CHAPTER VIII. The Oldest City in South America
Cuzco, the oldest city in South America, has changed completely since Squier's visit. In fact it has altered considerably since my own first impressions of it were published in "Across South America." To be sure, there are still the evidences of antiquity to be seen on every side; on the other hand there are corresponding evidences of advancement. Telephones, electric lights, street cars, and the "movies" have come to stay. The streets are cleaner. If the modern traveler finds fault with some of the conditions he encounters he must remember that many of the achievements of the people of ancient Cuzco are not yet duplicated in his own country nor have they ever been equaled in any other part of the world. And modern Cuzco is steadily progressing. The great square in front of the cathedral was completely metamorphosed by Prefect Nunez in 1911; concrete walks and beds of bright flowers have replaced the market and the old cobblestone paving and made the plaza a favorite promenade of the citizens on pleasant evenings.
The principal market-place now is the Plaza of San Francisco. It is crowded with booths of every description. Nearly all of the food-stuffs and utensils used by the Indians may be bought here. Frequently thronged with Indians, buying and selling, arguing and jabbering, it affords, particularly in the early morning, a never-ending source of entertainment to one who is fond of the picturesque and interested in strange manners and customs.
The retail merchants of Cuzco follow the very old custom of congregating by classes. In one street are the dealers in hats; in another those who sell coca. The dressmakers and tailors are nearly all in one long arcade in a score or more of dark little shops. Their light seems to come entirely from the front door. The occupants are operators of American sewing-machines who not only make clothing to order, but always have on hand a large assortment of standard sizes and patterns. In another arcade are the shops of those who specialize in everything which appeals to the eye and the pocketbook of the arriero: richly decorated halters, which are intended to avert the Evil Eye from his best mules; leather knapsacks in which to carry his coca or other valuable articles; cloth cinches and leather bridles; rawhide lassos, with which he is more likely to make a diamond hitch than to rope a mule; flutes to while away the weary hours of his journey, and candles to be burned before his patron saint as he starts for some distant village; in a word, all the paraphernalia of his profession.
In order to learn more about the picturesque Quichuas who throng the streets of Cuzco it was felt to be important to secure anthropometric measurements of a hundred Indians. Accordingly, Surgeon Nelson set up a laboratory in the Hotel Central. His subjects were the unwilling victims of friendly gendarmes who went out into the streets with orders to bring for examination only pure-blooded Quichuas. Most of the Indians showed no resentment and were in the end pleased and surprised to find themselves the recipients of a small silver coin as compensation for loss of time.
One might have supposed that a large proportion of Dr. Nelson's subjects would have claimed Cuzco as their native place, but this was not the case. Actually fewer Indians came from the city itself than from relatively small towns like Anta, Huaracondo, and Maras. This may have been due to a number of causes. In the first place, the gendarmes may have preferred to arrest strangers from distant villages, who would submit more willingly. Secondly, the city folk were presumably more likely to be in their shops attending to their business or watching their wares in the plaza, an occupation which the gendarmes could not interrupt. On the other hand it is also probably true that the residents of Cuzco are of more mixed descent than those of remote villages, where even to-day one cannot find more than two or three individuals who speak Spanish. Furthermore, the attention of the gendarmes might have been drawn more easily to the quaintly caparisoned Indians temporarily in from the country, where city fashions do not prevail, than to those who through long residence in the city had learned to adopt a costume more in accordance with European notions. In 1870, according to Squier, seven eighths of the population of Cuzco were still pure Indian. Even to-day a large proportion of the individuals whom one sees in the streets appears to be of pure aboriginal ancestry. Of these we found that many are visitors from outlying villages. Cuzco is the Mecca of the most densely populated part of the Andes.
Probably a large part of its citizens are of mixed Spanish and Quichua ancestry. The Spanish conquistadores did not bring European women with them. Nearly all took native wives. The Spanish race is composed of such an extraordinary mixture of peoples from Europe and northern Africa, Celts, Iberians, Romans, and Goths, as well as Carthaginians, Berbers, and Moors, that the Hispanic peoples have far less antipathy toward intermarriage with the American race than have the Anglo-Saxons and Teutons of northern Europe. Consequently, there has gone on for centuries intermarriage of Spaniards and Indians with results which are difficult to determine. Some writers have said there were once 200,000 people in Cuzco. With primitive methods of transportation it would be very difficult to feed so many. Furthermore, in 1559, there were, according to Montesinos, only 20,000 Indians in Cuzco.