Chiclayo: Sicán and Bosque de Pomac (Batan Grande)

Yesterday I took a 90 minute internal flight from Lima to Chiclayo, which is on the coast in the North of Peru.

This region was the home of the Sicán or Lambayeque culture (around 750 to 1375AD). The Sicán followed on from the Moche, and were later conquered by the Chimu. Up to around 1100AD, their main centre was at Batan Grande, which I visited today (the area around which is now the Santuario Histórico Bosque de Pomac).

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No, that isn’t a hill in the background; it’s the remains of a whacking great pyramid. Apparently there are about 50 of them dotted around, some large some small and in varying states of erosion.

There are lots of tombs around the bases of the pyramids. Unfortunately, this is one of the main areas that has suffered from looting in the past, although the area is now protected and some tombs have been excavated by archaeologists. We went to a modern museum that showed reconstructions of two tombs found by the pyramid in the previous photo, referred to as the West tomb and the East tomb.

The West tomb is somewhat bizarre, with the governor (who was in his mid 40s and seems to have died of natural causes) placed upside down in a foetal position, which is to pave the way for his rebirth into the next life. So far so good. He had over a tonne of funerary objects with him, including lots of gold.

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The weird bit has to do with people in that culture always being buried facing the sea. This relates to the legend of Naymlap, who with his people apparently arrived in ancient times from the North on balsa rafts. So being buried facing the sea is some sort of homage to Naymlap.

As an aside, the widely-depicted Sicán God can apparently also be considered a representation of this legendary Naymlap. He’s the cute little guy on the Tumi I saw in Lima – the Tumi was from this Sicán or Lambayeque culture so may well have been dug up from somewhere under where I was standing earlier today……..

Anyway, getting back to the point, what do you do when you’re burying the governor upside down? Well, it seems that you chop off his head and turn it round so it’s facing the sea (then put the funerary mask on). Presumably being headless is no obstacle when it comes to rebirth? Why didn’t they just twizzle his body round so he was facing the sea (albeit upside-down)?

I was relying on a couple of helpful kids to ask the obvious question but they let me down (they had already interrogated the guide at great length regarding the patron saint of the blind – a lady with lovely eyes who had them taken out so men would stop bothering her and she could get on with being holy. God later gave her sight back, which is why the church we were passing had two eyeballs overseen by angels above the door. Yes, the kids wanted to know, but did she get her own eyes back? the ones she had before? the very same ones? etc etc). It was a bit too early in the day to go upsetting the guide myself so I guess we may never know whether the decapitation was strictly necessary…. Anyway, here’s a photo of the original gold funerary mask…

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The Eastern tomb was less controversial, with the governor in the middle, surrounded by 22 women and a child, all of whom were related to one another but not to the governor. The governor WAS, however, related to the governor in the West tomb (for which insight we have to thank the wonders of DNA analysis……). This governor had plenty of textiles with him but not so much gold.

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The big puppet hands in each tomb, by the way, were to help the governor look bigger / more impressive to the plebs below when he put in an appearance on top of a pyramid……

Anyway, things all went wrong at Batan Grande with a prolonged period of drought. Even upping the human sacrifices didn’t seem to help (as an example, 360 sacrificed young women were found at one pyramid, tied to posts and poisoned). So there was nothing for it but to set fire to the place as an act of purification and start again elsewhere. I’ll see Tucume, the second capital of the Sicán, tomorrow.

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