CHAPTER VI. The Vilcanota Country and the Peruvian Highlanders
Near the Santa Rosa trees is a tall bell-tower. The sight of a picturesque belfry with four or five bells of different sizes hanging each in its respective window makes a strong appeal. It is quite otherwise on Sunday mornings when these same bells, "out of tune with themselves," or actually cracked, are all rung at the same time. The resulting clangor and din is unforgettable. I presume the Chinese would say it was intended to drive away the devils - and surely such noise must be "thoroughly uncongenial even to the most irreclaimable devil," as Lord Frederick Hamilton said of the Canton practices. Church bells in the United States and England are usually sweet-toned and intended to invite the hearer to come to service, or else they ring out in joyous peals to announce some festive occasion. There is nothing inviting or joyous about the bells in southern Peru. Once in a while one may hear a bell of deep, sweet tone, like that of the great bell in Cuzco, which is tolled when the last sacrament is being administered to a dying Christian; but the general idea of bell-ringers in this part of the world seems to be to make the greatest possible amount of racket and clamor. On popular saints' days this is accompanied by firecrackers, aerial bombs, and other noise-making devices which again remind one of Chinese folkways. Perhaps it is merely that fundamental fondness for making a noise which is found in all healthy children.
On Sunday afternoon the plaza of Santa Rosa was well filled with Quichua holiday-makers, many of whom had been imbibing freely of chicha, a mild native brew usually made from ripe corn. The crowd was remarkably good-natured and given to an unusual amount of laughter and gayety. For them Sunday is truly a day of rest, recreation, and sociability. On week days, most of them, even the smaller boys, are off on the mountain pastures, watching the herds whose wool brings prosperity to Santa Rosa. One sometimes finds the mountain Indians on Sunday afternoon sodden, thoroughly soaked with chicha, and inclined to resent the presence of inquisitive strangers; not so these good folk of Santa Rosa.
To be sure, the female vendors of eggs, potatoes, peppers, and sundry native vegetables, squatting in two long rows on the plaza, did not enjoy being photographed, but the men and boys crowded eagerly forward, very much interested in my endeavors. Some of the Indian alcaldes, local magistrates elected yearly to serve as the responsible officials for villages or tribal precincts, were very helpful and, armed with their large, silver-mounted staffs of office, tried to bring the shy, retiring women of the market-place to stand in a frightened, disgruntled, barefooted group before the camera. The women were dressed in the customary tight bodices, heavy woolen skirts, and voluminous petticoats of the plateau. Over their shoulders were pinned heavy woolen shawls, woven on hand looms. On their heads were reversible "pancake" hats made of straw, covered on the wet-weather side with coarse woolen stuff and on the fair-weather side with tinsel and velveteen. In accordance with local custom, tassels and fringes hung down on both sides. It is said that the first Inca ordered the dresses of each village to be different, so that his officials might know to which tribe an Indian belonged. It was only with great difficulty and by the combined efforts of a good-natured priest, the gobernador or mayor, and the alcaldes that a dozen very reluctant females were finally persuaded to face the camera. The expression of their faces was very eloquent. Some were highly indignant, others looked foolish or supercilious, two or three were thoroughly frightened, not knowing what evil might befall them next. Not one gave any evidence of enjoying it or taking the matter as a good joke, although that was the attitude assumed by all their male acquaintances. In fact, some of the men were so anxious to have their pictures taken that they followed us about and posed on the edge of every group.
Men and boys all wore knitted woolen caps, with ear flaps, which they seldom remove either day or night. On top of these were large felt hats, turned up in front so as to give a bold aspect to their husky wearers. Over their shoulders were heavy woolen ponchos, decorated with bright stripes. Their trousers end abruptly halfway between knee and ankle, a convenient style for herdsmen who have to walk in the long, dewy grasses of the plateau. These "high-water" pantaloons do not look badly when worn with sandals, as is the usual custom; but since this was Sunday all the well-to-do men had put on European boots, which did not come up to the bottom of their trousers and produced a singular effect, hardly likely to become fashionable.
The prosperity of the town was also shown by corrugated iron roofs. Far less picturesque than thatch or tile, they require less attention and give greater satisfaction during the rainy season. They can also be securely bolted to the rafters. On this wind-swept plateau we frequently noticed that a thatched roof was held in place by ropes passed over the house and weights resting on the roof. Sometimes to the peak of a gable are fastened crosses, tiny flags, or the skulls of animals - probably to avert the Evil Eye or bring good luck. Horseshoes do not seem to be in demand. Horses' skulls, however, are deemed very efficacious.