Chiquitos and the music
The first Jesuits who came to this remote corner of eastern Bolivia saw the houses of the Indians with very small houses, that baptized the entire region with the name of Chiquitos [tiny]. Father Jose de Arce and brother Antonio Rivas first set foot on these forests in late 1691. Instead of arms, brought musical instruments, their experiences in Peru and Paraguay had taught them that the language of flutes, violins or harps facilitated the communication with the natives of the New World. But those first missionaries could never imagine how the villages of the chiquitanos would appropriate those instruments and the music brought from Europe, incorporating and adapting them to their own culture. At the end of four centuries later we can say that the Chiquitania (or Chiquitanía: accentuates both ways) is one of the most music-lovers regions, where the baroque music remains as strong now as in the eighteenth century, nuanced and colored with local flavor by some communities whose idiosyncrasies reconciles, admirably, the traditional and the modern, artistic and practical, the Spanish and the indigenous language.
This has been the most surprising thing for me in this journey of a few days a vast region that separates the city of Santa Cruz to the Brazilian border: discover that here, unlike other places in America where major indigenous cultures flourished, 76 years of evangelization until 1767, when the expulsion of the Jesuits had left a very deep impression, visible still fertilizing the communities the manner to which the early missionaries helped to integrate, to defend against the incursions of the Paulist [Sao Paulo, Brazil] bandeirantes that came to hunt slaves, and to modernize and enrich with Western contributions, traditions, beliefs, art and especially music.
From 1972, began the rehabilitation of the temples of Concepción, San Javier, San Ignacio, Santa Ana, Santiago and San Jose are the ones I visited but I understand that there are others – with its beautiful baroque altarpieces, their gallant steeples, their sizes, fresh and huge wooden columns, their bodies and their ornate pulpits. The work carried out by the Swiss architect Hans Roth, who devoted thirty years of his life to this task, and colleagues, has been extraordinary. Churches, beautiful, simple and elegant are not museums, testimony of a split last forever present but clear evidence that, in the Chiquitania, that ancient history is quickening the present.
Not only is the music coming from beyond the rivers and seas became impregnated and indivisible part of the chiquitana culture, Christianity also came to constitute the essence of spirituality in all these centuries has been preserved and has been the primary binder between communities who express their faith massively turning to all trades, with their chiefs , councils and “mothers” in front, dancing, singing (sometimes in Latin!) and caring places and objects of worship with tireless zeal. Unlike what happens in the rest of Latin America and the world where religion seems to occupy more and more people’s lives and advancing secularism irrepressible, life here continues to chair and, as in medieval Europe, environment in which human beings are born, live and die. But it would be unfair to consider that this has kept chiquitanos frozen in time, modernity is also in these villages, everywhere: in schools, in their workshops, crafts, techniques for working the land, radio, television, cellular and Internet. And mainly in the skill with which children and young people learn in schools local music playing bass, guitar or violin, as well as traditional drum and flute.
In the years in which the architect Hans Roth worked here was finding more than five thousand scores of baroque music, after the expulsion of the Jesuits, the Chiquitanos preserved in dusty cabinets or boxes languishing among the ruins of what became their churches. All this rich collection is now classified, digitized and defended with air conditioning in the Archives of Concepción, where, for many years, a Polish monk, Father Piotr Nawrot, studied and published in carefully annotated volumes are at the same time a detailed account of how baroque music rooted in the chiquitana culture.
The melodies and compositions containing those scores coming from the bottom of the centuries is now heard in every village in the region, performed by orchestras and choirs of children, youth and adults who play and sing with the same ease with which they dance their ancestral dances, adding exciting conviction and joy. Agnostics or believers feel a strange and intense tingling in the body when, on starry nights and warm of the Santa Cruz forest, where there are still jaguars, pumas, alligators and snakes warn Vivaldi, Corelli, Bach, Tchaikovsky, plus Italian, Germans or Russians, are also chiquitanos since the great artistic creations have no nationality, who belong to the love, adopts and expresses them through their sufferings, hopes and joys. Several of these young people have received scholarships and study now in Buenos Aires, Madrid, Paris, Vienna, Berlin.
There is a vast literature on the Jesuit missions in Bolivia, where it seems obvious, the missionary effort was much deeper and longer lasting than in the Paraguay and Brazil. To check, nothing better than Mariano Baptista Gumucio book, The Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos and Moxos. A Christian utopia in the Bolivian Orient. It is a well documented and best written of this extraordinary adventure Abstract: how, in a corner of South America, the encounter between Europeans and pre-Hispanic inhabitants, rather than characterized by violence and cruelty, served to mitigate the harsh easements in their servitude life, to humanize and give the weaker culture the ideas, forms, techniques, beliefs, that instead invigorated while modernized.
Baptista Gumucio is not naive and clearly indicates the questionable and intolerable aspects of the scheme that, the Jesuits where reductions imposed in everyday life, that went into a rigid system, in which the Indian was treated as a minor. But he points out, rightly, that this system compared to that prevailing in the Andes, where the Indians were dying like flies in the mines, or in Brazil , where the Indians were kidnapped by the frontiersmen and were sold as slaves, it was infinitely less unjust and at least allowed the survival of individuals and their cultures . One of the most fruitful provisions, missions, was the obligation imposed on the missionaries to learn the native languages for them to evangelize the natives. Thus was born the chiquitano language, as before, the tribes of the area spoke different dialects and could barely communicate with each other.
No country that, like many Latin Americans, has within different cultures, a modern, powerful and westernized, and one or more primitive, that has been able to establish a model that allows the latter to develop and modernize without losing the traits that are: their customs, beliefs, languages, myths. In all cases, the most glaring are the U.S., Japan and India has meant the development and sometimes absorption – extinction of the weaker by the more powerful Western. Of course there is a terrible injustice in these processes, but no company has yet been able to establish a system in which a small and ancient culture accessible to modernity without giving up that amount of material and spiritual factors that define and differentiate other. In Latin America, where the problem lives dramatically at least half a dozen countries, we are required to find a model in which this act of justice is possible in practical terms. Where to look for examples to guide us? In the Chiquitanas villages there are profitable teachings for those who want to see and hear. Women and men of this land have not lost what is called the “identity “, their language is alive, their dances, their clothes, and their customs and beliefs have evolved so that they can participate in modern life’s opportunities, while still being what they were, so they are still in that multicultural frame of Bolivia and all Andean peoples. To visit Chiquitania, shows visitors that Beethoven and taquiraris or jaguar silhouette and a zither arpeggios can be understood, and tran-substanciation coexist. That made the Chiquitanos and so we must applaud and imitate.
© Press Worldwide rights reserved in all languages, Ediciones El Pais, SL, 2014.
© Mario Vargas Llosa, 2014.