The Implications of the 1650 Cusco, Peru Earthquake on Socio-Religious Reformation and its Parallel to N.K. Jemisin’s  Broken Earth Trilogy by Maria Loughlin, Mia Geiger, Emily Ye, Connor Benitez, & Jake Burggraff

It is March 31st, 1650 when tragedy overfalls the city. An extremely powerful earthquake strikes the city at 2:00 in the afternoon. Churches, homes, and buildings crumble, leaving the citizens in ruins and dust. Many try to save artwork and religious artifacts, some are successful while others are not. This story takes place in 1600’s Cusco, Peru. Cusco is the former capital of the Inca Empire, which fell out of power due to the Spanish conquest in the 1500s. It is located high in the Andes Mountains. 

It is important to set the scene, as this earthquake not only physically destroyed the city but also had religious and societal impacts. As said before, Cusco was the heart of the Inca Empire, which was ruled by South American Natives. According to Britannica, the Incan Empire“extended from the Pacific coast and Andean highlands from the northern border of modern Ecuador to the Maule River in central Chile.” (See figure 1) According to Cusco by Mark Cartwright, the city was built in the form of a puma and was dominated by fine buildings and palaces including gold-covered and emerald-studded temples. The city flourished with art, religion, and architecture. The city had a population of around 40,000 with another 200,000 in the surrounding area (Cusco, Mark Cartwright). Cusco was honored by the Inca subjects as a sacred site. Soon, however, Spanish conquistadors changed the trajectory of the Empire. In 1532, Spanish soldiers led by Francisco Pizarro, overthrew the Inca leader Atahualpa and conquered Peru (History Crunch). Due to previous European travelers who had brought diseases to South America, the Inca Empire was weakened, giving the Spanish an advantage. The takeover resulted in the Spanish forcefully changing and controlling the fallen Empire. The Spanish completely changed the system of rule in order to try and keep the Inca out of power(Lumenlearning). In addition, the Spanish changed systems of agriculture, which had been finely honed by the Incas over years of time. Heavy manual labor taxes were forced upon the Inca, which was called “mita” (Lumenlearning). Overall the Spanish forced their culture, economic, and political policies onto the Inca and held power over them.

Figure 1: Features a map showing the Inca Empire and Cusco. 

Figure 2: Evidence of destructive events based on archeological discoveries including the collapse of buildings as well as other archeological artifacts.

Despite the magnitude of destruction of the earthquake, the amount of casualties was fortunately quite minimal. “Structural survey and Empirical Seismic vulnerability assessment of dwellings in the historical Centre of Cusco, Peru” (Brando 2019) determined that the earthquake caused extensive damage, which spread to neighboring towns and was felt as far as Lima, Peru. From a geographical standpoint, the magnitude of the earthquake on a Richter scale was above 7 MM, similar to the more recent earthquakes that occurred in 1950 and 1986. The cause for earthquakes has to do with two important concepts that include the shifting of tectonic plates and fault line boundaries. Tectonic plates are large sections of the Earth’s crust that float on the semi-fluid asthenosphere, and fault lines are the boundaries and gaps where these plates meet. When friction and pressure is caused by the movement of these massive sections via sliding, they begin to collide, or move away from one another along the fault lines. This is what leads to the phenomena of earthquakes. According to the figure shown above (Figure 2), it can be observed that Cusco sits directly on the Cusco fault line and is also very close to the Tambomachay fault line (approximately 4 km). Oftentimes if one fault line is triggered causing a high enough magnitude earthquake, a fault line nearby can also cause another earthquake at a lesser magnitude which occurred in this case.

 Furthermore, the earth earthquake not only destroyed the land but had lasting effects on religious circumstances. It crumbled various Inca temples and sacred locations. The Catholic church took advantage of this by aiding the recovery with their practices. It is also important to highlight the fact that it is human nature to seek answers and reasons as to why bad things happen, especially in regards to religion. In the case of the earthquake, religious authorities in Cusco interpreted the catastrophe in their own Catholic perspective which left a lasting influence on the natives, among others, “in which the cataclysmic results seemed to explode straight from the Bible” (In 1650, a massive earthquake hit Cuzco…). With destruction everywhere people turned and the wish to seek for answers increasing as a result of this devastating event, it made it much more feasible for the religious authorities to swoop in as a beacon of hope and slowly transform ideologies from one to the next. It was also very common back then for people to connect such disasters to religion rather than science to explain what was going on with the world. When people have their religion to look at when disasters happen it gives them a sense of comfort and the fact that after this catastrophe, the Catholics saw that people were having doubts about their religion and decided to swoop in and spread their ideas connecting the earthquake to the Bible, leading many to change religions and follow their Catholic ways.

Encomiendas served as the lifeblood that sustained the Spanish colonization of Latin America. These grants, approved and enforced by viceroys to the Spanish king, entitled colonists to indigenous land and labor. Indentured servitude of the indigenous peoples and enslaved African peoples allowed the Spanish conquistadors to gut the original structures of Cusco and distort them to serve colonial demands. Catholic churches were built by enslaved Africans and Cuscueños in the skeletons of Cusco’s religious buildings. At the time of the earthquake, the malignant changes of colonial influence were well underway, transforming many of the “undesirable” traditional aspects of the grand city to more closely fit Spanish ideals. The Spanish sought to commandeer the city of Cusco into a Spanish colonialist utopia, but progress towards this end was slow and intensive. The 1650 earthquake thus provided an unprecedented opportunity for the Spanish colonists, as the widespread devastation of native and Spanish buildings alike meant that rebuilding the city would no longer be impeded by the preexisting city, but could be built anew in a pure, Spanish image. Similarly, this pressing need for reconstruction efforts could cement colonial control over and subjugation of indentured servants. In a letter to the Spanish king following the earthquake, Spanish colonists made an explicit request to extend their encomiendas, tightening their grip over the lives of the enslaved peoples, but also extending the terms of their servitude over additional generations. The Spanish colonists suffered as a result of this unprecedented earthquake but saw it as a prime opportunity to erase what little of the indigenous culture remained, and to build back in a more pure Spanish vision.

The artwork that emerged after the earthquake represents Spain’s impact on the town’s reconstruction, religion, and art style to fit their ideal standards as mentioned in the previous paragraph. For example, the Andean baroque style (see Figure 5) combines Christian and indigenous symbols (Hajovsky 2018).  The colonization of Cusco can be seen in the artwork of religious paintings, European architecture, and city layout. 

Figure 3: (Hajovsky 2018): This painting by an unknown artist shows the town of Cusco during the 1650 earthquake. Many of the Spanish settlers flocked to the town center where their religious building was and surrounded the sculpture of Santo Cristo (Holy Christ), as it was taken out of the church and paraded and placed into the center of the town. 

In the top left corner of the painting is a Marian apparition, a symbol in the Catholic religion where it represents the intervention of a divine power that can provide medical healing, messages, etc (Otto 1985). In this instance, the Marian apparition showcased a light to stop the earthquake, which is why many of the Spanish settlers surrounded the Santo Cristo. This would later become a symbol in Peru of a figure that can stop earthquakes called the Nuestro Señor de los Temblores (Our Lord of the Earthquakes) (Tripoli 2017). However, the religious symbols in the painting were painted to rejustify the reconstruction of the indigenous building of Cusco to their Spanish image and the forcing of Catholicism onto the Cusco people as the earthquake ruined much of their native architecture. 

The painting also shows a dominant perspective of the Incas religious and social culture but has been changed to showcase more Spanish architecture (Hajovsky 2018). An example of this change is the way the buildings are set up in a gridlike pattern and the construction of new buildings to fit their European ideals (Hajovsky 2018). The symbols of Catholic saints, and angels, in the sky show that the Spanish thought it was their Catholic right to conquer Cusco and to change the buildings, culture, and religion of the indigenous people. This was a “manifest destiny” mindset that the Spanish church and state had when they conquered not just Cusco but many other Latin American countries (Eckler 2020). This painting depicts how Spanish settlers thought this earthquake was something that their gods and Catholicism gave to change Cusco into their European ideals and forcibly spread their faith with the creation of Temblores that “stopped the earthquake” and protected them from it (Max 2010). Furthermore, the creation of the Temblores was done by the Spanish to appeal more to the Cusco people and have them be converted to their religion through this manipulation. 

Figure 4: (Leibsohn, Mundy 2015): Map painting of Cusco by an unknown artist. It was made in 1643 before the earthquake. In the map, the bottom and middle center of the map show a cross, religious buildings, and the houses are also in a gridlike pattern. This style represents the Spanish settlers’ ideals of what they wanted Cusco to look like. The upper portion of the map has more mountains and rivers, with many of the buildings clustered together, signifying what Cusco looked like when inhabited by the indigenous people. 

Figure 5: (University of Arkansas 2017): A religious building of the Andean baroque style. Andean baroque is an architectural style that mixes Catholicism from Spain and Cusco religion and culture. For example, they replaced the door handles with animals used in Andean imagery (University of Arkansas 2017). This hybrid art style shows how Catholic colonialism is slowly turning Andean symbolism into that of Catholicism. 

In the aftermath of the 1650 earthquake that devastated Cusco, Peru, the city stood amid destruction. After the shaking stopped, the Spanish settlers saw a chance for social reconstruction and a way to reshape Cusco in the image they wanted. As a result of this, the native culture drastically changed in many ways. The art at the time also shows a mix of Christian and native contributions that depict the clash of cultures and the emphasis on segregation nurtured and influenced by conquistadors. So why does this matter? The Cusco earthquake was much more than just an earthquake. It destroyed art and religious items while also proving how intensely colonization has affected ancient civilization. This can be parallelized to N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy, where during the Syl Anagist chapters, we repeatedly see how Hoa’s race was used for torturous labor like the encomiendas. In the book, Hoa finds out what the briar patch really is, a place where his race gets the life and magic sucked out of them, however, they’re still alive in order to keep making this magic to keep the obelisk alive. These obelisks are used by Syl Anagist to keep the city alive, with their slogan of “Life is sacred in Syl Anagist,”. This can be seen with the encomiendas in Cusco since Spain forcefully made them do labor to turn their city to their European ideals. Another connection between the book and Cusco, was when Keleni took Hoa and his friends on a tour of their origin and they saw how they were able to use magic for art and culture. This is similar to Cusco before they were colonized by Spain, where the city was rich in indigenous art and culture. However, later in the book the readers find out that when Syl Anagist came over and conquered them, they used their ideas of how they harnessed magic to create what their city is now, however since they couldn’t do it like them, they used those people to build it, by once again using their life and magic. This connects to Cusco, because after the earthquake Spanish settlers in Cusco tried to further enslave the encomiendas to rebuild the city in their Spain ideal image, and when this did happen, many paintings and Andean baroque architecture emerged, however, much of the indigenous material and symbolism remains in such art. For example, old indigenous buildings in Cusco still remain today, becoming a tourist attraction, just like how Keleni gave Hoa and his friends a tour of the old society. In conclusion, N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy connects to Cusco’s history of colonization where both Hoa’s kind and Cusco people were used and abused by those who conquered them.


“Encomenderos in Cuzco Petition the King after the Great Earthquake of 1650.”, Accessed 24 Apr. 2024.

Hajovsky, Patrick Thomas. “Shifting Panoramas: Contested Visions of Cuzco’s 1650 Earthquake.” The Art Bulletin, vol. 100, no. 4, 2 Oct. 2018, pp. 34–61, Accessed 15 June 2022.

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Publicación Especial N ° 14 -Resúmenes Ampliados Del XIX Congreso.

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Eckler, Camden. The Roots of Exploitation and Inequality in Latin America, 2020,

Max. “Black Jesus.” Wayne To The Max, 14 Dec. 2010,

“A New World Take on the Baroque.” Honors College Blog, University of Arkansas, 2017,

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Tripoli. “A Lesson in Colonialism at Cusco Cathedral.” BashfulAdventurer.Com, 16 Jan. 2017,

The Great Kantō Earthquake: How Disaster Reconstructed Culture

By Collin Capurso, Cassandra Lasky, Claire Rahuba, Chloe Dion, Stella Kahnis

The “Great Kantō Earthquake” struck the Kantō Plain at 11:58am on Saturday, September 1, 1923. The earthquake lasted between 4 and 10 minutes with a magnitude of 7.9. This earthquake became disastrous because fires started from citizens cooking in the kitchen. These fires turned into firestorms which swept the land and caused over 38,000 deaths. Houses that were located on the mountainside were swallowed and carried away from landslides which caused even more deaths. Since the earthquake was extremely powerful, it caused a tsunami to hit the coast of Sagami Bay with waves that measured up to 33 feet. When everything started to eventually settle down, there were rumors that began spreading. These rumors stated that Koreans were going to take advantage of the disaster by committing arson and robberies and that they had bombs. Mobs began killing anyone that they assumed were Korean after hearing this rumor. More rumors were spreading that Koreans also were poisoning the water which seemed believable to people since the water was cloudy. These killings caused the government to send in the Japanese Army and the police to protect Koreans. This caused the massacres to end which stopped the death toll from continuing. There has since been a day created called Disaster Prevention Day; it takes place on September 1st, and it honors the memory of all the lives lost and to remember to be prepared. Affected areas and people have implemented drills to help citizens prepare for future disasters. 

The Great Kantō directly affected Tokyo, Japan and Yokohama, Japan, also dealing significant damage to surrounding areas. Over half of the brick buildings within the disaster’s range had collapsed (Hammer 2013). The memory of its impact has also intangibly harmed Koreans as it was rumored that they possessed bombs, poisoned the wells, and other misinformed concerns that were born out of the disruption. Since Koreans vastly populated Tokyo and Kanagawa at the time, they became a scapegoat for the event’s upheaval of the nation’s internal conflicts. Tens of Koreans were rounded up and shipped to Narashino, which is a military training base and in the procedure of this displacement, news sources were restricted from reporting on the massacre until October 21, 1923. 

The Great Kantō earthquake resulted in many changes in such a short time, it was noted that “before noon, along a fault extending roughly Northwest by Southeast in Sagami Bay, parts of the Philippine, Pacific, and Eurasian plates slipped past each other.” The Philippine plate was reported to have moved up to three and a half meters up and across while the Miura peninsula rose up to eight meters instantly (Smith). Beneath the bay, the ocean floor had reconfigured and part of that energy had produced a tsunami. Violent shaking most prominently affected places where “the soil was not underlay with substantial bedrock.” The effects of the earthquake alone were devastating for the land and its people as there was enough energy that overcame the buildings throughout. Only a few structures were left habitable, but much of the deaths and destruction were attributed to the fires that burned for days after the event, especially in Yokohama and areas around Tokyo. Moral philosopher Shimamoto Ainosuke mourned that the earthquake had “overturned Japanese culture from its very foundation.” The concept that immense affliction and crisis can reveal some sort of truth or valuable insight on the nature of humanity (Schencking 2008). Once the earthquake had hit, there were a handful of premeditated killings by Japanese civilians, police, and military of Koreans, Chinese, and labor and political activists. The government’s response to rumors about Koreans carrying out acts of arson, rape, and poisoning was rather disconcerting as it only furthered them in organizing and even arming vigilantes (Smith). Statements on what was done as a reaction to the event tended to suggest police only incarcerated Koreans (or merely those who were suspected as such), but were revealed to have killed as many as 231 people. Those who have studied the event change that estimate to 6000 to 8000. 

Some attest to a thought that believes the Great Kanto earthquake stood as a “moral wake-up” call for the Japanese people for the state of the nation’s political and social ideology. Over the years, the term “tenken” or “tenbatsu” arose to mean a divine punishment to describe the events that occurred. Despite the sweeping consequences of the Great Kanto, commenters began to tell a larger story on the fate of the event—as if to say, it was an opportunity (koki)—to reconstruct and illuminate new values for Tokyo (Schencking 2008). The next phase of the disaster brought about discussion and people had put their energy toward interpreting the event, “and, in doing so, asked why the earthquake struck Tokyo and what messages, divine or otherwise, lay behind it.” 

When the Great Kanto Earthquake first hit at 11:58 AM. At this time, many residents were cooking lunch over open fires. In direct effect from the Great Kanto Earthquake, gas was spilled and active stoves were knocked down, causing a huge outburst of fire spreading as the earthquake occurred. This fires spreading lasted 46 hours, depicted in “Scenes of the 1923 Earthquake,” by Japanese artist Nishimura Goun, the “300-foot tall fire tornado, or ‘dragon twist’” rapidly traveled through the area. Out of around 40,000 people affected by this disaster, a few hundred people survived. (The Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art). 

Moreover, a woodcut constructed by Unpo Takishima, depicts the Ueno district of Tokyo set ablaze as a result of the massive fire-spread. Joseph Dahlmann, a Jesuit priest who “witnessed the calamity from a hilltop,” helped provide a “new impulse to the fury of the conflagration” (The Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art). The artwork of this event is massively depicted in regards to the fiery wrath that set multiple regions of Japan ablaze. While the earthquake was a devastating event that massively impacted Japan, the fires were more so devastating for the civilians, who were directly affected by the conflagration. The earthquake, devastating in magnitude, was grossly underscored by the widespread fires that burned homes, destroyed property, and killed thousands. The art piece, “Hi ni Oware Mizu ni Oboru” (Chased by the Fire, Drowned in the Water), painted by the artist Nyosen Hamada, further illustrates the nature of the disaster; considered to be “the worst natural disaster ever to strike quake-prone Japan” (Smithsonian). To paint the scale of which death occurred, another piece of art, “Kyouryo no Ensho” (Burning Bridge in Honjo,” by artist Nyosen Hamada, illustrates a burning ship with multiple civilians diving into the water, where “an estimated 44,000 people died when they sought refuge near Tokyo’s Sumida River in the first few hours, only to be immolated by a freak pillar of fire known as a ‘dragon twist’” (Smithsonian).

When considering significant seismic events such as the Great Kanto Earthquake and their effects, the aftermath that most people focus on is physical. This earthquake killed over 100,000 people, caused irreversible damage to property and buildings, and spread fire for 46 hours. Under all of this physical damage, there are layers of societal damage- from a huge spike in poverty to racial discrimination and massacres. In the Broken Earth trilogy, it seems N.K Jemisin intended to represent this type of real world inequity, racism, and violence in a setting where seismic events and natural disasters were constantly affecting the characters. We believe that this contrast between physical and societal damage is meant to show how poorly humans handle devastation. In the Broken Earth trilogy, devastation is consistent in each character’s life. We see the direct physical and mental effects of quakes, Seasons, and ultimately The Rifting. Throughout this trilogy, we quickly learn that this society repeatedly reacts to devastation with violence. The Fulcrum violently controls and sedates orogenes for their node maintainers, and the Guardians take control over orogenes through violence in order to gain power. Orogenes, in turn, naturally respond to threats with violence. This violence reflects many aspects of Tokyo’s reaction to the Great Kanto Earthquake. It seems Jemisin is attempting to show us that our response to natural disasters such as seismic events may reflect the reality of human nature. Additionally, she may be attempting to aid us in realizing that our natural response to these disasters frequently further damages the societies affected by them. Jemisin gives us an example of how we as humans might be successful in the reparation of physical damage and of the damage of our society. Castrima is a community that is introduced in the Broken Earth trilogy. This “comm” stands to show the positive effects of working together without discrimination in order to survive and succeed. Orogenes, who have been historically discriminated against and controlled for their power, are the leaders in this comm. Although we see some doubt about the effectiveness of this society, the comm is successful in surviving the Season until the end of the trilogy.


Collection of 1923 Japan earthquake massacre testimonies released. (n.d.). Collection of 1923 Japan Earthquake Massacre Testimonies Released.

Hammer, J. (2013, November 15). The Great Japan earthquake of 1923. Smithsonian Magazine.

National Museum of Asian Art. (2023, April 17). Scenes of the 1923 earthquake – National Museum of Asian Art

Schencking, J. C. (2008). The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Culture of Catastrophe and Reconstruction in 1920s Japan. Journal of Japanese Studies, 34(2), 295–331.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2024, March 19). Tokyo-Yokohama earthquake of 1923 | Death Toll & Facts. Encyclopedia Britannica. Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. (n.d.).

The Boxing Day Tsunami: Unveiling Tragedy and Art – JW, HB, CD, JL, AT, NR, QC

The Boxing Day tsunami, known for its mass destruction and death toll, began off the west coast of Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Deep below the ocean exists oceanic plates that are constantly shifting and crashing into each other. The main plates involved in this disaster are the India plate and the Burma microplate, which is part of the Sunda plate. When the India plate subducted underneath the Burma plate, a 900 mile fault line was created due to the convergence and subduction of these plates. This line, 31 miles below the ocean floor, released as much energy as several thousand atomic bombs, or in this case a 9.1 M earthquake. For reference, typical earthquakes, like a 4M or 5M can take as little as 1 second to release stored energy. The earthquake that created this tsunami lasted 10 minutes. This is where the epicenter of the earthquake occurs and thus the larger story of the devastating tsunami. 

The beginning, middle and end for this tsunami is equally marked with tragedy and loss. The tsunami began by hitting the city of Banda Aceh, which is in northern Sumatra. This city was closest to the epicenter of the earthquake and in a matter of minutes, a 100 foot wave killed over 100,000 people. Virtually no one who was caught in the wave survived.  Unfortunately, the story doesn’t stop at Banda Aceh. Thailand was the next stop for this destructive force of nature. The tsunami hit both Phang Nga and Phuket (coastal provinces) killing nearly 5,400. Of this number, 2,000 were foreign tourists. The next stop was the city of Chennai, located on the southeastern coast of India. Chennai lost more than 10,000 people, with a majority of casualties being women and children since the men were out fishing. The final destination was Sri lanka where more than 30,000 people were swept away and killed by this destructive and powerful wave. The tsunami consequentially “left a gendered landscape of disaster in its wake.” Boxing Day was a day of offering and many women and children went to leave food and flowers by the seaside, and the wave just came in unexpectedly. Women were less likely to know how to swim or climb a tree, resulting in a mass amount of death. Paintings recapturing the incidents recounted that “flowing dresses hindered rapid flight” of women. 

This natural disaster was so powerful that people swimming in South Africa experienced large rogue waves. To put this into perspective, South Africa was 5,000 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake and tsunami. This disaster lasted a total of seven hours and anywhere that the Boxing Day tsunami went, death and destruction followed. Communities from surrounding countries suffered huge losses to their infrastructure as a result of this devastating natural disaster. National roads, access roads, and coastal highways were torn out of the ground, leaving no place for people to travel on. Basic necessities such as hospitals were ripped up, as well as nearby educational centers including schools and colleges.  This especially affected the poor and lower income tiers. Out of the people’s homes or living spaces affected by this tragedy, 75% of them were in the lower income region. It is extremely important to note the disproportionate cost seismic events pose to underprivileged communities. The disparities in infrastructure often create a more dangerous environment in the onset of a natural disaster. The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress describes the conditions present in these communities that can exacerbate the tragedy because, “…Building codes are often not adopted or enforced. Low-income communities often lack transportation and communication infrastructure to facilitate an adequate disaster response. Health systems in low income countries are often under-resourced even prior to a disaster, and are quickly stretched beyond capacity in the face of increased injuries and illness.”

These lower income areas were not the only places that were affected. Over 10 countries were affected and this is because of the earthquake paired with the tsunami. Roughly 227,889 people were killed and/or presumed dead in total, including tourists and locals. Furthermore, 1.7 million people were displaced, leaving 500,000 of those homeless. The damage done to various coastal communities added up to roughly $13 billion. Roughly, $6 billion of the damages were in Indonesia, leaving it ruined and desolate, which is a common theme amongst places that experienced this tsunami. 

Not only were several countries affected by the tsunami, but survivors experienced effects as well. People who survived the tsunami actually had thickened waists due to scar tissue 13 years after the tsunami as a result of wading in fast-moving water. These survivors were also more at risk of catching diseases because of increased inflammation levels and had difficulty regulating glucose levels. Not only have these survivors lost homes, cultures, and families, but they have lost their health too. The tsunami has virtually taken everything from them. Adults were not the only ones to experience health effects following the aftermath of the tsunami. Children who were in utero at the time of the tsunami experienced major health and growth effects as a consequence. They ended up being shorter than their predicted average height at the age of three years old . While these children were able to eventually catch up to the height of those children who weren’t affected, scientists can’t rule out potential health effects from rapid growth.  The tsunami was so powerful it was able to disrupt human biology as well as the land in its path of destruction. 

Despite all the wreckage that occurred because of the tsunami, art was discovered in the wake of all the destruction. The power of the waves were able to uncover pieces of art from lost history, and the devastation of the tsunami also inspired others to create memorable art from the events. The waves shifted tons of sand and uncovered lost relics of a seventh-century civilization. South of Chennai, the ancient city held sculptures that could help aid scholars into understanding this civilization. “The sculptures include an elaborately carved lion, a half-completed elephant and a stallion in flight.” Members of the team that uncovered the statues explain that lions, elephants, and peacocks were once used to decorate walls during the Pallava period. Furthermore, art that was inspired by the tsunami sparked conversation amongst professors 8 years later. Momi Chitrakar is the creator of a 7-foot-tall scroll that depicts a painting of the tsunami and just how many lives it took. Along with the painting, Momi Chitrakar performed a sorrowful song explaining how much pain and loss the tsunami caused. “Mothers lost their children//Husbands lost their wives//What pain, merciful (God), what pain!//Why did you destroy, tell me (God), Sri Lanka and Andaman?//The cursed tsunami snatched away lives.” The professors who encountered this piece of art and performance inevitably bought the painting and brought it back to their campus for further discussion in academic settings. This ensured that this tragedy wouldn’t go unnoticed or unsupported. 

 In comparison to N.K. Jemisin’s trilogy, the sculptures uncovered by the tsunami show resemblance to “dead-civs”, which are remains of a dead civilization. This showcases how much worldbuilding Jemisin put into the trilogy, but the sculptures unveiled could also be a reference image for people trying to imagine the dead-civs discussed in the novels. In Jemisin’s novels obelisks operate as sculptures to show the remains of past civilizations. In both The Broken Earth trilogy and our real world, remnants of civilizations can be used to learn more about the past. Ruins where obelisks had previously been built resurface multiple times throughout the series, posing questions about the obelisks and their origin, and ultimately answering these questions (in time) as well. These civilizations had gone through many natural disasters, resulting in death and mass destruction that turned them into “dead-civs”.  The cities affected by the Boxing Day tsunami may not have become a “dead-civ” but the continuation of destruction in these areas will leave a lasting mark. Perhaps people will relocate, leaving remains of their cultures and lives destroyed by the earth for others to find. 

Tohoku Earthquake & Tsunami: Inevitable Instability – AD, AL, VL, LH, GL, SA

Tohoku’s Story:

On March 11, 2011, tragedy struck throughout Japan devastating the millions that lived there. At first, the people of Sendai began to feel short, small quakes that shook their ground. These small quakes, known as foreshocks, preceded the much larger main quake that would rip through the majority of Japan. Several of the foreshocks measured around 6 to 7.2 magnitude on the Richter scale. 

UTSA community members reach out to Japan earthquake, tsunami victims

Around 2:46 pm on March 11th, the main quake occurred with a magnitude of 8.9, later revised to 9.0. This event resulted from thrust faulting on the subduction zone plate boundary between the Pacific and North American plates, known as the Japan Trench. This undersea quake lasted about six full minutes, and after thirty minutes reached the opposite side of the Japan Trench, on the coast of Honshu. This quake was also felt in Russia, Taiwan, and China. Within half an hour of the quake, a towering tsunami reached the land that was triggered by the thrusting of the faults. The shallowing ocean floor caused waves to slow and pushed water mass upwards. The quick transition from deep to shallow ocean floor created greater potential for higher waves. Waves reached as high as 130 feet. Due to the tsunami’s incredible height, the waves rushed to the shore, not allowing people enough time to properly prepare for its impact. As the water rushed the shores, it swept the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, destroying its power and cooling systems, and triggering meltdowns at three reactors. This forced several thousand people living within a mile and a half of the plant to evacuate from the dangerous nuclear waste spread. 

One day later, on March 12th, the effects of the earthquake and tsunami were ongoing. A hydrogen explosion occurred at the plant’s number one or main reactor, sending radiation into the air. All residents within a 12-mile radius were ordered to evacuate to avoid these harmful radiation waves. Over the next 2 days, similar explosions occurred at the other two reactors. While this was all going on, the foreign minister announced that 25 countries had offered assistance to Japan; including rescue teams and relief supplies. The U.S. Navy sent seven ships toward Japan to assist with these relief efforts, as well as the U.S. Air Force had planes headed to Japan carrying coolant for the Fukushima power plant. However, it was later found that the coolant was erroneous. 

Flash forward to April 12th, Japan raises the nuclear event to category 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event scale. Originally, it was listed as a category 5 based on radiation released into the atmosphere. Just twelve days later, on April 24th, the Japanese government designated a specific area to be cleared around the nuclear plant to protect the local citizens. This exclusion zone ranged two kilometers and spanned across nine cities and towns. 

Nearly nine months later, on December 16th, Japan declared a “cold shutdown”. They turned down core temperatures and pressures to a level where nuclear chain reactions can not occur. This was due to their struggle for months to stabilize the plant. 

Impact of Tohoku:

This tsunami devastated the country of Japan; but beyond this, it even had a lasting global effect. The tsunami as a result of the earthquake reached over 25 Pacific Rim countries, and even reached as far as Antarctica, the west coast of Brazil, and along the coast of California. The tsunami caused 30 million USD in damage in Hawaii, along with 100 million USD in damages and recovery of California’s marine facilities. Additionally, there were damages in other areas as far as French Polynesia, Galapagos Islands, Peru, and Chile. In Japan alone, the damages were estimated at around 220 billion USD. The Natural Centers of Environmental Informations states, “the damage makes the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami the most expensive natural disaster in history”. 

As a result of the event, there were more than 123,000 houses that were destroyed or damaged, along with businesses, roads, and railways. The effect of this caused more than 450,000 people to become homeless, along with more than 18,000 dead and thousands more injured or missing. Most of these deaths were a result of drowning in the tsunami. It was also stated by the Natural Centers of Environmental Informations that, “fortunately, the loss of life outside of Japan was minimal (one death in Indonesia and one death in California) due to the Pacific Tsunami Warning System and its connections to national-level warning and evacuation systems”. 

Environmental damages included, locally significant damages to natural resources, coastal ecosystems, contamination of water, and potentially hazardous debris. Due to the enormous amount of debris, it created a high amount of waste that has been estimated to be between 80 and 200 million tons – comparable in size to the waste generated by Hurricane Katrina, which cost over 3.2 billion USD to clean up. The shortage of land will further escalate the cost of post-disaster waste management in Japan. The disaster mass of debris faced the risk of contamination of the stockyard due to the leachate generation. As well as the desilting of coastal canals because coastal waterways were fully silted by the tsunami and would need to be drained to become operational. Also susceptible to contamination was the water; due to the toxic chemicals, and there was a risk of danger of soil and groundwater  that would affect farmlands. The utilization of wells in the affected areas were stopped because the water supply and sewage networks as damaged urban water supply and sewage networks can result in cross-contamination, thus leading to health impacts for the population. The damage to the Nuclear Power Plants released many radioactive materials over a large area, which led to a widespread evacuation. Reactors were flooded with seawater that mixed with the acid, resulting in the decay of fuel rods which posed major health and environmental risks.

Art Produced in Tohoku’s Wake:

In the years that followed this catastrophic event, the Japanese found ways to unify as a whole and prolong the remembrance and awareness of the tragedies that took place. They were able to do this through various forms of powerful and socially collaborative artworks, which have become very important and popular throughout modern Japanese society and culture. Art forms that were influenced by these events on March 11th were ever-so powerful through the means of strengthening and unifying Japanese communities, and the country as a whole. Commercialized artworks lessened in popularity, as artists who developed relationships within communities in Japan became popular within the Japanese art scene. Much of the art that took inspiration from the 2011 Tohoku Tsunami was made to raise relief funds and promote donations to help out the people of Japan. Many of the most famous artworks were done by artists who experienced these disasters firsthand or artists who visited the land of Tohoku for direct inspiration. 

“The Man Who Sailed His House” – Illustration by Yuko Shimizu

This piece by Yuzo Shimizu is directly influenced by the story of Michael Paterniti; two days after the 2011 Tohoku Tsunami, Michael Paterniti was found miles out at sea, riding on nothing but the roof of his home. Artworks like this became influential in Japanese modern culture in the years after the 2011 disaster.

“The Fractured World” – Illustration by Jave Yoshimoto 

This piece by Jave Yoshimoto, a University of Nebraska at Omaha art professor, was part of a series of works dedicated to the events that occurred in Tohoku. These works depicted the aftermath and effect these natural events had on everyday life in Japan.

Many of these artworks were influential in raising awareness around the world regarding the importance and impact these events had on all aspects of Japanese society; not only visual artworks, but also films, music, and texts were influential in regards to raising awareness and donations in the years after 2011. Art that was socially engaged within communities affected by this disaster became popular in galleries and art shows, as well as artists who were reflecting on their experiences or thoughts after the effect this event had on Japanese society. Art on this subject is not only seen throughout Japan, but throughout the world; an important initiative being the founding of Art Action in the United Kingdom, led by Japanese artist Homma Kaori. Located in the world-renowned city of London, this initiative was able to relocate many young Japanese artists to the big city, with their art being displayed to the world audience. Art Action was very influential in the popularization of contemporary Japanese art, as London is a global hub for modern-age art and pop culture. This is important as London is a place of major influence to younger generations across the globe. Art provided these people and communities a way of expressing themselves, releasing their emotions in remembrance and reflection after a tragedy of this magnitude.

So What? Who Cares?

Both the Tohoku tsunami & earthquake, as well as the seismic events that occur in Jemisin’s “The Broken Earth” trilogy, symbolize the inevitable instability of the world and the people who inhabit it. These major events represent the constant threat posed by the unpredictable environment and fragility of civilization.

Seismic events are a result of small changes in the Earth that occur over time. These small changes build up, like a pot of boiling water. Once these small changes become too familiar, a big change is made such as a tsunami or earthquake. Orogenes are often viewed as unpredictable when they are not able to control their powers. The reason orogenes are feared throughout the world of the Stillness is because when their emotions get the best of them, they can suddenly lash out uncontrollably, oftentimes resulting in catastrophic events. We see this in several instances throughout the three books. For example, in The Fifth Season, Essun realizes her son was just murdered by his father for his orogeny. This sends Essun into a rage causing her to split the valley floor. She stops what she is doing when she sees a father and son. This shows the inability of Essun to control her power when she feels pushed past her breaking point. This unpredictability leaves those around Essun unprepared and at her mercy. We also see this when Jemisin writes, “[s]he fails against him, tries to hit him. It isn’t malice or fear. She never wants to hurt him. She just has to let some of what’s in her out somehow, or she will go mad” (The Stone Sky, 90). This shows how Nassun does not intend to harm, but her orogeny mixed with emotion causes her to release the pent-up feelings she has buried within her. Releasing this pent-up energy is necessary for herself and her well-being, but in turn, sometimes has negative consequences for others around her. This release of feelings is unexpected, but necessary, just like plate movements. The plate movements are unprovoked but lead to an enormous impact that affects many. 

The unpredictability and lack of control we see as a result of orogene out lashes can be comparable to that of a seismic event. For instance, the catastrophic events that occurred in Tohoku were too powerful to stop, as there was nothing anyone could do to lessen the impact of this sudden event. Similarly, we see how when orogene power is uncontrollably harnessed, the impact has a comparable magnitude to that of a natural disaster; as a result, nothing or no one is capable of stopping such. Even from the catastrophic events in Tohoku, we see how small slips and occurrences can become too familiar, leaving us unprepared. Japan is no stranger to earthquakes, especially near Tohoku, small and decently sized earthquakes are not uncommon. When we become too comfortable with a position or a place, whether socially or even in nature, it will cause us to be unprepared for an event of unfamiliar magnitude; this we see in both the Stillness, and throughout society today.

Works Cited

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“After the Tsunami: Japanese Contemporary Art Since 2011.” Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, 11 March 2021, Accessed 17 April 2024.

“Deadly Japan quake and tsunami spurred global warming, ozone loss.” AGU Newsroom, 26 March 2015, Accessed 17 April 2024.

“Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.” UNEP, Accessed 17 April 2024.

Heath, Chris. “The Man Who Sailed His House.” GQ, 13 October 2011, Accessed 17 April 2024.

“Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011 – Aftermath, Recovery, Rebuilding.” Britannica, Accessed 15 April 2024.

“Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011 | Facts & Death Toll.” Britannica, 4 March 2024, Accessed 17 April 2024.

“Japan earthquake and tsunami: Timeline.” CNN, 12 March 2011, Accessed 17 April 2024.

“Mar 11, 2011 CE: Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.” National Geographic Society, Accessed 15 April 2024.

“On This Day: 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami | News | National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).” National Centers for Environmental Information, Accessed 15 April 2024.

“Pacific Ocean.” IOC Tsunami, Accessed 17 April 2024.

“Recovery postponed: The long-term plight of people displaced by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear radiation disaster – Japan.” ReliefWeb, 6 February 2017, Accessed 17 April 2024.

Reid, Kathryn. “2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami: Facts, FAQs, how to help.” World Vision, 7 May 2019, Accessed 17 April 2024.

Solé, Magdalena. “Art Created in the Aftermath of the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami.” Art & Antiques Magazine, Accessed 17 April 2024.

“Tōhoku-oki Earthquake and Tsunami, March 11, 2011.” California Department of Conservation, Accessed 17 April 2024.

“Tsunami Strike Japan, Part 1 | Ocean Today.” Ocean Today, Accessed 17 April 2024.

Seismic Events Collaborative Essay

Group Members: Rachel Margalit, Stella Boothby, Lauren Bromfield, Lily Conroy, Ivan West, Garrett Benson, Emily Rechlin

The Story of The Boxing Day Tsunami

The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami occurred on December 26th, 2004, when 17 entire countries were impacted by this devastating seismic event that occurred in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. One of the deadliest disasters, with a striking magnitude of 9.1, more than 200,000 people’s lives were lost and thousands of homes were destroyed. This is known to be the largest earthquake in history since the year 1960, stretching from a total of 800 miles long and lasting 10 minutes, releasing energy equivalent to several thousand Hiroshima-type atomic bombs. The quake originated in a so-called megathrust fault, where heavy oceanic plates subduct beneath lighter continental plates and this occurs all underwater. After about 20 minutes, the first wave with a speed of 500 mph crashed in and hit the city of Banda Aceh. The wave heights widely varied across the regions based on the location of the source of the earthquake, creating a plethora of negative impacts amongst the areas affected. The Northern Sumatra wave, for example, reached up to 167 feet, causing flooding up to three miles inland. The destruction left behind was unfathomable in both lives lost and physical destruction to these areas. 

A multitude of areas were impacted by this seismic event, including regions all across the Indonesia area. This tsunami was responsible for impacts observed in 17 countries spanning from Asia and Africa. The waves spanned across many countries, including the northeastern coast of Somalia seven hours after the initial earthquake. The image above depicts the aftermath of the tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where very few buildings survived.

About 1.7 million people were displaced, with a total damage estimated at roughly 13 billion dollars, costing Indonesia alone 6 billion dollars. This impacted a significant population of people, forcing them to relocate and rebuild due to this unexpected event. The effects of this event became so drastic, that the earthquake itself caused a shift in the earth’s mass, changing the planet’s rotation. This event was so powerful, that something as extreme as shifting the Earth’s mass occurred. This can create rising sea levels, melting ice caps, and more extreme seasons, and can impact the earth’s overall rotation. Indonesia lies between the “Pacific Ring of Fire”, where ninety percent of the earthquakes occur — making this the second most active seismic zone. Many people who made their living by fishing lost that source of income; the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported how the tsunami affected significant agricultural land. In other words, this seismic event destroyed irrigation canals affecting about 92,000 farms, and over 300,000 people concerning their fishing and agricultural needs. Furthermore, an estimated 62,000 groundwater wells were contaminated by seawater, wastewater, and sewage, rendering them useless.  Not only was agriculture majorly affected, but also “waves and wave-carried debris devastated once-thriving communities, destroying homes, businesses, basic services, critical infrastructure, the environment, livelihoods, and entire economies.” The inundation of saltwater damaged soils, vegetation, and crops. “Together, the earthquake and tsunami changed the landscape of many Indian Ocean coastal communities. Coastal erosion and subsidence caused some shorelines to disappear into the ocean while, in some areas, uplift forced coral reefs to rise above its surface.” This highlights the environmental disparities that occurred from the strength of both the earthquake and tsunami combined. This domino effect caused by the simultaneous destruction created a multitude of issues that continuously got worse throughout the entirety of these seismic events. 

After this tragic event occurred, several forms of artwork emerged from this seismic event, creating a beautiful remembrance of the hardships faced by those who were affected. In memory of the lives lost and the tragedy of this event, many memorial statues were made to recognize the people affected. In addition, floating vessels were designed for a competition entry for public artwork in Norway to commemorate the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. The hollow vessels raise awareness of time, nature, and tidal movement by floating at high tide and staying supported above the sea during low tide. Another piece of artwork that has emerged from this seismic event is the memorial commemorating the 2004 tsunami. The copper-colored sculpture symbolizes the height and color of the massive waves. The time on the clock is stopped before 8 am. , the moment when the earthquake struck that unleashed the tsunami. Furthermore, The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall paid tribute to the people who died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami at the opening of a memorial in London’s Natural History Museum. This piece served as a memory of 155 British citizens who died during this tsunami, all names of the victims are engraved on the floor.

There have also been a few movies that have come from this event. A movie entitled “The Impossible” is based on the true story of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and has been critically acclaimed. It depicts a family’s experience of fighting to survive while watching all of the destruction. Lastly, we found a memorial that was put in place to commemorate the 2004 Tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. The memorial consists of a fishing boat that crashed on top of a house during the storm. Visitors can climb a ramp to the roof and also walk underneath where it’s wedged between two dwellings. The boat provided a refuge for 56 survivors. In addition to the movie, there was a series of narrative scrolls from a village of painters from West Bengal. According to the website Indigo Arts, the scrolls “graphically depict the terrible events of the tsunami of December 26, 2004. Organized by the Asian Heritage Foundation in India, the scrolls were produced and marketed as a means of fundraising for tsunami relief”. It is important for these communities to recognize and use art as a way to express and commemorate the experiences through the lens of the families affected by this period of adversity. 

Jemisin’s trilogy often explores themes of catastrophe and rebuilding of society. The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami represent a real-life example of a devastating event that caused widespread disaster, destruction, and loss of life. By examining how society was able to rebuild and respond to this tsunami, we can also gain insight into the themes that are also present in Jemisin’s work. Natural disasters like the 2004 tsunami also explore how marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by such events, as they do not have the resources to rebuild and respond to such tragedies. Similarly, Jemisin’s trilogy often explores systematic issues of oppression, highlighting ways in which such communities struggle when they are impacted by conflict. For example, the novel notes “…what is important is that you know it was not all terrible. There was peace in long stretches, between each crisis. A chance to cool and solidify before the grind resumes.” (Fifth Season, online 263). Jemisin highlights how these horrible effects cause a rift between society and its environment. However, it also forces individuals to join together to rebuild what has been taken from them. The tsunami of December 26, 2004, is an example of this, as it raised awareness in coastal communities around the world about the threat posed by tsunamis. This collaboration of society led to significant advances in tsunami detection, forecasting, warning, and preparedness. Following the 2004 tsunami, there were significant efforts made to provide aid and resources to the community that lost so much. These efforts aimed to address the immediate needs of survivors attempting to provide aid for long-term recovery. Jemisin’s work also explores themes of reparative justice and collective healing following societal traumas and injustices. Despite the devastation, both the real-world disaster and the fictional narrative emphasize resilience and finding hope after chaos. Communities come together to rebuild and recover, showcasing the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity. The survivors of the 2004 tsunami faced immense challenges in rebuilding their lives and communities. Similarly, characters in Jemisin’s trilogy must navigate a harsh and unforgiving world, showcasing themes of resilience, adaptation, and survival against overwhelming odds.