Author: Noah Mazer

Response to “Instruments for and against memory”

Note: this post does not argue against the necessity for an institution like Yad Vashem, and I’ve tried to write it in a way that will not purposely invite controversy.

Isabel refers to Yad Vashem in her recent post as an “arbiter of diasporic memory,” and during my visit to that museum I certainly got the impression that this is what the institution tries to position itself as. She also writes that Yad Vashem “provides a space to cultivate and perform memory through symbolic but evocative means,” and I agree, although to place Yad Vashem and the bill recently passed in the Polish Senate on opposite ends of a scale that gauges correct memorialization perhaps avoids the problems inherent in the memory that Yad Vashem creates. 

Read more

Inti Raymi and the Performance of Created Memory

We only ever hear one question asked in the academic decathlon central to the plot of The Day After Tomorrow: “Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro defeated this Incan emperor at the Peruvian highland town of Cajamarca. What is his name?” “Atahualpa,” Sam answers, and he’s correct. Beth suggested to us that we might consider writing on this topic, and looking for examples of how memory might be performed in the context of Peru, I thought the Inti Raymi fit the concept well. Inti Raymi, the festival of the sun, was celebrated by the Inca on the winter solstice from 1412 until 1535, when it was banned by the Catholic church. In 1944, the Inti Raymi was reenacted in Cusco for the first time in 400 years by Faustino Espinoza Navarro, a Peruvian actor and the founder of the Academy of the Quechua Language. The reenactment was based primarily on writings left by Garcilaso de la Vega, a half-Spanish, half-Inca chronicler who came of age in the years following the Spanish invasion of Peru and wrote about the Inca based on the recollections of his maternal family — a memory, in short, recreated from memories handed down to a man writing about a world that had already largely passed out of existence by the time he was writing about it. Inti Raymi has been celebrated every year since 1944 on June 24th. Though in the time of the Inca it was celebrated in the center of Cusco, it is now reenacted at the fortress of Saqsayhuaman, above the city, with an actor playing the role of the divine Inca emperor, and the animal sacrifices simulated instead of truly performed.

Inti Raymi strikes me as exactly the kind of echo in the bone Roach describes as “a history of forgetting [as well as] a history of empowering the living through the performance of memory.” The elements that would have lent the festival its weight during the height of the Inca — religious devotion, sacrifice towards ensuring a good harvest, loyalty to the Inca state — are absent in a time when the Inca religion is no longer practiced, tourism is the region’s economic backbone, and an entirely different system of government oversees people’s lives. The event has been duly criticized as catering more towards tourists than to locals: a blogger writing about the subject laments (perhaps patronizingly) the lack of access of indigenous Peruvians to a festival “regenerated for them, not by them, by an intellectual middle-class of European or mixed-blood descent, who saw in its practice a chance to romanticize and mythologize their own history and identity.” Still, I think it would be hard to entirely write off the reenactment of any violently suppressed indigenous tradition, no matter how long after its disappearance it resurfaces.

As a last thought, it would be hard to consider Inti Raymi in the context of “Echoes in the Bone” without dwelling on Roach’s comparison between Western tragic drama’s presentation of catastrophe as a “singular fate yet to be endured,” and the spirit-world ceremony’s pacing of catastrophe “in the past, as a grief to be expiated.” Which of these does the festival of the sun do, if either? Explicitly, it is a celebration and not an expiation, but it isn’t possible to conceive of the present-day festival without remembering the catastrophes of European invasion and epidemic that set the stage for the celebration’s 400-year absence. Having never seen a performance of Inti Raymi, I don’t know whether this history is addressed within the festival itself, but it seems to me that the act of revival is itself an act of expiation.