Revash

In a change to the published schedule, today I went to Revash. Revash was the trip that supposedly wasn’t going to run until Saturday, as a result of which I’d booked an extra night in Chachapoyas and a bus ticket for Saturday night rather than Friday night. Oh well….. The first I heard was when I showed up this morning for the tour, to be told “You’re not going to Karajia today, you’re going to Revash”.

Luckily I had already become sufficiently suspicious of the information doled out by the tour operators that I had my boots on my feet even though I shouldn’t have needed them today. I hadn’t gone so far as to take my walking poles as well – though from now on they are going in my little rucksack and staying there lest anyone else decides to pull a fast one on the tour schedules. The Revash tour involves a 3 hour walk. Other than the lack of the poles, I had everything I’d need. I had to pity the poor Peruvian family though who hadn’t been told anything about a walk at all. As they’d done the trip to the waterfall the day before (11km) they weren’t up for any more walking. A quick phone call was made and a few horses drafted in to cart them up the hill.

Both today and tomorrow’s trips (assuming that I’m going to Karajia tomorrow…. although anything might happen) involve more funerary practices of the Chachapoya. Putting granny under the living room floor, as at Kuelap, was the first type of burial. After that, they moved on to sarcophagi and then to mausoleums, both on cliff ledges (of which there are plenty around here). Sarcophagi can be seen at Karajia; Revash has mausoleums. Both were for important people; “normal” people got put in caves. They had a very gender-equal society, so both men and women could hold positions of power and be buried (well, put on a ledge) accordingly.

On the drive to Revash, we stopped briefly to look at a cliff from which a mummy had been found by an explorer and taken back to Paris. Seeing this mummy in the museum was allegedly the inspiration for the painting The Scream. I looked it up later – although there is some evidence that Munch probably did see the mummy in question exhibited in Paris in the 1890s, he himself never attibuted any of the inspiration behind the painting to a Peruvian mummy.

In the case of the mausoleums at least, the main criteria were that the site be 1) inaccessible (so the mausoleums can actually be built a long way up a cliff face; no-one quite knows how they managed this), 2) facing a river, and 3) facing an ancient place of some kind, for example an old settlement.

We were told that the cliff faces around here are littered with burials; Karajia and Revash are just the places where you can get close enough to see them. The limestone geology of the area means that there are lots of cliffs to choose from. Here’s a photo of the cliff at Revash (you can just see the mausoleums near the bottom on the left).

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On arriving at Revash it took about an hour and three quarters to walk up from the road to the bottom of the cliff face to see the mausoleums. Each mausoleum would have held several mummies; unfortunately (and probably because these mausoleums aren’t as inaccessible as they could have been) much has been looted. There are still bones to be seen though. There are 2 groups of mausoleums, one of which we could quite easily walk up to.

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In terms of the mummification, they would remove the stomach and intestines. They put wadding in people’s noses and cheeks to keep the shape of the face, and treated the skin with something that has made it leathery (sorry – no details on what exactly they used to achieve this). They dislocated all of the joints so as to be able to fold people up into neat little bundles (I had been wondering how they got granny into that tiny hole at Kuelap), which were then tied with cloth strips and wrapped in further layers of cloth to form a neat little mummy bundle. These bundles were often unwrapped by looters looking for valuable funerary objects that might have been placed inside, which is why we often now just find piles of bones.

We then walked back down and headed to Leymebamba for lunch, then went to the local museum. Most of the museum was dry and dull, despite being a modern construction – but the view through one window was incredible.

In 1996, some peasants found some mummies in a remote area called Laguna de los Condores. They did a bit of looting and selling of artefacts (as you do) but then fell out among themselves resulting in the authorities finding out and the site being further investigated. There they found the remains of a town on one side of the lake, with around 120 round houses similar to the ones I saw at Kuelap. The people of this town buried their dead on the opposite side of the lake. Over 200 mummies were discovered and taken away, the museum was built, and the mummies placed in a temperature-and humidity-controlled room that you can see into through large windows. It’s amazing! Rows on rows of mummies on shelves. Most are still wrapped in their textile bundles, but some aren’t (the ones that the looters had unwrapped). Photos weren’t allowed, so again, I’ve had to root around for one on the internet. This photo shows a few – now imagine over 200, some still wrapped up in their original bundles but some unwrapped by looters and hence visible in their full “Scream” state. Apparently having your hands round your face wasn’t supposed to depict anything in particular – it’s just where your hands end up when you get folded into a bundle like this…..

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