The Other Imperialism is the first chapter of Toward the Kingdom of the Scriris, one of César Vallejo’s not often celebrated novellas. First drafted on board the steamship Oroyo sailing from Peru to France in 1923, the novella would be finished in 1928, and then in December 1937 and the first weeks of 1938, revamped completely and transformed into the stunning indigenist tragic drama, The Tired Stone. My translation presented here forms part of The Selected Writings of César Vallejo, an anthology in progress.
THE OTHER IMPERIALISM
That rumble came from the army led by the prince and heir to the throne, as it reached the city limits, on its way home from a deadly tour in Quito. From the terraces at Sajsahuamán the receiving line formed at the entrance to the Intipampa at the end of the wide highland road.
With the build still of a boy (as this was his first military campaign), at the head was Hauyna Cápac, who had grown bronze from exposure, from scorchers and deep freezes in the north. Decimated by ice in the heroic land of the Chachapoyas, the army now forded the first rivers of Cuzco, at a slow march, paced by the war drums’ beat. The weapons of the empire were next in line, and just a catapult shot behind them, the rumancha masters. Then the rainbow flag was unfurled, embroidered onto a banner of wool and feathers, with holes left by a suntupáucar spike through which a consistent golden egret light was shining. Angular heroes pushed on, triangulated by wrinkles, on their shoulders a dense mass of a queschuar, gap-toothed and gouged in counterattacks; gaunt and gangrene sling-shooters; skeletal hunchback archers with flimsy bows; a third of the metal poison-tipped arrows in bundles, the reed bow resting on the shoulder; lancers with enormous dangling arms wearing guayacan headpieces with tassels; axe-men falling out of formation, painfully limping… In the middle was an apusquepay, an old man with an enormous chin and serene eyes, wearing his yellow turban, tied by a stretched out bow-string and feathers.
The army entered the city, downcast, damaged. Only a few generals, officers of nobility and veterans smiled as they walked through the streets. Instead, the soldiers and even the heir apparent were possessed by great sorrow as they trudged on.
As the last soldiers disappeared from sight at the heart of the city, the workers of the fortress saw them and were overcome by a strange indifference. There was no applause, no enthusiastic shouting. The women and children, appearing at the doors, watched the warriors coldly. Some women crossed the road and gave a relative who was returning a few swigs of chicha or a few handfuls of fried hominy and sweet ocas. The heralds kept quiet. Mouths filled with a turbid silence instead of the usual victory hailli. When the army crossed in front of the temple of the Chosen Ones in Hanai-Cuzco, an old woman burst into tears.
The war horns sounded in the distance as the army entered the Plaza de la Alegría. They were the murmurs of those bugles made from the skulls of dogs that were hunted in enemy camps. In the mouth of these skulls sonorous strings of monkey-teeth from the north were fastened in such a way that, when the barbarous instrument was filled with air, a spine-tingling and ravenous chatter was produced… When their sounds became clear, the city swathed itself in pity and silence.
When he learned that Huayna Cápac was approaching, Tupac Yupanqui waited for him in the palace’s patio of copper, surrounded by the court. His face was shriveled with rage. The prince arrived at the foot of the imperial throne, uncovered his head and bowed. He expressed his fealty and obedience and, with a submissive and prostrated tone, recounted the story of the expedition:
“Father”, he said, “the conquest of the Huacrachucos has been consolidated. Five-hundred mitimaes come with me and I’ve left fifty Children of the Sun on the shores of Marañón. The Quechua’s bravery was heroic when they forced that province to surrender, whose young men fought ferociously, and were it not for the advice from their elders, whom I managed to win over with generous benefits and incentives, the surrender of the Huacrachucos would never have come to pass…”
The Inca remained indifferent. The eyes of the others turned to him, eager to see the effect that would be elicited by the words of the prince whose arrival at Cuzco was early and unexpected. The Inca’s decrees currently in force had not laid in store for him, despite the largely unsuccessful results of the tour. Not the hearths in the mountains, not the chasquis, nothing had announced such a sudden return.
“After many journeys through the jungles” Huayna Cápac continued, “I attacked the Chachapoyas at their own walls and forts. Their resistance was even greater than the Huacrachucos’. Over the course of three moons I laid siege to the city. There I lost the brunt of the army. My axe-men died trying to cut back the jungle while the natives used it as line of impenetrable defense. It was there that many veterans of Maule and Atacama fell. I remounted the attack. Looking for a weaker flank, we backtracked at nightfall and climbed into the punas of Chirma-Cassa…”
When he reached this point, Huayna Cápac uttered his words in a tragic tone. The court stood at attention to listen. Only Túpac Yupanqui maintained his unaffected expression, as if he knew ahead of time everything the heir apparent would have to say.
“…In that deadly region” added the prince, “any strategy we applied paid the price of a great denial. In faraway lands beset by hostility, I chose to take the most direct roads, and this, our greatest risk and sacrifice. So it was. I lost three-hundred Warriors of the Sun, who were left frozen in the cold, on the eve of our final and fatal encounter with the enemy. Battle in those conditions was impossible. We withdrew and, since the army had been almost completely cut down, I consulted my advisors and decided to return to Cuzco…”
Thus spoke Huayna Cápac as he knelt before his father. The Inca’s expression suddenly changed and, in a fit of rage, he raised his voice loudly addressing the terrified court, and said: “The Children of the Sun have first been defeated in the mountains of Beni, wherefrom only one thousand soldiers out of the ten thousand who embarked on boats that had been built over the course of two years returned to Mojos; then, as the conquest of the Chirihuanas began, they were afraid of the salvage cannibals, tried to cross the Maule again, but gave in to the fierce Promoncaes. And today, my son, prince and heir to the throne, on your first military campaign, you make an embarrassing withdrawal and thereby disrupt the conquest of the Sciris… Very well: The Conquest is over. Let us tend to the work of peace!”
Tupac Yupanqui rose from his golden seat and entered his chambers, followed by Raucaschuqui. The others were not sure how they should behave in the wake of the Inca’s fit of rage. The heir apparent covered his jaguar head and, with an expression of anger and pain, he flung cape over his shoulder, headed toward the portico and disappeared, followed by two young huaracas, his campaign advisors.