El Perú en sus tradiciones
en su historia
en sus artes

The Manuscript

Snippet19.pngThe anonymous and undated manuscript presented here incorporates numerous photographs, post cards, clippings from print media, and detailed hand-drawn illustrations as it traces an often fragmentary narrative stretching from pre-Columbian times to the early 20th century.  This 133-page multimedia scrapbook, with gilt-edged pages and bound in leather, incorporates more than 160 distinct visual objects, almost all of which are embellished in the text with ornate hand-drawn decorative frames.

El Perú en sus tradiciones, en su historia, en sus artes draws on a wealth of material from early colonial sources up to the work of 19th- and early 20th-century historians, ethnographers, and archaeologists. Much of this material is liberally copied without acknowledgement of original sources in the manuscript. Where possible, such borrowings of source material have been identified in footnotes.

The dense patchwork of images and texts comprising El Perú en sus tradiciones, en su historia, en sus artes signals a text in constant dialogue with a host of national narratives that emerged following Peruvian independence (1821), and which continued to be debated and reformulated during the centennial celebrations by contending political and social groups through the turbulent decade of the 1920s, coinciding with the so-called oncenio de Leguía, the eleven-year period (1919 to 1930) of Augusto Bernardino Leguía’s second dictatorial presidency. It is during this period in which, based on internal evidence, El Perú was most likely produced.

The manuscript ultimately poses many difficult-to-answer questions surrounding provenance, intended use, date, and authorship.

With regard to provenance, the text may have arrived at Villanova University through the Augustinian missions in Peru, but no document to confirm such an hypothesis has yet come to light.

Similarly uncertain remains the proposed purpose of this manuscript, although the exceptional care with which it was prepared may suggest that it was intended as a gift. Its excellent state of preservation implies that it was not heavily used, which may lend further weight to the idea that it was likely not a book prepared for private study but may rather have been a gift whose elevated value as an aesthetic object ultimately trumped its potential utility as a source for historical or anthropological information about Peru.

Snippet51.pngWith respect to the manuscript’s dating, the latest internal date identified in the course of this project is 1924, based on sources cited within the manuscript (see p. 119). As is evident in the footnotes of this edition, an elevated number of the sources cited in the manuscript in fact date from the first two decades of the 20th century or the latter two decades of the 19th century. Nevertheless, none of the print sources that we have been able to identify so far were published after 1924. This of course does not preclude a later production date for the manuscript, but the absence of citations or references to historical events after 1924 does seem to confirm the theory that the manuscript was likely produced toward the second half of the 1920s. Both the quality and the content of the visual material in the manuscript lend further weight to this provisional assumption.

Concerning the identity of the author, we are confronted with a similar scarcity of information, although it may be affirmed that the author espouses a notably positive view of the role of the Catholic Church in Peruvian society and dedicates a significant portion of the third section of the manuscript (“Época Colonial”) to the description of sanctuaries and churches in Peru. In its treatment of indigenous history, the work also embraces a view that underscores the sublime value of Inca history as a useful element in the construction of a national narrative while tacitly ignoring the place of contemporary indigenous peoples in Peru. This notion of “Incas sí, indios no,” as Cecilia Mendez G. has shown, constitutes a fundamental tenet of broad criollo nationalism in Peru.1 The text’s positive valuation of the role of the clergy and the Church, its monumental (and monumentalizing) view of the national past, and its occlusion of the indigenous present suggest that the author of this text was affiliated not with the contemporary leftist circles of thinkers like Manuel González Prada, Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, or José Carlos Mariátegui, but rather likely moved in circles more in line with right-leaning writers such as José de la Riva-Agüero, whose work is in fact cited in the manuscript (p. 45). The accumulation of 19th-century sources in the El Perú also lends an occasionally retrograde, positivistic tone to the text, particularly in its description of the culture, history, biology, language, archaeology, and architecture of pre-Incan peoples, routinely framed in the manuscript from within the Sarmientian dichotomy of civilización and barbarie.

Despite such observations, however, little remains known in concrete about who exactly may have produced this manuscript, when it was produced, for what purpose, or how precisely it came to rest in Special Collections at Villanova University. Ultimately, aside from its clear value as an aesthetic object, El Perú maps –through text and image– a particular way of reading and seeing the nation during the centennial celebrations of Peru’s independence, and as such, it constitutes a valuable source for approaching the social and intellectual history of Perú.

1 Mendez G, Cecilia, “Incas Si, Indios No: Notes on Peruvian Creole Nationalism and Its Contemporary Crisis,” Journal of Latin American Studies 28.1 (1996): 197-225.