CHAPTER VI. The Vilcanota Country and the Peruvian Highlanders
As we went down the valley the evidences of extensive cultivation, both ancient and modern, steadily increased. Great numbers of old terraces were to be seen. There were many fields of wheat, some of them growing high up on the mountain side in what are called temporales, where, owing to the steep slope, there is little effort at tillage or cultivation, the planter trusting to luck to get some kind of a crop in reward for very little effort. On April 14th, just above Sicuani, we saw fields where habas beans had been gathered and the dried stalks piled in little stacks. At Occobamba, or the pampa where oca grows, we found fields of that useful tuber, just now ripening. Near by were little thatched shelters, erected for the temporary use of night watchmen during the harvest season.
The Peruvian highlanders whom we met by the roadside were different in feature, attitude, and clothing from those of the Titicaca Basin or even of Santa Rosa, which is not far away. They were typical Quichuas - peaceful agriculturists - usually spinning wool on the little hand spindles which have been used in the Andes from time immemorial. Their huts are built of adobe, the roofs thatched with coarse grass.
The Quichuas are brown in color. Their hair is straight and black. Gray hair is seldom seen. It is the custom among the men in certain localities to wear their hair long and braided. Beards are sparse or lacking. Bald heads are very rare. Teeth seem to be more enduring than with us. Throughout the Andes the frequency of well-preserved teeth was everywhere noteworthy except on sugar plantations, where there is opportunity to indulge freely in crude brown sugar nibbled from cakes or mixed with parched corn and eaten as a travel ration.
The Quichua face is broad and short. Its breadth is nearly the same as the Eskimo. Freckles are not common and appear to be limited to face and arms, in the few cases in which they were observed. On the other hand, a large proportion of the Indians are pock-marked and show the effects of living in a country which is "free from medical tyranny." There is no compulsory vaccination.
One hardly ever sees a fat Quichua. It is difficult to tell whether this is a racial characteristic or due rather to the lack of fat-producing foods in their diet. Although the Peruvian highlander has made the best use he could of the llama, he was never able to develop its slender legs and weak back sufficiently to use it for loads weighing more than eighty or a hundred pounds. Consequently, for the carrying of really heavy burdens he had to depend on himself. As a result, it is not surprising to learn from Dr. Ferris that while his arms are poorly developed, his shoulders are broader, his back muscles stronger, and the calves of his legs larger and more powerful than those of almost any other race.
The Quichuas are fond of shaking hands. When a visiting Indian joins a group he nearly always goes through the gentle ceremony with each person in turn. I do not know whether this was introduced by the Spaniards or comes down from prehistoric times. In any event, this handshaking in no way resembles the hearty clasp familiar to undergraduates at the beginning of the college year. As a matter of fact the Quichua handshake is extremely fishy and lacks cordiality. In testing the hand grip of the Quichuas by a dynamometer our surgeons found that the muscles of the forearm were poorly developed in the Quichua and the maximum grip was weak in both sexes, the average for the man being only about half of that found among American white adults of sedentary habits.
Dr. Ales Hrdlicka believes that the aboriginal races of North and South America were of the same stock. The wide differences in physiognomy observable among the different tribes in North and South America are perhaps due to their environmental history during the past 10,000 or 20,000 years. Mr. Frank Chapman, of the American Museum of Natural History, has pointed out the interesting biological fact that animals and birds found at sea level in the cold regions of Tierra del Fuego, while not found at sea level in Peru, do exist at very high altitudes, where the climate is similar to that with which they are acquainted. Similarly, it is interesting to learn that the inhabitants of the cold, lofty regions of southern Peru, living in towns and villages at altitudes of from 9000 to 14,000 feet above the sea, have physical peculiarities closely resembling those living at sea level in Tierra del Fuego, Alaska, and Labrador. Dr. Ferris says the Labrador Eskimo and the Quichua constitute the two "best-known short-stature races on the American continent."
So far as we could learn by questions and observation, about one quarter of the Quichuas are childless. In families which have children the average number is three or four. Large families are not common, although we generally learned that the living children in a family usually represented less than half of those which had been born. Infant mortality is very great. The proper feeding of children is not understood and it is a marvel how any of them manage to grow up at all.