Henry Smith

Class of 2018

A Step Into the Past – Ripples Into the Present

25

JUNE 2017

Travels
Interact
Peru

I have got to admit, the altitude beat me today.

From nine this morning to three this afternoon, we hiked through the agricultural and archaeological areas around Cuzco, and for someone used to more or less sea level, it was hard going.

Of course, the worst part of it all was seeing the little kids in the villages we passed through run around like it was nothing. Obviously, for someone living the traditional Andean life on the altiplano, it really was nothing – but try telling my ego that.

Beginning our first exploration of archaeological sites.

I can only imagine the world the Spanish found in the 16th century. The ruins we saw today were magnificent, even after four centuries. Sacsaywaman in particular stood out for its megalithic architecture, but it was almost sad to see. There was even more to it in years past before the Spanish used it as a quarry to build the cathedral in town.

I don’t think I can think of something that represents the legacy of colonialism in Latin America better. The Spanish literally took the remains of indigenous civilization and rebuilt it in their own image. This attitude of the conquerors toward the conquered permeated Peru. As our guide told us, the Quechua language would be nearly dead today if it wasn’t for recent government efforts to preserve it.

Too often we hear explanations of cultural or national or even racial superiority credited for why some former colonies fared better than others. Let’s leave those ideas in the 19th century where they belong.

This country is still suffering from this legacy of abuse. There should be little doubt that Peru would be far better off if for three hundred years it hadn’t had an economic system based on centralized, top-down subjugation and a society modeled off the absolutist monarchy and aristocracy of Spain.

Too often we hear explanations of cultural or national or even racial superiority credited for why some former colonies fared better than others. Let’s leave those ideas in the 19th century where they belong. It should be obvious to anyone who saw and heard what we did today that colonialism is a disease that takes generations and centuries to cure.

That was an amazing hike.

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The next two weeks will offer an intermittent set of reflections from our students and chaperones as we encounter Peru.  Find and follow us here and at #InteractinPeru.

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