Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

From Viracoca to the Virgin of Copacabana: Represenation of the Sacred at Lake Titicaca

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

From Viracoca to the Virgin of Copacabana: Represenation of the Sacred at Lake Titicaca

Article excerpt

From Viracoca to the Virgin of Copacabana: Represenation of the Sacred at Lake Titicaca. By Veronica Salles-Reese. (Austin: University of Texas Press. 1997. Pp. xi, 208. $30.00 clothbound; $13.95 paperback.)

Right from the start, the author states in rather heavy, burdensome prose that her aim is to write the "history of the discourse of the representation of the sacred in the region of Lake Titicaca by focusing on narratives which relate this geographical space to a transcendent or divine order" (p. 1). She studies "the representation of the sacred" in the Kolla, the Inca, and the Christian eras to show that "the discourse of the sacred from the different cultures of the region is a sustained discourse of appropriation and recontextualization that corresponds to changes in the nature of culturally hegemonic structures over time" (p. 2). In short, she is writing the story of how a native-made, painted wooden sculpture of a Virgin (of Copacabana) came to be linked with a pre-Christian religious tradition and accepted as a miraculous mediator by the peoples who came from far and near.

Using myths as partial visions of the history of the Andean world, she begins her chronological vision with the Kolla and their narratives which suggest that Tici Viracocha intervened in a chaotic world to establish a natural order. In a later era amidst a growing political chaos, the Kolla invite the Inca to Titicaca. There, the Inca appropriates the place as a site to worship the sun, and, not so incidentally perhaps, as a strategic location from which to exert political control on their southern neighbors. For a second time, barbarism, warfare, and social and political instability are vanquished; this time, a political stability and order under the Inca replaced chaos. In the process, the Incas knowingly claim the area as their place of origin. In so doing, they recuperate their past and justify their conquest, while the local peoples deify them as the progeny of the sun. In the third era or cycle, the Christians appear to impose a moral order on a society condemned by the practice of polygamy, incest, and human sacrifice. …

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