The Ancient Civilizations of Peru

The Ancient Civilizations of Peru

The Ancient Civilizations of Peru

The Ancient Civilizations of Peru

Excerpt

In 1527 a small party of men, Spaniards, gathered on a tiny island in the Pacific off the coast of what is now southern Colombia. In those days sea voyages were no pleasure jaunts. The cramped quarters on the small ships, the stinking water, the monotonous diet of stale food offered no attractions, and barely tolerable conditions, for the hardiest of adventurers. These had been several months on the slow voyage of exploration south from Panama where rumours were constantly heard from the Indians of a civilized empire, rich in gold, to the south. But so far the men had seen little but hardships, hunger, and sudden death; most of them were disaffected and mutinous. Now the ship for which they had been waiting had arrived from Panama. The Governor's orders to abandon the expedition and return to Panama were received by most with joy. They, proud Spaniards who had come seeking gold and Indian slaves to wait on them, were in rags, subsisting on the shellfish and crabs that they caught on the shores. Enough of this! There was little wealth or luxury in Panama, but at least the basic necessities of food, shelter, and clothing were not missing.

But for one valiant soul the fleshpots of Panama had no appeal above that of the call of the unknown to action. Francisco Pizarro had not come so far in hopes of imitating Cortés to be turned back by hunger, thirst, wetness, and other such trivial bodily inconveniences. On the sand of the little island he drew a line. 'Behind you,' he said to the men, 'lies ease, pleasure -- and poverty; before you, toil, hunger, death, but also Peru and its gold. I go south; who goes with me?' And he stepped over the line. One by one, thirteen other brave fellows followed him, to give their names to history as the fourteen stalwarts of Gallo.

For history certainly records no more sturdy and obstinate persistence towards a distant goal in the face of seemingly insuperable obstacles, and no more incredible example of the success of a patently foolhardy venture. For these fourteen tenacious ones were the vanguard of the 'army' of less than two hundred men who were to conquer an empire of several millions.

But such, for over four centuries, has been the lure of Peru. Colonists and administrators followed Pizarro, seekers for the silver, gold, copper, tin, and other metals that the land yielded, producers of quinine, coca, and, very recently, oil, exporters of . . .

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