An English translation of the first major Spanish American novel to protest the plight of native peoples.
"I love the native race with a tender love, and so I have observed its customs closely, enchanted by their simplicity, and, as well, the abjection into which this race is plunged by small-town despots, who, while their names may change, never fail to live up to the epithet of tyrants. They are no other than, in general, the priests, governors, caciques, and mayors." So wrote Clorinda Matto de Turner in Aves sin nido, the first major Spanish American novel to protest the plight of native peoples.
First published in 1889, Birds without a Nest drew fiery protests for its unsparing expose of small town officials, judicial authorities, and priests who oppressed the native peoples of Peru. Matto de Turner was excommunicated by the Catholic Church and burned in effigy. Yet her novel was strongly influential; indeed, Peruvian President Andres Avelino Caceres credited it with stimulating him to pursue needed reforms.
In 1904, the novel was published in a bowdlerized English translation with a modified ending. This edition restores the original ending and the translator's omissions. It will be important reading for all students of the indigenous cultures of South America.
- Author's Preface
- Part One
- 1. The Town of Killac
- 2. The Yupanqui Family
- 3. Indian Loans, 500 Per Cent
- 4. White House
- 5. Priest and Governor
- 6. Juan's Return Home
- 7. Fernando's Gift to Lucia
- 8. Danger Ahead
- 9. A Stratagem
- 10. Rosalia Restored
- 11. Doña Petronila
- 12. Marcela Pays the Priest
- 13. Sold to Rochino
- 14. The Plot
- 15. The Assault
- 16. Hope Renewed
- 17. Evil Deeds
- 18. The Indian's Gratefulness
- 19. Melitona Gleaning News
- 20. The Burial of Juan
- 21. Manuel and His Mother
- 22. The Instigators Interviewed
- 23. A Secret Revealed
- 24. A Shot That Missed Its Mark
- 25. Marcela Follows Juan
- 26. The Priest's Confession
- 27. Sebastian's Bad Conscience
- Part Two
- 28. Fernando and the judge
- 29. Manuel, a Good Teacher
- 30. Colonel Paredes
- 31. Tired of Killac
- 32. No Need of a Warrant
- 33. The Wrong One Imprisoned
- 34. Going to Lima
- 35. Father Pascual's Solitude
- 36. Talking It Over
- 37. Fleecing the Indian
- 38. Margarita and Manuel
- 39. Doubts, Fears, and Hopes
- 40. Teodora's Escape
- 41. The Pursuit
- 42. Manuel's Birth Veiled
- 43. The Hide, Then the Flesh
- 44. A Heroine of Love
- 45. One Against Five Thousand
- 46. Fernando Enlightens Lucia
- 47. Martina Visits Isidro
- 48. Fernando's Proposal
- 49. The Departure and Arrest
- 50. Comments
- 51. To the Station
- 52. Manuel Follows
- 53. The Journey by Rail
- 54. The Prisoners Released
- 55. A Terrible Shock
- 56. Grand Imperial Hotel
- 57. The Agate Cross
- 58. Birds without a Nest
Clorinda Matto de Turner (1852-1909; born Grimanesa Martina Matto Usandivares in El Cuzco, Peru is today remembered for her 1889 Aves sin nido (Birds without a Nest: A Story of Indian Lífe and Priestly Oppression in Peru, 1904). This novel, which ignited fiery controversy upon its appearance, declined in reputation during the early twentieth century. However, the novel and its author have in subsequent years earned the appreciation of new audiences. The recent wave of readers shows a greater awareness of Matto's perspective as a woman intellectual in nineteenth-century Peru. New recognition has gone to the feminism that, together with the more obvious protest against the exploitation of Indians and clerical corruption, runs through Birds without a Nest.
Most of the novel's readers today are attracted by the information and insights it provides concerning race, ethnicity, gender, and nineteenth-century progressive thought. Birds without a Nest exercises an appeal similar to that of the fiction of Rosario Castellanos (Mexico, 1925-1974). Both writers are able to reveal simultaneously the relations between Indians and non-Indians and those between women and men, and both bring to their work an unusually close acquaintance with a living indigenous culture. Birds without a Nest is valued and discussed above all as a source of historical and cultural knowledge, the focus of the present foreword. Its novelistic construction has frequently been singled out for its flaws, while only the most negative critic would deny the social and historical significance of Birds without a Nest and its value for students of progressive thought concerning native peoples and women. Luis Mario Schneider summarizes the general judgment: "Birds without a Nest is a work of greater sociological than artistic interest."
Yet its form and style are complex enough to sustain critical discussion. One of the most original and careful studies of Birds without a Nest, by John S. Brushwood, concerns the work's structure. Analyzing the novel's imagery, its narrator, and other features, Brushwood shows the central opposition around which Matto has constructed her best-known work. Though Brushwood is more appreciative of the novel's design than are most critics, he does not argue that Matto exhibited outstanding skill in the organization of her text. Rather, "Clorinda Matto was very aware of the act of making a novel," and Aves sin nido reveals a conscious, efficacious struggle to use the novelist's craft for social ends.
There is some dispute whether Birds without a Nest is the first Spanish American novel in the indigenista subgenre, focusing upon contemporary Indian characters and emphasizing the native community's plight. In the general perception, Matto de Turner's novel stands out as the first indigenista novel. Schneider, noting how common this belief is, reminds readers of earlier Peruvian examples, one nearly contemporary and one from 1848. Nonetheless, he argues that Birds without a Nest is "the first novel in which the Indian is no longer simply used for esthetic purposes and emerges as a social entity, showing the situation of the Indian dominated and exploited by political and clerical power."
It is certainly the first Spanish American novel to electrify a wide audience with episodes in which governmental and clerical authorities take advantage of the native population. While many readers found Birds without a Nest scandalous, it met with acclaim from progressives. In February of 1980, the then-president of Peru, Andrés Avelino Cáceres, wrote Matto a lengthy letter praising Birds without a Nest for its accurate and knowledgeable depiction of social conditions in the sierra of the Andes; he said that the novel had stimulated him in his pursuit of needed reforms.
Birds without a Nest drew fire as well as praise. The Catholic Church, whose small-town parish priests had been characterized as lecherous and corrupt, saw in Matto a dangerous detractor. In 1890, the year after Birds without a Nest appeared, Matto gave the church an opening to retaliate. She was editor of El Perú Ilustrado, Lima's most noted literary review, when it published a short story by Henrique Maximiano Coelho Neto in which Christ was shown as sexually drawn to Mary Magdalene. Not only El Perú Ilustrado but Matto's novel were singled out as defamatory to the church. A controversy broke out, involving a good many of Peru's intellectuals. Before it ended, Matto was excommunicated, forced to resign her editorship, and burned in effigy in El Cuzco and Arequipa; her novel was placed on the Index of Prohibited Books.
Of the novel's several themes, the most evident are its protest over the treatment of the Andean Indians and its criticism of clerical, judicial, and governmental authorities in small towns. Matto's social vision had been formed in great part by the teachings of Manuel González Prada (1848-1918); she and he were both important figures in the progressive intellectual circles of Lima. Aves sin nido is dedicated to this mentor. González Prada was the thinker who, in an influential formulation, characterized the sources of the Indians' oppression as a triad consisting of the judge, the (town) governor, and the priest. Matto states overtly in her preface to the novel that these small-town authorities, wielding the power they do, must be more carefully selected and monitored. In the course of Birds without a Nest, these three types of authorities are repeatedly identified as the sources of corruption and abuse.
Though the novel does not completely specify the measures needed to improve the condition of Peru's Indians, it offers a number of recommendations. Clearly, Matto is trying to bring about not a revolution or restructuring of society but rather reforms within the existing system. These include better schooling and nutrition for Indians, educating non-Indians about the indigenous peoples' situation and culture, and closer oversight of local officials. The novel also advocates the abolition of such abuses as forcing Indians into domestic service and maintaining them in a hopeless state of debt.
One of the novel's characters, the progressive mining administrator Fernando, says that "all Peruvians" must find answers to the plight of native communities. Yet Birds without a Nest makes its plea to certain Peruvians, non-Indian progressives who are in a position to pressure the government and church for reform. In the twentieth century, some readers have faulted Matto's novel for assigning the responsibility for change so heavily to nonIndian reformers. Later approaches to problems facing native communities would envision Indians as more active agents of change. In addition, Birds without a Nest prescribes a specific remedy for clerical lechery. Matto asserts in her preface and demonstrates throughout her novel "the need for a married clergy as a social necessity."
The portraits of native characters constitute one of the great innovations of Birds without a Nest. Of course, the novel is designed to illustrate concepts and, as a result, allows for little ambiguity and subtlety in the depiction of any of its characters. Even given this inherent limitation, the Indian protagonists, and above all two Indian wives and mothers, are differentiated and individualized to a degree previously unknown in the literary treatment of native characters. Matto was clearly seeking to win readers over to the pro-Indian cause with memorable and engaging indigenous characters rather than an oppressed mass. Marcela Yupanqui and Martina Champi stand out for their determination, resourcefulness, and spirited response to crises. Marcela's husband Juan reacts to the same situations with depression and despair. Marcela's daughter Margarita is distinguished by her "singular beauty" and ability to win the heart. Isidro Champi, sexton, bell ringer, and owner of livestock, and his wife Martina are distinguished by an economic and social position above that of the other Indians. However bold, clever, or economically advantaged the Indians may be, though, they are powerless to deal with the authorities.
The non-Indian characters are divided between enlightened progressives, who seek to improve the situation of beleaguered local Indians, and figures of backwardness and exploitation. Many of the good characters have been educated in Lima, seen as the center of enlightened thought; yet one, the boundlessly good-hearted Petronila, embodies an inborn, untutored sense of social justice.
Though they are passionate in their efforts to rescue persecuted and abused Indians, these progressives occasionally exhibit a sober awareness that campaigns on behalf of individuals can never solve the more general problems confronting the native population. As Fernando reflects after learning of a successful struggle to exonerate an unjustly imprisoned Indian, "So you have freed Isidro Champi. Oh! Who will free his entire disinherited race?" To this question, the idealistic young law student Manuel replies, "That is a question that should be asked of all Peruvians, my dear friend...!"
Matto's treatment of the situation of Peru's native population continued to attract controversy over the years. José Carlos Mariátegui (1894-1930), best known for his 1928 Siete ensayos de interpretación de la realidad peruana (Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality, 1971), had a conflict-filled relation with Matto and her celebrated novel. Mariátegui, though of a younger generation than Matto, was also one of the intellectual heirs of Manuel González Prada. While Matto favored educational and reform measures, Mariátegui laid the conceptual outlines for an Andean socialism. Although his Seven Essays includes a discussion of the present state and future of literature on Indian themes, Mariátegui makes no mention of Birds without a Nest, at that time the best-known Peruvian work about Indians. His reasons for omitting Birds without a Nest are not difficult to guess. Matto undisguisedly sought to instill a desire for reform among educated, non-Indian readers. Mariátegui, while obviously also writing for white progressives, advocated a socialist reorganization of Peruvian society. As much of the conceptual underpinning as possible would originate in indigenous social thought, with its strong communitarian emphasis. Though a critic today could scarcely attempt to deny Matto's novel its historical importance and widespread impact, some observers share Mariátegui's uneasiness over its insistence that reforms are the answer. Antonio Cornejo Polar, perhaps the current-day critic best versed in Matto's work, typifies this objection: "Reading Birds without a Nest, one may receive at times the impression that the problems of those who oppress remote towns and the atrocious situation of the Indians could be solved if the town governor, the judge, and the priest would just carry out their obligations."
Mariátegui's deliberate omission of Matto most likely depressed the novel's critical reputation for years. Critics often viewed it as more efficacious advocacy than literature, though it continued to be a popular novel that was regularly reissued. In 1934, Concha Meléndez, in her study of Spanish American novels on Indian themes, gave Birds without a Nest a thoughtful and sympathetic treatment, pointing out how great a step forward it had been in the literary depiction of Indians. Meléndez, who was especially concerned with the situation of women intellectuals, caused an upturn in the critical reputation of Birds without a Nest.
Birds without a Nest is also a feminist novel. Readers have often been struck by the many reflections voiced by both the narrator and the characters concerning the inherent capabilities of women and society's lack of appreciation for them. To understand the novel's feminism, it is necessary to take into account that the feminism of a nineteenth-century Peruvian novel will not correspond in all respects to the international feminism of the late twentieth century.
Birds without a Nest is undeniably favorable to women. While the novel contains several male villains, the women characters are all good. In Matto's novelistic vision, women are more governed by ethics than are men. When Fernando observes that in Peru's small towns "women and men are nothing alike in their behaviour," his wife Lucia adds, "If the women were bad, too, this would be a hell!" Petronila illustrates Matto's concept that women exercise a morally corrective influence upon men, if the latter will only respect their judgment. Petronila is repeatedly seen prodding her vacillating husband, the town governor, to turn away from the corruption and violence toward which he can easily be drawn. Three male characters, Fernando, Manuel, and Gaspar, express the belief that women are quicker-witted than men and possess exceptional talents for guessing others' thoughts and actions. Fernando summarizes the concept: "Women always excel us in insight and imagination." The narrator on several occasions suggests that women are insufficiently valued by both individual men and society in general and that men should express appreciation for women's talents.
Birds without a Nest can easily appear inconsistent in the statements it makes about women's role. Cornejo Polar has complained of its "vague, romantic feminism." Cornejo is disturbed by the novel's sentimental idealization of the angelic wife and mother and the innocent maiden. No doubt many readers have received a shock upon discovering that the novel's only overt allusion to the feminist movement is a disparaging one. The narrator describes the refined heroine Lucia as "leaving to [her husband] the business and turmoil of life and following out the grand ideas of the Spanish writer, which she had read many times, seated at her mother's side: 'Forget, poor women, your dreams of emancipation and liberty. Those are theories of sickly minds which can never be practised, because woman was born to grace the home.'"
At the core of the confusion is the degree of independence women should ideally attain. The narrator rejects those "dreams of emancipation and liberty" that could lead women to neglect the home. Yet the novel subjects to mockery antifeminist rhetoric that is based on a lack of respect for women. The novel's villainous characters denigrate initiatives coming from women. Petronila's husband tries to reject her good moral advice by saying, "Really, women should never mix themselves up with men's business; they had better keep to their pots and pans." Fernando stands out for his appreciation of his wife Lucia's quick thinking and moral steadfastness. At one point, he is musing inwardly, admiring his wife's exceptional seriousness of purpose. This passage concludes with the narrator's reflection, appearing to mirror Fernando's thoughts: "The Peruvian woman is docile and virtuous as a general rule." The choice of docile is especially surprising since Fernando has just observed Lucia taking some independent action whose purpose she does not disclose to him.
These contradictions and other similar ones can be explained to some degree as typical of much nineteenth-century feminism in its efforts to win wider social acceptance. This early feminism created the ideal of women who could act with considerable independence, yet still be first and foremost wives and, especially, mothers. Moderate feminists often justified proposed reforms by arguing that educated women, enjoying a respected status in society, would be better wives and mothers; mothers are often viewed as teachers who must prepare to give lessons. Birds without a Nest follows this tendency. It extols, throughout, the ideals of marriage and family life for all. Its good characters all appear in the context of a close family, and the narrator several times points to failure to marry and disrespectful husbands as scourges of society. Stronger education and greater respect for women are depicted as means of strengthening motherhood and the family, which in turn are seen as means of education. For example, when Lucia asks Fernando about the future of the Indian orphans who have joined their household, he responds that the couple must make plans to educate them. He explains his choice by saying, "We will place them in the college best adapted to form wives and mothers."
Cornejo Polar, considering the passages of seemingly antifeminist rhetoric, notes that they are not consistent with the action of the novel. The female characters by no means limit themselves to tending the hearth: "The women of Aves sin nido do enter determinedly into 'the business and turmoil of life' (like Doña Lucia summoning to her house the town's notable citizens to demand that they stop exploiting Yupanqui or like Doña Petronila defending the Matins' house when it is attacked by a mob, and they do so with the evident blessing of the narrator, the same narrator who assigns woman the exclusive function of 'gracing the home.'" Cornejo attributes the idealization of the woman in the home, which he finds anachronistic for the late 1880s, to the novel's persistent romanticism.
Matto's real-world statements and behavior yield the same picture of her feminism. In her twenties, she earned considerable popularity and esteem as a writer. While Matto wrote in many styles and genres, she earned her success with a type of local-color sketches, called tradiciones, invented and popularized by Ricardo Palma (1833-1919); she won the public approbation of the creator of the genre. She became a celebrated figure, appearing at the events of the literary world, joining Lima's most influential intellectual circles, and organizing her own salon. She earned her own living following the 1881 death of her husband, the Englishman Joseph Turner. As Mary G. Berg observes, in 1883 Matto became "the first woman in America to lead an important newspaper" (La Bolsa [Market News] in Arequipa, Peru). In Lima she founded a press, Imprenta La Equitativa (The Equitable Press, staffed entirely by women. She advocated strengthening girls' and women's education. On the basis of Matto's career, the activities she promoted, and her writings, Berg and other critics have considered her an outstanding nineteenth-century feminist.
Yet in Matto's public statements and essays, just as in her best-known novel, she drew the line at any form of feminism that would deflect woman from "that mission that God has assigned to her... by choosing her for motherhood." In the preface to her 1886 literary textbook for girls and women, Matto again recommends for women only those forms of independence that pose no threat to motherhood, which she sees as a teaching career: woman "is not called to the pulpit, nor to the turbulence of public affairs, but to the teaching of her family, to the peace of the home and the gracing of society, through the virtues that come with a thorough education." Reading such assertions, one may wonder to what degree they reflect the author's own views and to what extent they are designed to deflect criticism of her feminist activity.
The language and culture of Andean Indians are represented in Birds without a Nest with a thoroughness truly unusual for its time. One reason is that Matto, among Peruvian intellectuals of her day, was distinguished by her knowledge of the Quechua language and the culture of its speakers. As Berg notes, "She was brought up on a family estate nearby [El Cuzco] where she played with the Indian children and learned both Quechua and Spanish, thus beginning a familiarity with Quechua culture that would be of continuing importance to her." By all accounts, Matto was exceptionally proficient in both speaking and reading Quechua. After her excommunication, Matto became associated to some degree with the American Bible Society. This Protestant group had as its principal mission the spread of the New Testament, and especially the Gospels, among new populations. The organization published Matto's Quechua translations of the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
Birds without a Nest is, among other things, an effort to educate non-Indian readers about native communities. A number of Quechua words appear in the text. In some cases Matto relied on the reader's knowledge or on context to provide a meaning, but in others she provided a definition. (While the English translator favored parenthetical translations, Matto placed a small glossary at the back of the novel, a practice taken up by many subsequent indigenista novelists. The use of occasional words and phrases in an indigenous language later came to be considered a rather crude way of representing Indian language in a Spanish American novel. Matto's introduction of Quechua cannot compete for complexity with, for example, the subtle Quechua flavoring of José María Arguedas's celebrated novel of 1958, Los ríos profundos (Deep Rivers, 1978; yet for its historical moment it is progressive. Matto was a nationalist in literary and cultural matters, dedicated to producing "Peruvian literature," to cite the closing words of her preface. She was determined to bring the major issues facing Peru, such as the dual linguistic situation of the country, to the attention of her readers.
Beyond Quechua vocabulary, Matto includes in her novel many references to indigenous Andean handicrafts, popular narratives and beliefs, music, and ceremonial customs. Notably, she also shows that non-Indian characters, including those who despise the native community, have adopted a few Quechua words and a number of indigenous folkways in dress, cuisine, and household decor. Lucia and Fernando appear as model Peruvians in part because of their eagerness to learn about the culture and the situation of the Indians they encounter. Matto sometimes uses Indian culture to add local color in a way that today seems superficial. But the author wrote in a period when local-color writing was not only in vogue, owing to Palma's success, but also esteemed as important to national literature.
Matto's outlook on native Andean culture was a mixture of assimilationism and cultural preservation. Birds without a Nest makes clear her desire to see the indigenous population achieve literacy in Spanish, receive the same education as non-Indian Peruvians, and make certain progressive changes in diet and living habits. At the same time, Matto wanted to maintain Quechua and to further its use as a written language. Of linguistic assimilationists, she wrote: "Those who advocate the extinction of Quechua are committing blasphemy against the ancient civilization of Peru and the modern need to learn about it."
While Birds without a Nest is by far Matto's best-known novel, she went on to publish two related works of fiction, the 1892 Indole (Character) and Herencia (Heredity) from 1895. These two novels, especially the latter, are sometimes referred to as sequels to Birds without a Nest. Efrain Kristal sums up with greater precision the relation of Matto's three novels: "Although each novel can be read on its own, the plot lines of the three are interconnected, the central theme is shared, and the characters are informed by Manuel González Prada's political thought." Though much less noted than Birds without a Nest, the two subsequent novels are today considered of greater value than the regionalist anecdotes and vignettes that form much of Matto's overall literary production.
A few words are in order concerning the English translation. Birds without a Nest: A Story of Indian Life and Priestly Oppression in Peru appeared in London in 1904, published by Charles J. Thynne and sponsored by the American Bible Society, with which, as noted, Matto had developed an association. The author's original preface was deleted and replaced with an introduction written by a representative of the society. Not too surprisingly, the new foreword suggested that the solution to the misbehavior of priests was not clerical reform but rather the replacement of Roman Catholicism with Protestantism in Spanish America. (In the present edition, the author's preface has been restored.)
The translation was credited to J.G.H. When the translation is examined against the original, it is immediately evident that J.G.H. possessed an excellent knowledge of Spanish, including terms specific to the Andean region. J.G.H.'s English exhibits an elevated Victorian style well suited to the high register that Matto favored. Despite these virtues, J.G.H. took, on occasion, what would today be considered unacceptable license with the original text, bowdlerizing it as well as translating it. J.G.H. s deletions are of several types. In many instances, the translator excised references to the human body; even descriptions of characters that dwell on their physical attractions are often severely cropped. In other cases, J.G.H. removed passages expressive of despair over social problems. The translator apparently disliked the cliff-hanging effect produced by cutting from one subplot to another and rearranged the chapters. The most drastic change is the elimination of an entire episode, that of the train derailment (restored in the present edition). The train wreck, which produces melodramatic suspense but scarcely furthers the plot, is probably the most complained-of feature of the plot. Its suppression shows that J.G.H. was eager to improve the work.
Much more could be said about the complex relationship between the original and the translation, but it is more important to state the measures taken here to restore the text. I have rearranged the chapters in their original order, and where the translator suppressed words and phrases, and in some cases passages, I have supplied translations of my own, attempting to follow as closely as possible J.G.H.'s stylistic habits and elevated register. In restoring missing matter, I have utilized the edition published in Havana in 1974 by Casa de las Américas, the 1968 reissue by Las Américas Publishing Company of New York, and the 1889 edition by Félix Lajouans, Buenos Aires.
In a few cases, the translator's changes affect only the most superficial level of the text. For example, J.G.H. at times deletes such formulations as "said Don Fernando" or "replied Margarita" when it is evident which character has been speaking. The translator occasionally coalesces into a single summarizing phrase several descriptive details that are enumerated separately in the original. In this latter case, the summarized depictions represent a stylistic improvement over Matto's original feature-by-feature ones. As Brushwood puts it, "Clorinda Matto's concept of realism seems to demand... that she write certain descriptions in excruciating detail.... The details become especially overwhelming when the course of action is interrupted in favor of describing a lady's attire. There are paragraphs that sound something like the commentary at a fashion show." In condensing via summary extremely detailed descriptions, J.G.H. has sacrificed none of the novel's semantic substance.
Readers approaching Birds without a Nest for the first time should bear in mind that Clorinda Matto was breaking new ground in Spanish American fiction as well as making her debut as a novelist. Such a close and personal view of Indian characters and life among native families had never before been attempted. It would be unfair to expect Matto to have fully worked out the novelistic structure and language that would best convey her vision. While Birds without a Nest may at times lack polish, it is rich in information and understanding. Matto brought to her best-known novel a knowing analysis of both racial relations and issues between the sexes. Her concept of companionship marriage (illustrated by Fernando and Lucia, her advocacy of women's education, and her beliefs about women's distinctive character reveal to today's readers the outlook of a nineteenth-century Spanish American feminist and progressive.
It was a cloudless summer morning, and all Nature, smiling in her felicity, sent up a hymn of adoration to the author of her beauty.
The heart, tranquil as the nest of the dove, gave itself up to the contemplation of the magnificent picture.
The single plaza of the little Peruvian town of Killac measures three hundred and fourteen square metres. Buildings of different kinds are grouped around it, the red tiled roofs of the houses rising above the straw-thatched cabins of the Indians.
On the left rises that common home of the Christian--the temple, surrounded by a stone wall, and in the belfry, where the old bell laments for those who die and laughs for the newly born, the cullcus build their nests.
The cemetery of the church is the place where the people gather together on Sundays after mass, comparing notes about their work, murmuring at their hardships, and gossiping a little about each other.
Less than half a mile to the south one finds a beautiful country house, noted for its elegant construction, contrasting strongly with the simplicity of its location. Its name is Manzanares. This was the property of the former priest of Killac, Don Pedro Miranda y Claro, afterwards Bishop of the Diocese, of whom careless-tongued people sometimes spoke in not very saintly terms when commenting upon occurrences which took place during the twenty years that Don Pedro was the shepherd of the flock. In that period Manzanares was built and became afterwards the summer residence of his Illustrious Highness.
The beautiful plain, surrounded by orchards and cultivated fields, watered by channels of murmuring crystal water, the river flowing near, all combine to render Killac a place of poetic beauty.
The night before, rain had fallen, accompanied by hail and thunder, clearing and refreshing the air, and the rising sun, peeping above the horizon, sent its golden rays over the trembling plants, turning into jewels the crystal drops not yet fallen from the green leaves.
The swallows and thrushes flew from treetop to house, filling the air with music, their bright plumage glittering in the sun. Early summer mornings, bright and beautiful, inviting one to live, inspire the painter and the poet in the pleasant land of Perú.
On that morning which we have described, when the sun, recently risen from his dark couch, called bird and flower to spring up to salute him with their homage of love and gratitude, a labourer crossed the plaza, guiding his yoke of oxen laden with the implements of husbandry, a yoke, a goad and leathern straps for work, and the provisions of the day; the traditional chuspa, or bag of woven wool of various colours, fastened to the belt containing the coca leaves and cakes of llipta for his lunch.
On passing the door of the temple he reverently lifted his cap and murmured something like an invocation, then went on his way, now and then looking back sorrowfully at the cabin from whence he came.
Was it fear or doubt, love or hope that troubled his soul at that moment? It was plainly to be seen that something impressed his mind strongly.
Above the stone wall that rose to the south of the plaza, a head showed and then, quick as a fox, hid again behind the stones, but not without revealing the handsome head of a woman, whose black hair, long and straight, was divided in two, making a frame for the beautiful bust of a woman with its somewhat coppery skin, where the cheekbones stood out markedly with their red hue, especially in the areas most abundantly supplied with blood.
Scarcely was the labourer lost to sight on the far side of Cañas when the head hidden behind the wall took on a body, leaping over. It was a woman full of youthful vigour, who stood out as an exemplar of Peruvian beauty. She had reached thirty, but her freshness gave no hint she was over twenty-eight. She wore a floating skirt of dark blue baize, and a bodice of brown velveteen decorated at the collar and wrists with silver trim and bone buttons was round her waist.
Shaking off her dress the mud which had fallen upon her from the wall, she directed her steps to a modest-looking white cottage with tiled roof not far away.
At the open door she was met by a young lady neatly dressed in grey with lace trimmings and mother-of-pearl buttons who was none other than the Señora Lucia, wife of Don Fernando Marin, a gentleman who had some business connection with the mines near the place and had settled temporarily in Killac.
The newcomer addressed Lucia quickly without ceremony, saying: "In the name of the Virgin, señora, protect this day an unfortunate family. He who has gone to the fields to-day passing by you here, laden with the implements of labor, is Juan Yupanqui, my husband and father of our two little girls. Alas, señora! He has gone out with his heart half dead, because he knows that to-day will be the day of distribution, and as the overseer directs the barley sowing he cannot hide himself because, besides the imprisonment, he would have to pay the fine, and we have no money. I was crying beside Rosalia, who sleeps by the fireplace, when suddenly my heart told me that you are good, and without Juan's knowledge I came to implore your assistance for the sake of the Virgin, señora."
A flood of tears put an end to that supplication which was full of mystery to Lucia, for, having resided but a few months in the place, she was ignorant of its customs and could not appreciate at their full value the references made by the poor woman, although they roused her sympathy.
It is necessary to see face to face these disinherited creatures, to hear from their own lips in their expressive language the narrative of their actual circumstances, in order to understand the quick sympathy which springs up unconsciously in noble hearts, and how they came to take part in their suffering finally, although at first only a desire for knowledge prompts them to observe folkways of which most Peruvians are ignorant, something that only a handful of people deplore.
The words of the Indian woman excited the interest of the sympathetic Lucia, and she asked kindly: "And who are you?"
"I am Marcela, my lady, the wife of Juan Yupanqui, poor and unprotected," replied the woman, drying her eyes upon the sleeve of her dress.
Lucia, putting her hand kindly upon her shoulder, invited her to take a seat upon a stone bench in the garden and rest herself. "Let us talk calmly," said Lucia, eager to learn all about Indian ways.
Marcela calmed her grief and, perhaps with the hope of salvation, responded precisely to Lucia's questions. She felt such trust that she would have told her even her reprehensible deeds, even those evil thoughts that, in humankind, are like the exhalation of vicious germs. So relaxed, she said: "As you are not of this place, señora, you do not know the martyrdom we suffer from collectors, overseers, and priests. Alas, alas! Why does not a plague carry us all away that we might at least sleep peacefully in the earth?"
"Why do you despair so, poor Marcela? There will be some remedy, you are a mother, and the heart of a mother lives as many lives in one as she has children."
"Yes, señora," replied Marcela. "You have the face of the Virgin to whom we offer our praise and prayers, and that is why I came to ask your help. I wish to save my husband. He said to me when he went away: 'One of these days I shall have to throw myself into the river, because I cannot endure this life; and I want to kill you too before giving my life to the water,' and you know, señora, that this is not right."
"It is a wrong thought, a crazy idea--poor Juan!" said Lucia sadly; then casting a searching glance upon the woman continued: "And what is the most urgent need to-day? Speak freely, Marcela."
"Last year," the woman said, "they left in our cabin ten dollars for two quintals of wool. This money we spent buying, among other things, these clothes I am wearing, for Juan said we would get together during the year as much more money; but this has not been possible because of the faena and because my mother-in-law died at Christmas time and the priest put an embargo upon our potato crop to pay the expenses of the burial and prayers. Now I have to enter the parochial house of mita, leaving my husband and daughters; and while I am gone who knows if Juan will not go crazy and die. Who knows, also, the fate that awaits me, for the women who go to the mita come out--looking down at the ground."
"Enough! Do not tell me any more!" exclaimed Lucia, horror-stricken at the depths to which the narration of Marcela was leading her. The last words struck terror to the heart of the pure-minded dove, who was finding civilised beings to be nothing but monsters of greed and even lust.
"I will speak to the Governor and the priest this very day, and perhaps to-morrow you will remain free and contented. Go now and take care of your little girls, and when Juan returns soothe him-tell him that you have spoken to me, and tell him to come and see me."
The poor woman gave a sigh of satisfaction, for the first time in her life.
So solemn is the situation of one who, in the supreme hour of misfortune, finds a generous heart to lend her aid, that the heart does not know whether to bathe with tears or cover with kisses in silence the loving hand stretched out to help, or to break out in words of blessing. That is what passed during those moments through the heart of Marcela.
Those who do good to the down-trodden never can measure the worth of one single word of kindness, one loving smile that for the fallen, the unhappy, is like the rays of sunshine that return life to the members benumbed by the ice of misfortune.
In the Peruvian provinces, where they breed the alpaca, and where traffic in wool is the chief source of riches, there exists almost without exception the custom known as "distribution in advance," which the business magnates, the well-to-do people of the place, practise.
For the payment in advance which the wool buyers make and force the Indians to accept, they fix the price of a quintal of wool so low that the gain which the capital invested is made to produce exceeds five hundred per cent. This usury, together with the extortion that goes with it, virtually turns existence into a hell for those barbarians.
The Indians who are owners of alpacas emigrate from their huts during the time of distribution, in order not to receive the money advanced, which for them is almost as cursed as the thirty pieces of silver received by Judas.
But does the abandonment of home, the wanderings among the mountains, ensure their safety? No.
The collector, who is at the same time the distributor or assessor, breaks into their cabins, whose weak lock in the door made of hide offers but little resistance, leaves upon a bench or bunk the money, and marches off to return next year with the list which is the only judge and witness for the unfortunate debtor.
When the year is finished the collector returns with a retinue of ten or twelve mestizos, sometimes disguised as soldiers, and with a special balance with counter weights of stone, takes out fifty pounds of wool for twenty-five. If the Indian secretes his wool, his only source of income, or if he protests and curses, he is subjected to such tortures as the pen refuses to narrate.
The pastoral of one of the most celebrated Bishops the Peruvian church ever had makes meritorious these excesses, but does not dare to speak of the cold-water enemas which in some places they employ to force the Indians to declare where they have hidden their goods. The Indian fears that even more than the lash. These inhuman beings who take the form for the spirit of the law allege that flogging is prohibited in Perú, but not the barbarities which they practise on their brothers in misfortune.
Oh! May God see fit one day, exercising His mercy, to decree the extinction of the Indian race, which after having shone in its imperial grandeur, drinks the mire of opprobrium. May such an extinction be God's will, since it is not possible for the Indians to regain their dignity, or to exercise their rights!
The bitter sorrow and despair of Marcela, when thinking of the near coming of the collector, was only the just and anguished explosion of one who sees before her only a world of poverty and infamous pain.
“This emended translation of Latin America’s first indigenista novel (Aves sin nido, 1889), written by Peruvian feminist Matto de Turner, is welcome for many reasons.... It deserves a reading now more than ever, as Latin American literature reaches its maturity, and as social struggles in the Hispanic new world continue with the intensity and irresolution of two centuries.”