaurant, designed for the interior of the crystal. I think we'll have to go there one day, as I can't resist such an elegant setting.

* * * *

Here are two terrific photos of the ROM crystal, showing it to great effect, courtesy of Daily Dose of Imagery.