By: Ramón Mujica Pinilla
Photos: Daniel Giannoni
For several decades now, art historians interested in Peru's period as a Spanish viceroyalty have been astonished by an iconography apparently unique to the Andean world: the angel with the arquebus. This image is part of the larger subject of warrior angels carrying flags, drums, trumpets, swords and spears, as though they were a military squadron, a style that became popular in the second half of the 17th century ¡n Cusco, in the área around Lake Titicaca, and as far as Casvindo in what is now Argentina.
Luxuriously dressed in brocade, lace shirts, authority sashes and silk ribbons, the angels were rendered in the postures recommended in Jacob de Gheyn's 1607 military handbook "Ejercicio para las Armas (Exercise for Arms)", in which he describes how to carry hold, aim, shoot and clean the crossbow (Kelemen, 1977), a firearm known in Spain since the 15th century as a "hand thunder".
At first glance, aside from the curious combination of an angel with an arquebus, there's no new concept in this symbol. Since Old Testament times, it has been common to use military terms to describe Jehovah's angelic "troop" as "squadrons," "legions," or in active battle. Since the Middle Ages, though, Byzantine art dressed its angels in imperial robes or as soldiers of the Celestial Emperor. In Europe, beginning in the 14th century, we find portrayals of the archangel St. Michael in full military dress (Mujica, 1992). Nevertheless, these characteristics take on new meaning in light of the conquest and evangelizing of Perú.
The theme of the angel with arquebus dressed as a 17th century Spanish aristocrat began in Europe and doesn't require an indigenous interpretation to establish its meaning. However, the intentional, instructive joining of these two symbols -the ángel and the arquebus - acted as an explosive charge on the acculturated indigenous population. One only has to remember the words of the Inca don Diego De Castro Titu Cussi Yupanqui when he described the way the indians saw the first Spaniards: "They said they had seen some very different people come to their land, who seemed like gods (viracochas), which is the name we used to give to the Maker of all things...they had thunder (yllapas), the name we have for thunder claps, and they said this about arquebuses because they believed they were thunder from heaven." (Yupanqui, 1985)
Other 17th century chroniclers say the same thing. The acculturated chronicler Pachacuti Yamqui maintained that the arquebus or"hand thunder" was what created confusion among the indians. When they heard the first shots from the Spanish soldiers, they thought they were "messengers" sent by Viracocha (God) and decided not to defend themselves (Pachacuti Yamqui, 1927). It's not insignificant that in I 6th century Quechua vocabulary the word "arcabuz (arquebus)" was translated as "yllapa (thunder)", a conceptual identification that curiously enough is still used by contemporary peasants: firearm - omanaronci - means the same as "thunder" or "lightning." (Weiss, 1975)
In the indigenous mind, the arquebus in the viceroyalty was a pre Columbian arm linked to an ancient god: the slingshot of the Thunder god. Bernabé Cobo said this divinity had meteorological and political responsibilities. The divinity was viewed as a man in the heavens, made up of stars, with a mace in his right hand, dressed in brilliant clothes which emanated brilliant lightning when he swung to hurl the slingshot; the crack caused the thunderclaps, which he sent when he wanted water to fall. But the Thunder - the Sun's slingshot bearer- was much more than that. Thunder was the image - in divinis – of the Inca. So much so that the Inca Pachacutec took it as his emblem of war and when he went into combat he fought his enemy standing upright on his litter from which he used his slingshot to hurl stones made of fine gold or bathed in fire (Ziolkowski, 1982).
We know that because Thunder was related with rains and storms the indians initially linked Thunder with Santiago Matamoros, the Iberian symbol of the Conquest. But this symbol was "andeanized" -or indianized- to such a degree, that in several 17th and 18th century works Santiago/Illapa began to appear before the indigenous witchdoctors with anti-Christian and anti-Spaniard messages which re-deemed the worship of ancient pre-Hispanic deities.
Just as the indians reinterpreted the Christian faith to adapt it to their vision of the cosmos, the teachers of the indians did the same thing with the Inca religion. Remember that with the Italian Renaissance -and later with the Spanish Counter Reformation - handbooks on classical mythology became popular in Europe. As the title of the first handbook on mythology in Spain, published by Juan Perez de Moya in Madrid in 1985, says: for the Baroque culture mythology was a secret Philosophy in which beneath the fabulous stories there are many useful kinds of lessons, having to do with the origin of pagan idols or gods. What this rereading of mythology was meant to teach were the perfect truths of the Christian tradition, which it presupposed had been expressed, albeit embryonically, by the ancient peoples.
This explains why at the beginning of the 17th century, the "Anonymous Jesuit" stated in his chronicle (1879) that the ancient Peruvians had prayed to the warrior angels. In his own words: 'The great Illa Tecce Viracocha had invisible servants be-cause invisibles had to wait on The Invisible. They said these servants were made of nothing by the great Illa Tecce and that some remained in his service, and they were called Huaminca, soldiers and loyal, faithful servants, good angel, miles coelestis. These are the beautiful, resplendent huaypanti. Others wavered and turned into traitor enemies, and these were called Zupay, which means malignant or the devil. So the Huamincas were worshiped as gods and they made statues and idols oft hem. The enemy... Zupay they never worshiped."
We know we are looking at a teaching "myth" invented and recreated by the Anonymous Jesuit for two reasons. First, his insistence that the angels were "created out of nothing" (ex nihilo) is a monotheistic Judeo-Christian concept which has little or nothing to do with the pantheon of Inca deities or with the Andean vision of the cosmos. Secondly, González Holguin's Vocabulary tells us who the "Huamincas" or Huaman Inca really were: it was the honorary title given to the "valiant soldiers" or the "renowned captains" of the Inca. They were compared to the falcon because, as we know from Eugenio Yacovleff s pioneering study (1932), the image of the anthropomorphic falcon was the prototype of the winged pre Columbian warrior or priest, one which can be tracked iconographically from the Paracas culture up to the Inca. If this is the case, why did the Anonymous Jesuit transform the winged Inca warrior -the huaminca- into a good angel" or celestial soldier in the service of the Christianized god Viracocha, enemy of Zupay or of the devil?
For many who taught the indians and those who "extirpated idolatries, "the Incas had begun a religious war against polytheism in their desire to make their worship of the Sun god universal; a form of monotheism which somehow in the Indies became Christ the King: the Sun of Justice. The winged warriors of the Inca in this sense were angelic crusaders who had prepared the way for the Church and the Spanish monarchy in the Indies. Thus, though the figure of the angel with the arquebus was the symbolic answer to the huaminca, it also spread the complex theological policy of the labyrinthic court of the Habsburgs. The angel with the arquebus was an apocalyptic figure which had two meanings: the conqueror and the missionary. The angel announced a world of light that would put an end to the long, dark night of paganism; a night filled with warrior birds wearing the feathers of the god Sun.
(*) Published in: Rev. "El Dorado". Lima : PromPerú, abr-jun 1996, N° 3
1st picture: Esriel - Mariví Mujica Collection
2nd picture: Ramón MujicaCollection