Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Imagining Life in Pre-Conquest Peru

                                                        by Jim Goodman

modern painter's rendition of Inca life
       The Spanish conquest of Peru was not only a land-and-treasure-grab.  It also involved the deliberate destruction, as far as possible, of an entire civilization.  Not content with looting the palaces and temples, the conquistadores also destroyed them and replaced them with churches and mansions in the Spanish style.  They were here to stay and they didn’t want to live in a place so alien and pagan-looking.  Here and there they might build on the original Inca foundation, for example, but in general the new colonial cities had to look European. 
       The primary means of transforming the native way of life was the imposition of Christianity.  One can hardly blame the natives for accepting it.  Their own gods failed to prevent the disaster of the Conquest, so the invaders’ gods were obviously stronger.  And there was that concept of Heaven, a reward in the after-life for putting up with exploitation on Earth without rebelling against it.
the Lord of Sipan's tomb
       But besides a new religion the Spanish also introduced new animals, like cattle, pigs and chickens, contributing to changes eradicating the old ways.  This process has continued down to modern times, so that it is not easy to imagine what life was like before the Spanish came.  Other civilized states existed before the Inca Empire, but these had been abandoned already and what remained in extant pyramids, palaces and temples suffered the same wanton looting and destruction as the Inca cities. 
       Centuries later, when archaeologists began to excavate, collect and preserve the relics of the past, there weren’t a whole lot left.  Fortunately, a number of gold artifacts remained, enough to show us the skill of ancient artisans.  Grave robbers, both Spanish and native, made off with most.  But one particular site, the tomb of an ancient Moche king, escaped pilferage.  Discovered in the late 20th century, inland from Chiclayo n northern Peru, this was an intact tomb of the Lord of Sipan, dating to the early 3rd century.   
the Lord of Sipan's procession
       This is generally considered the South American equivalent of the tomb of Tutankhahmen in Egypt.  The Lord of Sipan was buried with several others, in the primitive belief these would serve him in the afterlife.  He was also splendidly dressed for his internment, but today all that has been removed to a museum in Lambayeque, near Chiclayo.  What remains is a recreation of the burial site, which is near the sand-encrusted mound that covers the original palace,
       All the original artifacts, jewelry, vestments and ornaments of the tomb of the Lord of Sipan are now displayed in the museum in Lambayeqeu.  The most visited museum in the country, for Peruvians, it’s the only one where photography is not permitted.  It’s easy to see why.  In this narcissistic age, progress through the museum would be much impeded by people taking selfies of themselves beside the recreated court of the Lord of Sipan, among other places.
Moche gold necklace
       The amount of excavated items exhibited in this museum, all from a single site, reveal much about the life of the ancient Peruvian elite.  The Lord of Sipan wore a large, crescent-shaped crown, made from a single sheet of gold.  He also wore other gold ornaments and carried a gold-topped scepter.  Scholars believe that when the Lord appeared in public he faced the sun so that its rays flashed against his gold crown and ornaments, dazzling the eyes of his subjects.
       High-ranking nobles and warrior chiefs also wore gold ornaments, on the head or through the nose.  The priests also had gold necklaces of the heads of the gods, which they either wore or dangled from staffs during ceremonies.  Restorers have removed the corrosion of so many centuries, polished them up and now they look like when they were first made.  All of these items, along with weapons, ritual paraphernalia, beaded necklaces and so on, along with the paintings and models of the Lord of Sipan’s times, give the visitor a fairly complete picture of ancient Moche royalty.
Moche warrior
       One of the most obvious traits of this society was the projection of power.  Great public ceremonies achieved this domestically.  Normally hidden behind his palace walls, on this occasion the Lord of Sipan dressed in his most magnificent raiment, rode in a litter borne through the streets to the ritual site, surrounded by warriors and priests.  In full view of his subjects, assembled for the event, the Lord witnessed his priests conduct rites designed to channel more spiritual power to the state, personified by its Lord, as well as keep the people in awe of their ruler.
       The other way to project power was by waging war against neighbors.  Warfare seems to have been an important part of just about every pre-Conquest civilization.  At Sechin, an excavated ruined city that flourished about 1500 BCE, the most outstanding features are the walls with engraved portraits of ferocious armed warriors and the severed heads and limbs of their battles.  In the interiors of the Moche pyramids near Trujillo, the Temple of the Sun and Moon, built around two thousand years later, warriors on one wall duel in pairs and on other walls march off to combat with maces and javelins.
dueling Moche warriors
       Ancient Peruvian armies had archers with bows to fire arrows at the opposing ranks, but most of the battle action was hand-to-hand with clubs, maces, battle-axes and slings.  Warriors painted their faces and maybe wore animal skins to look fierce, but not much body armor, if any.  Judging from extant sculptures and depictions of warriors on ceramics, weaponry didn’t develop over the centuries until the Spanish began fighting the natives with a new kind of warrior—one mounted on a horse.
       To deal with this phenomenon the Incas invented the bolas, a device consisting of three stones tied to connected lengths of llama tendons.  They hurled these twirling missiles at the horses’ legs, which entangled them and brought them down to the ground, toppling their riders as well.  Then they would throw a bolas around the fallen soldier, all but immobilizing him.  His rescuers would find the tough llama tendons difficult to sever, even with their European-made, top-of-the-line swords and daggers, especially while fighting off the attackers.
guano islands
       Pre-colonial Peruvian states were highly stratified and evolved no sense of the popular will, only the will of the ruler.  In these centrally organized societies the people owed their rulers service of one kind or another:  producing food, working as craftsmen, construction workers or serving as soldiers.  While some people in the upper classes were generals or career officers, other than a contingent of palace guards the states probably had no standing armies.  They simply assembled one from the ranks of the commoners, trained them and sent them off to war.
contemporary flautist
ancient flautist
       Defense of the state, as well as its expansion, was an inherent duty of the ruling class.  But it also had the responsibility of the welfare of its subjects.  The Incas, for example, kept numerous storehouses stocked with food, clothing, weapons, blankets, household goods and just about everything produced in the realm.  The state would distribute these items whenever necessary.  (When the conquistadores organized the systematic looting of Cusco, they themselves went after the gold and other valuables in the palaces and temples and left the storehouses to their Indian auxiliaries.)
carrying on a litter
       In general, warfare was periodic, not an annual event.  The basic economy of these states was agriculture, supplemented in the coastal states by fishing.  In the arid deserts of coastal Peru, this was only possible in the thin strip of land along the rivers that flowed from the Andes to the sea.  States organized labor forces to build irrigation systems that extended the cultivable lands.  Peru had no draft animals then, so men used foot-plows, which were long poles with hardened points and handles, to lift up the soil, while the crouched women beside them broke up the clods and planted the seeds.
       The fertilizer for these fields was guano, the excrement of sea birds like the Guanay cormorant, booty and pelican.  The main source, for over 1500 years, was guano-encrusted islands just off the coast of central Peru.  With its high uric acid content, it was rich in nitrogen, potash and phosphoric acid.  It was effective in both the coastal plains and the mountains.  The Incas also organized its extraction and distribution and enforced edicts against killing or capturing the birds that produced it.
pounding grain
       Agriculture in the highlands differed from that in the coastal plains because not so much relatively level land was available.  So the people also constructed great, stonewalled terraces that climbed up the steep sides of the mountains flanking the valleys.  These are among the popular tourist attractions at places like Machu Picchu, Pisac and Ollantaytambo.  Farmers grew potatoes, maize, quinoa and coca in them.  Due to population transfers and the effects of repeated earthquakes, they are no longer in use, but stand as testimonials to pre-colonial Peruvian engineering skills.
       The land was owned and worked collectively, so at planting and harvest time the terraces were filled with villagers.  It was not all grueling work, though, for Spanish chroniclers observed that the natives took many breaks, drank chicha (maize beer), amused themselves with music and dance and then carried on with the task.  Judging from the ceramic sculptures preserved in Peru’s museums, flutes and drums were the main musical instruments employed.  But the Peruvian Pan pipes are also very ancient, as witnessed by the Moche ceramic of a figure playing the same instrument tourists hear today in fancy restaurants, listening to their umpteenth rendition of the old Simon and Garfunkel hit “El Condor Pasa.”
Peruvian Pan pipes
       Pre-Conquest ceramics preserved in Peru’s many museums provide much insight into how people lived back then.  Unlike ceramics from ancient Europe or China, that have to be painstakingly re-assembled from shards, those from ancient Peru were made for funerals and interred with the corpses.  Thus, excavators found them intact.  Intended for use in the afterlife, as vases, cups, bowls, pitchers and so on, they depict all the aspects of everyday life
     There are all the animals of their environment:  llamas, pumas, lizards, snakes, fish, frogs, monkeys and jaguars.  Others portray warriors, diseased people, gods, fishermen and very realistic commoners.  There are vignettes of everyday chores like pounding grain, toting water jugs, giving birth, carrying someone on a litter, catching fish, confronting a wild animal and making love.        
       Many of these vignettes in ceramic are still part of rural life in Peru, especially the poorer, less developed areas.  The ancient textiles in museum exhibits were woven on simple backs-trap looms, still in use today in the highlands.  Andean women don’t weave all the cloth for their clothing, for it is so much easier to buy it in the market, but use narrower looms for belts and scarves.
weaving with an ancient type of loom
field shrine, Taquile Island,LakeTiticaca
       When the conquistadores finally consolidated their rule in Peru they pursued an aggressive assimilation policy.  The Indians not only had to convert to Christianity, they had to relocate from their “squalid” villages to new towns.  Spanish bishops alleged that the dark, circular, thatched huts with no interior walls were conducive to incest.  The relocated Indians were to live in square buildings with separate rooms and tiled roofs.  Round stone buildings with thatched roofs still exist in Andean villages, but these are used for storage rather than residence.
bulls on the roof to bring prosperity and fertility
       As for religion, over four and a half centuries of Christianity has not wiped out every indigenous belief.  It’s hard to totally eradicate a farmer’s ingrained, ancient inclination to honor the spirit of the land he tills.  So here and there one finds modest field shrines, though these are not used for rituals or sacrifices anymore. 
       Other customs survived the Conquest through adaptation.  The roofs of Andean village houses feature ceramic statures of a pair of bulls on top.  They represent prosperity and fertility and may be backed by a Christian cross.  Perhaps the priests tolerated this ‘superstitious’ symbolism because the people added the cross and began using animals that the Spanish introduced.  Originally they were a pair of llamas, backed by symbols of the sun and moon.   
       The Conquest devastated the native people of Peru.  Disease, war and gross exploitation sent the population figures into a precipitous decline.  But over time they recovered and today the native Indians and those of mixed Indian-European blood make up a majority of the population, the only country in South America where that holds true.  Contemporary Peruvians are quite ware of this and embrace the multiple heritages that make up their country’s identity.  It’s Moche, it’s Inca, it’s Spanish, it’s ancient, it’s colonial, it’s whatever is in the country, past or present.  It makes no difference.  It’s all Peru.

ancient terraces at Pisac,used until last century

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Cusco’s Double Legacy

                                                               by Jim Goodman

Cusco Valley, viewed from Sacsayhuaman
       When the Spanish conquistadores marched into Cusco in late 1533, they could not hide their astonishment.  They had never seen or expected anything quite so sophisticated and splendid as the Inca capital city.   Lying in a river valley at 3360 meters altitude, the city sprawled across the valley in the shape of a puma, the strongest animal in the Andes and a fitting symbol for the capital of a powerful empire. 
       The ‘head’ of the puma was the hill 260 meters above the city, the site of the elaborate Saqsayhuaman stone fortress.  The ‘body’ sloped down across the valley and constituted the residential quarters, with streets in a regular grid, narrow water channels running through them and square-based houses with steeply thatched roofs.  The ‘tail’ ended at the river junction.  The ’heart’ of the puma, and of the city even today, was an open square, the Warrior’s Square (now called Plaza de Armas), around which the Inca rulers built their palaces and ceremonial halls.  And the part corresponding to the puma’s genitals was the site of the magnificent Temple to the Sun.
Plaza de Armas, the heart' of the puma
       Called Koricancha in the local Quechua language, the exterior walls were gold-plated, but these had already been removed for the captive emperor Atahuallpa’s ransom earlier that year.  After receiving the ransom the Spanish murdered Atahuallpa anyway and now that they were in Cusco they discovered more treasure than they could imagine. 
       In the Koricancha alone they found a big, solid gold, jeweled disc representing the sun god Inti.  A Sacred Garden held plants made of gold and silver, gold corncobs and life-sized, solid gold statures of llamas and herders.  The Inca palaces (every emperor built his own) and other temples contained similar items.  The conquistadores’ attitude to all this Inca wealth was that it now belonged to them.
walls of the Sacsayhuaman fortress
       Their leader Francisco Pizarro installed 17 year-old Manco Inca as figurehead emperor and the following March officially established Cusco as a Spanish municipality.  He then oversaw the systematic looting of the city by his men.  All the treasures were collected, carefully recorded and melted down, weighed and distributed—one-fifth for the Spanish crown, the rest shared out among themselves.  The commanders moved into the palaces and others conscripted native laborers to dismantle public buildings and make them houses.  They also put up their first parish church—the Church and Convent of La Merced—in 1535.
Cusco Cathedral
       The gross exploitation soon sparked a rebellion.  Manco Inca escaped Spanish custody, amassed a huge army and laid siege to Cusco from May 1536.  At one point the Spanish held only the area around the main square.  Eventually, after a bold assault and capture of Sacsayhuaman, and the arrival of Spanish reinforcements from Lima, Manco Inca was forced to call off the siege in March 1537.  He retreated to Ollantaytambo, defeated a Spanish assault there, but then moved further north to the jungle outpost of Vilcabamba.
       Spanish defenders claimed that St. James, the patron saint of Spain, had intervened on their behalf to insure victory.  In gratitude, they built the Church of the Triumph in 1539 on the main square, with St. James the dominant image inside.  Over the next several years, though, Pizarro and his younger brother, Diego de Amalgro and his son, who had broken Manco Inca’s siege of Cusco, all died from internecine power struggles. 
the Jesuit Church, Plaza de Armas
       Another casualty of the colonial civil war was Manco Inca.  Renegades from the losing side in one of the Cusco battles in 1544 fled to Vitcos to the north and sought refuge with Manco Inca.  But it was a trick.  They were actually plotting to assassinate the Inca emperor to ingratiate themselves with the winning side in Cusco.  They surrendered their arms in return for asylum, but a few days later, in a relaxed meeting with Manco Inca, one soldier pulled out a dagger and killed their host.  The renegades escaped, but were caught on the road to Cusco by Inca warriors and killed.
       Back in Cusco, after the civil war ceased, successive Viceroys tried to entice Manco’s successors, with a mixture of material incentives and military threats, into vacating Vilcabamba and coming to Cusco.  Finally, in 1572, Viceroy Francisco Toledo ordered an assault on the last Inca stronghold, deep in the jungles, that successfully captured the young emperor Tupac Amaru.  The expedition brought him back to Cusco, where Toledo had him beheaded in the Plaza de Armas.
12-sided stone on Hatun Rumiyoc Street
       With the Inca threat permanently extinguished, the transformation of Cusco accelerated.  It had already started around Plaza de Armas with the construction of the Church of the Triumph.  In 1559 work commenced on the building of a cathedral, which incorporated the earlier church as an annex, on the foundations of the palace of Viracocha, one of the most illustrious Inca emperors. 
       To construct their own houses, churches and administrative buildings the Spanish demolished existing Inca structures and re-employed the stones.  Unfortunately, none of the conquistadores left detailed drawings of the original palaces, fortresses and temples.  But from the existing wall segments, foundations and ruins elsewhere in the Valley of the Incas, they featured walls of interlocking stone blocks.
Church and Convent of Santo Domingo
The Spanish chroniclers of that time all expressed their admiration and amazement.  It was no wonder.  Inca masons were the best in the world.  They cut and polished huge blocks of stone that fit tightly together without mortar.  They cut some with extra corners and fit them next to other irregular blocks in complex polygonal patterns.  This technique prevented the walls from tumbling down during earthquakes.
       Besides the former Incas’ palaces, one of the prime sources for building material was the fortress at Sacsayhuaman.  Now that the Inca threat had been eradicated, and more colonists were arriving from Spain, the settlers, using conscripted Indian laborers, raided Sacsayhuman for stone.  Workers had to transport the stone down the mountain to Cusco, break it up and make stone bricks more suitable for a Spanish-style building. 
conquistador on a Cusco house
St. Michael the Rifleman
       They didn’t take everything, of course, for the blocks on the main walls, some weighing up to 300 tons, were too big.  As a result, Sacsayhuaman today is one of the prime tourist attractions of Cusco and the best place to appreciate the skills of Inca stonemasons.  
balconies and colonnades--the Cusco style
       What the Spanish did not appreciate was the general shape and style of the buildings.  They were used to a very different architectural legacy.  So they set out to recreate Spain in America.  The cathedral, finally completed in 1654, was in the Gothic-Renaissance style.  Meanwhile, the Jesuits built their own church on another side of the square, over the foundations of the palace of Huayna Capac, the Inca emperor who died a few years before the Spanish arrived.  This was in what has been called the colonial Baroque style, with a big domed vestibule in the rear.  It was intentionally designed to be more ornate than the cathedral, which prompted the Archbishop of Cusco to complain to the Pope.  But by the time the appeal reached the Vatican and the reply came back, by slow ship, of course, the Jesuits had already completed their building and no one demanded they take it down.
plaque on a house built in 1697
       Today both churches are both filled on Sundays and are major tourist attractions in the city.  One can argue over which building is aesthetically more pleasing, but the interior of the cathedral is definitely more richly embellished, with carved wooden altars and lots of gold and silver furnishings, courtesy of religious patrons enriched by the exploitation of the gold and silver nines in the colonies. 
       Portraits of Cusco’s colonial bishops hang from the walls, as well as numerous paintings of the Cusco School of art, which dominated painting styles throughout the colonial era.  The subjects were religious and didactic, intended to instruct Indian converts, and so sometimes included local Peruvian motifs.  For example, in a portrait of the Last Supper, Jesus and the apostles dine on guinea pig, an Andean specialty.  Another popular theme was that of warrior angels, dressed like Spanish nobles and carrying firearms, like the archangel St Michael the Rifleman.
       The Spanish also converted the Temple of the Sun into the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo.  In this case, unlike the churches around Plaza de Armas, they used much of the original walls and foundation, though concealing it behind an added exterior façade.  As a result it withstood the 1650 earthquake that delayed completion of the cathedral and knocked down the Church of la Merced.  Three centuries later, a 1950 earthquake damaged those exteriors and revealed the Inca stone foundations.  Now the church is a tourist attraction for its combination of Inca and colonial architectural elements.
bread sellers on Hatun Rumiyoc
typical Cusco architecture
       Besides the churches, the Spanish surrounded the Plaza de Armas with colonnaded stone arcades.  They extended this to some of the streets radiating from the square, which became the colonists’ main residential neighborhoods.  Colonists from Spain, the only ones officially allowed, continued to arrive in the 17th and 18th centuries, though not in overwhelming numbers.  Yet until the late 18th century, though Lima had been the capital of Peru since shortly after the Conquest, Cusco was the most populous city on the continent.  The numbers, however, were not very large back then—less than 7000.
colonial -ra building on Plaza de Armas, now the Bagdad Cafe
       Nowadays over 400.000 people live in Cusco.  Yet it’s far from the kind of congested, traffic jam city one would expect from those numbers.  Cusco has been a World Heritage Site since 1983 and city authorities have taken great pains to preserve everything that made it worthy of the award.  Most travelers see Cusco as a stopover on the way to Machu Picchu.  Those with time to linger longer in Cusco, though, will find their time well spent.  Just about every street in the city is interesting, for one reason or another.
       Many streets run uphill, so sometimes it’s the view of the hills and the settlements that crawl up them.  Sometimes it’s a plaque on the outside of a house wall marking the date of construction or of a proud conquistador.  Or one could pass by an iron door from the 17th century, with a knocker featuring an Inca-style godhead.  On some streets the houses are all whitewashed.  On others they are in pastel colors.  But most use orange tiles for the roof, giving a kind of uniformity to the city when viewed from above.    
the handicrafts market at theChurch of la Merced
       One of the streets, just east of the cathedral, called Hatun Rumiyoc (Street of the Big Stone in Quechua) features an extant portion of the original long walls of the palace of the Inca Roca.  The rest of the palace was demolished and replaced by the archbishop’s residence.  This street is the easiest place in Cusco to marvel at the skills of Inca stonemasons.  The Big Stone of the street’s name is a block with twelve distinct corners, fitted snugly into the polygonal pattern of the walls.  This is the most famous stone in Inca architecture, the only one with that many sidess.  But the walls here, like Sacsayhuaman’s, have many blocks of six, seven and eight corners.
       Another delight in wandering the streets of Cusco is the preponderance of carved wooden balconies on the upper floors the buildings.  They could be painted blue, yellow or green, or left in the original dark or light brown color of the wood.  The best exhibit lush, intricately carved vegetative patterns.  Some are small, suitable for one or two people, with a carved railing.  Others are enclosed by a full screen.  Some houses have two or three small balconies, spaced evenly apart.  Or there could be a single balcony as long as the width of the building.  Most of these types now serve as dining areas for the restaurants the buildings have become, especially around the Plaza de Armas.
north of Plaza de Armas and San Cristobal Church
       The advantage of sitting in one of these balconies for a meal or a drink is the view of the street action below.  Much of this will involve tourists wandering around, but the city also has a strong indigenous flavor, with Andean Indians, the women dressed in voluminous skirts and round hats, also in the streets and markets, llamas in tow, adding color to the scene. 
       Some of them live in Cusco and run stalls in the central covered market and handicraft stalls in the open-air market next to the Church of la Merced.  Among the items on sale here are scarves, sweaters, caps and ponchos made from alpaca wool, Pan pipes and other musical instruments, jewelry of all kinds, ceramic reproductions of classic, pre-Conquest pottery, wood sculptures, religious paraphernalia, carved gourds, alpaca bone flutes and chess sets with pieces of conquistadores on one side and Incas on the other.
     The scene exemplifies the historical and cultural fusion of contemporary Cusco.  Native merchants, descendants of those who survived the trauma of conquest and colonialism, sell their still appreciated handicrafts in the shadows of the church representing the imposed religion of the Europeans.  It’s all part of Cusco’s charm.

Cusco street on the edge of the city
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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Dali to Jianchuan: Other Lakes, Other Bai

                                               by Jim Goodman

kilns on the road above Dengchuan
       Of all the places inhabited by Yunnan’s Bai minority nationality, Dali draws by far the most attention.  An historic city itself, former capital of the ancient Kingdoms of Nanzhao and Dali,  it lies on a narrow, north-south plain, bound on the east by the 42 km-long Erhai Lake and on the west by the 19 peaks of the Azure Mountains.  Ancient pagodas and monuments, old temples, Bai-style architecture, traditional rural and lakeside villages and the superb scenery all entice one to extended exploration.  And travelers can easily observe traditional minority life just by wandering around in the Bai villages north of the old town.
West Lake, Eryuan County
       For most travelers, that’s about the only exposure they will have to Bai culture.  Their next stop north is Lijiang, via the new highway running NNE via Heqing.  A few may venture to Shaxi, in Jinachuan County, and take the old route to Lijiang directly north through Eryuan County.  But they will not stop at Eryuan city, for it is off the main road, and will dogleg south to Shaxi well before reaching Jianchuan city.  Thus, most of Eryuan and Jianchiuan Counties remains relatively unknown territory.
Bai villagers on the water at West Lake
       Admittedly, the scenery is not as spectacular, for none of the mountains to the west crest over 4000 meters, as a few near Dali do.   The lakes are smaller, mostly to the west of the road, and certainly not appropriate for the big tour boats that cruise on Erhai.  Because they are smaller, though, they are community lakes, used by the adjacent villages as fish sources.  With their fishing and farming, their market days and religious holidays, the Bai in these two counties practice a lifestyle every bit as traditional as the villages around Dali.
      The old route 214 north of Dali crosses into Eryuan County just before the northern tip of Erhai Lake.  The northernmost section of the lake, including Shuanglang on the other side and Shaping, the popular market day village, are part of this county.  Just beyond the lake the road dips into Dengchuan, known for the milk cows raised here.  Most of the milk goes to the Dengchuan Milk Powder Factory, which turns out a number of products, among them the popular snack called ‘cheese fan.’  Made from fermented milk, shaped like a fan about 18 cm long and 5 cm wide, dried and served crisp, it is sold on the streets of Dali and in the markets of Dengchuan, Eryuan and beyond.
Eryuan old quarter
       After crossing a stream in Dengchuan, the one running from West Lake to Erhai, the road rises again, passes a long line of kilns and moves into the countryside, flanking the Er River.  This river begins in the northwest part of the county (hence its name Eryuan—source of the Er) and is one of the main feeders of Erhai Lake.  A little further on is the town of Yousuo, where a dirt road to the left leads to West Lake, the first of the county’s three charming bodies of water.
       It’s about a 20-minute walk to the lake, across a flat plain of farms and villages, with mountains rising majestically behind.  The houses are in the Bai style common around Dali, likewise behind whitewashed walled compounds, and the women dress similarly.  West Lake village is on the northeast side of the lake and virtually every house has a small boat.  The lake is less than four square km and not very deep, averaging 1.5 meters.  Villagers paddle or pole themselves out onto the water to fish or to dip buckets to scoop up some of the lakebed mud to use as fertilizer for the fields.  They also gather water chestnuts and a kind of edible moss from the lake.
Eryuan Bai girl
       In recent years Dali entrepreneurs have set up West Lake as a day’s tourist excursion.  A ticket booth stands near the start of the village, with an entrance fee of 120 yuan.  But those not interested in a short boat ride, Dali Bai dance show or buying Dali handicrafts from the little market inside can walk past the ticket booth and stroll into the village instead.
       All the lanes seem to end in a lakeside house or go back out to the fields, though.  There doesn’t seem to be a way to circumambulate the lake on any kind of fixed path.  That could change, however, as a result of ‘tourism development.’
       Further up Route 214, but several kilometers off to the west, is Eryuan city, 73 km north of Dali, the biggest in the county, originally known as Jade Lake.  It lies in a partly secluded valley, hardly visible from the turn-off, backed by high mountains, with villages on all sides.  Though slightly higher and further north than Dali, it has a milder climate because the surrounding mountains shield Eryuan Valley from the cold winds coming down from the Azure Mountains.  Two decades ago traditional houses dominated, especially in the western part, where the weekly market day took place.  It has modernized quite a lot since then, but the villages are still mostly unaffected. 
Eryuan market day
       Bai women dress much the same as in Dali, with a side-fastened vest over a long-sleeved blouse, trousers, apron and bonnet.  The younger women don a different headdress, though, with an embroidered band across the front and pompoms tied to the top.  They also tend not to dress in white like the Dali girls, but wear red or green vests and dark aprons and trousers. 
       Besides the mountains, Eryuan’s main physical attraction is the small lake about two kilometers past the city’s northern suburbs.  About six km long and averaging two km in width and eleven meters in depth, its jade-green waters supposedly originated with a legendary visit by the Emperor Jianwen in the Ming Dynasty.  He was out on the lake in his boat, enjoying the mountain scenery all around, but disappointed in the muddy color of the lake’s water. 
Cibi Lake
       Then he heard the moving song of a Bai woman in her fishing boat.  Catching up to her in his own vessel, he asked her to sing again.  Equally affected by this second song, he decided to give her a souvenir of the occasion and removed a jade ornament from his fan.  But when he reached over to hand it to her he dropped it into the lake.  The waters suddenly frothed up and spewed and then settled, leaving the lake a clear, jade-green color.  It became known as Jade Lake or Green Lake afterwards.
       Nowadays it’s called Cibi Lake, after the cibi flower, a local species related to the water lily that grows in the shallower parts of the lake.  In the summer months it blooms and the white blossoms mottle the lake surface.  At other seasons other flowers lie in the offshore water.  A restaurant stands on the shore nearest the villages, but tour boats are rare, only local fishermen row out on the lake.  The shallowest part has been bordered by nets and turned into a fishpond.  A road runs around the perimeter of the lake, but it takes several hours to walk it.  
Haixihai Reservoir, Eryuan County
       Buge Mountain rises sharply to the west of Cibi Lake.  At the Longwang Temple at its base the Eryuan Bai celebrate a festival on the 23rd day of the 6th lunar month, the day before the Torch Festival in Dali.  They don’t celebrate that event themselves, but may visit Dali during its Third Month Fair and Shaping for the Mid-Autumn Festival.  The Bai in Eryuan have their own specific festivals, like the Farm Tool Fair the 15th day of the 2nd lunar month, as well as Yinyinwu, in Fengyu village the 5th day of the 1st lunar month.
       Yinyinwu is a festival designed to strengthen relationships between children and their elders.   Because this is a magical day, the older generation pays special attention to what the children say, for it might have some hidden significance.  Groups of children march around to the houses and the elders welcome them with firecrackers and send them off with gifts.
new Bai houses in Jianchuan
       Returning to Route 214, the road north continues along the same kind of landscape, with scattered villages in low, rolling hills, with higher mountains to the west than to the east.  In Niujie district, the last in the county, west of the road lies the picturesque Haixihai Reservoir.  A little larger than West Lake, it sprawls next to a gently rising hill, with a traditional village on its east bank.  Reservoirs are artificial creations, of course, but at least here the engineers picked a pretty location. 
       From here the road ascends into the hills again, enters Jianchuan County and then winds down to the town of Diannan and the Heihui River.  At a junction just past the town, one road follows the Heihui south to Shaxi, while the main route 214 branches north to Jianchuan.  This valley, the last major Bai population center along the route north of Dali, is at 2200 meters altitude, about 200 meters higher than Erhai Lake and subject to cold winds in the winter from the snow peaks northwest of the county.
       The name Jianchuan means Sword Plain, either after its general shape or because it was an ancient military camp.  In the 8th century the valley was the last refuge for people from further south who were resisting the expansion of the Nanzhao Kingdom, which finally conquered Jianchuan in 794.   The inhabitants today are predominantly Bai, but speak a dialect difficult for villagers around Erhai Lake to understand.  Like the Bai in Eryuan, the women dress slightly differently and the people celebrate a couple of their own unique festivals, both honoring children.
Jianfeng Pavilion
Jainchuan old quarter street
         On the 15th day of the first lunar month Jianchuan Bai honor a child-bride who drowned herself to avoid marriage.  Young girls parade behind her portrait, a reminder not to mistreat daughters.  On the 8th day of the 2nd moon they stage the Festival of Enhancing Children's Appetites.  This originated with a popular revolt against another custom long ago.  This was the day operas were staged at the Temple of the God of Letters.  The rich folks wielded whips to keep the children in line.  One year the parents refused to let their children attend.  Instead, as today, they prepared special food for them and dispatched them for a picnic in the woods.
       The other major festival specific to the county happens full moon day of the sixth lunar month at Sword Lake, close to Diannan.  This is the main natural attraction in the area, 15 km in circumference and about 8 square km in surface area.  Its depth averages four meters, but is quite shallow near the southern shore, where lines of nets stand in the water and fishermen pole their small boats to cast lines.  On this day people walk around the lake, or at least along part of it, meet friends and stop for picnics.  In the evening as the moon rises, young couples take boats out on the lake and the festival is also popularly known as Lovers’ Rendezvous.
Bai footwear stall on market day
Jianchuan Bai layered bonnet
      Jianchuan itself, 7 km further, was originally called Jinhua—Golden Flower—and was famous for its wooden furniture.  Skilled craftsmen produced elegant, carved pieces to supply the homes of the elite everywhere from Dali to Lijiang.  In the old days, before trucks, the Bai, both men and women, transported the tables, beds, cabinets, chests and so forth on foot, on their backs, supported by a head-strap.
       Local skills are still alive.  Homes in the old quarter exhibit numerous examples and shops in the northern neighborhoods still market furniture and statues.  Modern buildings fill the spaces beside the route through the city, but traditional houses characterize the western, older half.  Here are brick streets along a stream, stately old trees, an occasional pagoda and the lovely Jianfeng Temple, featuring a three-tiered, octagonal, Qing Dynasty pavilion.
copper ware for sale in Jianchuan
Jianchuan Bai woman in the market
       Jianchuan Bai women wear the same Bai vests, blouses, aprons and trousers as the Bai of Eryuan and Dali, but the bonnet is unique.  It has several layers of brightly colored stiff cloth comprising the lower half.  North of the city, closer to Lijiang Naxi Prefecture, some women dress in Bai outfits, but also don a Naxi-style women’s cape.  As with other Bai, the younger women tend to wear brighter vests of red or green and the older women prefer blue and black.
      Two years ago a new highway opened connecting Jianchuan to Dali and reducing the journey to less than two hours.  That puts the city in the range of a day-trip out of either Dali or Lijiang.  So now travelers are more frequently stopping there to enjoy its assets.  Hopefully, the increased attention and appreciation of Jianchuan’s special features will inspire its people to maintain them.
Sword Lake, Jianchuan County
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