VALLEY OF THE SPIRITS: A Journey into the Lost Realm of the Aymara by Alan L. Kolata

VALLEY OF THE SPIRITS: A Journey into the Lost Realm of the Aymara

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An absorbing introduction to the culture of the Aymara, whose past and present are intimately linked to the landscapes of the high Andes. University of Chicago anthropologist/archaeologist Kolata has been working among the Aymara for two decades on agricultural projects that have captured international attention. His long acquaintance with this hard-working culture of farmers is evident throughout, as Kolata lucidly explains concepts that have guided that society for millennia. For instance, he explains that for the Aymara ""the place of time is inverted. It is the past that is in front of us, visible, knowable, graven in the physical world and in memory. . . . The future, on the other hand, lies behind, invisible and knowable only through ritual specialists trained in the arts of prognostication."" Kolata guides the reader through the Aymara year, writing of seasons of sowing and harvest, of ritual cycles and pilgrimages, and of the small moments of everyday life in marketplaces, pool halls, and homes, giving us telling glimpses of the world in which these people live and removing somewhat their alien qualities--alien, at least, in First World eyes. At the heart of Kolata's book lie his descriptions of the ancient capital of Tiahuanaco, once a sacred city full of temples and stelae and now in ruins. Here Kolata occasionally falls into Indiana Jones--school prose: ""Like all empires,"" he writes, ""Tiahuanaco, in its time, was forsaken by the gods and the ancestors. No amount of sacrificial blood flowing on the great earth shrines of the city would change its fate."" Such lapses are atoned for by Kolata's well-reasoned consideration of the life and death of empires across history, an inexorable cycle of growth and decline. Kolata's clear perceptions and appreciations make this a fine study of a little-known society.

Pub Date: April 5th, 1996
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Wiley