One upon a time, about a thousand years ago, a vibrant tribe of people, lived a simple life in the Alticama of southern Peru, the driest desert on earth. We call them the Chiribaya, but locals, who knew where their remains were, called them the gentle spirits and left them to rest in peace. There was gold and other precious metals in the sandy hills where they lived, but they left them un-mined. They were afraid that the Aztecs and Mayans who lived nearby, might attack them for their riches. It is amazing to think that a group of more than 20,000 people agreed to not be greedy, leave the riches untouched so they could live in peace.
Local people who now live in that area knew about them because they placed their dead in sand holes, sitting crossed legged and upright, with a bundle beside them containing what they would need for the afterlife.
The bodies were preserved by a salty chemical in the dry sand. Years later, the sand shifted so modern people knew where to go and archaeologists came to study them.
Dr. Sonya Guillen, a Peruvian archeologist and anthropologist got the job of heading the study of the Chiribaya, who are the ancestors of modern Peruvians. I went down there with a photographer and we followed her for three weeks as she worked. Here’s what I learned:
The Chiribayans live on the sand mountains of the Alticama. They had to communicate directly with each other, which meant that they had to walk all over the mountains. This isn’t easy because I tried it. I discovered that dry sand on a hill is very slippery.
They dug holes in the sand for their homes, shoring up the walls with planks. They ate vegetables grown in the soggy land along a small streambed. What they did revere was their ancestors, who taught them how to live and thrive in harsh conditions. Their bundles contained a llama blanket (because the desert was cold at night), painted pottery, food, beer or wine, bowls with vegetable or Llama meat stew, llama shirts, all signs that they lived in comfort.
I learned you don’t need computers, video games or television to define luxury; peace, whalebone flutes, and a nightly carpet of stars on an azure blue sky will do just fine.
Trish Marx has authored some terrific nonfiction titles. Check out Everglades Forever for some more high interest reading about animal behavior.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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