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In Peru, Culture Clashes With Modernity

Aired October 30, 2001 - 04:50   ET



JANICE MCDONALD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): ... was itself peaceful, with very little crime and no jails, because that would require feeding precious food to the prisoners. Punishment was extracted swiftly.

VICTORIA MORALES CONDORI, GUIDE: First, I cut the fingers or sometimes the hand, and after the last one, is to push down from the top of the mountains.

MCDONALD: All laws boiled down to three basic rules.

CONDORI: Don't steal, don't lie, don't be lazy.

MCDONALD: Lazy hardly seemed an option in a largely agricultural society. The mountains are still decorated with the terraces used for farming, some long since abandoned, many still very much in use. Incas had no money. People paid for what was needed by bartering or by working. Their ability to build is a marvel to this day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Original Inca wall. Nobody knows how to restore it or how to rebuild. We don't know what kind of mathematics they had or what kind of tools they had to get, you know, these angles. We don't have any written records left by our ancestors.

MCDONALD: Centuries later, some Inca-built walls built without mortar have withstood earthquakes. Some of the few walls remaining are part of what was called the Temple of the Sun, where the Cathedral of Santa Domingo now stands.

(on camera): This building may not look like much now, but it is the reason why the conquistadors came to Cuzco. In its heyday, its walls were covered in gold and its rooms were filled with golden statues.

(voice-over): The main area was built so that sun would enter the room and cast a blinding light on the bejeweled golden walls within. Outside, there is still a garden but it's a far cry from the Incan garden, which was said to have statues of llamas, plants, and even butterflies, all sculpted in gold. These pieces at the Gold Museum in Lima are only a small representation of what had existed. The conquistadors, led by explorer Francisco Pizzaro, began melting down the statues to be shipped back to Spain almost as soon as they arrived.

The Incas had not considered them a threat either through belief of their own superiority or because they mistook the bearded white men as long lost gods.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They remember a god that came and that was a very good person. And the appearance was similar to the Spaniards, and this god they remember (UNINTELLIGIBLE) went through the Pacific, through the ocean. You know that the Spaniards came by the ocean, too, and they were confused.

MCDONALD: Pizzaro and his men killed the ruler, Atahuallpa, putting his nephew Manco in power as a puppet ruler and dismantling the structure of the Inca's empire. As the people began to see the Spaniards as enemies, they resisted, but resistance was easily put down. In 1536, during a great battle at Sacayhuama, knives and spears were no match for the Spanish rivals, and it was a slaughter. The Incan empire was destroyed.

Sulma Morales and her friends Marlene and Alicia have grown up in the heart of what was once the capital of the Incan empire, Cuzco, Peru. They are Quechua, descendants of the Inca, a heritage they both are proud of and take for granted.

MARLENE QUISPE, AGE 18 (through translator): Why shouldn't we pass it on to our children? That's what they've always taught us. It started out with our ancestors and has been keep alive for centuries. It will continue to be that way forever.

MCDONALD: But if you listen closely, you will notice that some of the culture is already being lost. The girls are speaking in Spanish. The language of their parents is Quechua. Although Quechua and Spanish are both Peru's official languages, it's a language the girls and many of their friends speak only when they have to.

SULMA MORALES, AGE 18 (through translator): Most of us speak Quechua because our parents speak Quechua. They are the ones who encourage us to speak Quechua.

QUISPE (through translator): We don't study Quechua in school, never mind college, we learn it at home. From the day we are born, we hear our peasant parents' Quechua. We learn from them. At school they teach us our other language, Spanish.

MORALES (through translator): We only speak basic Quechua. We don't really speak it that well because at work they don't usually ask for Quechua speakers; they want other languages. The Quechua tradition is dying out.

MCDONALD: Peru's new president is among those who don't want to see that happen. Alejandro Toledo is also Quechuas and proud of it. He's trying at least to slow the language loss.

ALEJANDRO TOLEDO, PRESIDENT OF PERU: I am going to reinstitute the Quechua as a language in the school. We're not going to force anyone, but just as English or French, it's an option, with much more reason.

MCDONALD: He hopes the move will also spark interest in holding on to other traditions, traditions which seem old and passe when put against the new things the young people are being exposed to via television and computers. While home computers are rare in this poverty stricken country, cyber cafes such as this one are popping up all over. For three soles, or less than a dollar, you can spend an hour exploring the World Wide Web -- far more interesting to some than learning the ways of their ancestors.

ALICIA YUCRA, AGE 18 (through translator): We don't mean to say that our traditions are bad or good. We appreciate our culture and traditions, but believe that they should be as they are now.

QUISPE (through translator): Out of the traditions kept by our people, some are good and must be maintained by the younger generations as well. But there are other traditions, especially religious ones, which are bad. Those shouldn't exist anymore.

MCDONALD: The traditions of today are indeed evolving. Some things such as ancient building and farming methods are gone for good. Others, such as language and traditional dress, are hanging on. These teens want their lives to be a hybrid combining the past and the present.

YUCRA (through translator): I like my culture, and I wish to pass it on to my children. I want it to continue for generations to come, because I think it's interesting and that it should be promoted among other people, with changes, of course. That's an incentive for our culture and for more changes to be passed on from generation to generation.

MORALES (through translator): In other words, so that my children don't lose my tradition. Quite the contrary, that they have more and be more than what I am -- that my culture continue to prevail in them, but go beyond it.

MCDONALD: While their children will likely inherit less of their culture than they did, it's up to these girls and their generation to determine just what traditions will remain.

Janice McDonald, CNN NEWSROOM, Cuzco, Peru.


MICHAEL MCMANUS, CO-HOST: Tomorrow, meet Peru's new president, Alejandro Toledo, a proud Incan descendant. And we journey to the ancient city of Machu Picchu. Be sure to hit us up at The Incas are featured on the site. There's also some great material on Pakistan. So don't miss it.

Don't forget to stay tuned to CNN for the latest on the war on terrorism.

See you tomorrow, right here on NEWSROOM.




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