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Tuesday, May 21, 2019, 13:06
Garcilaso's Inca roots a highlight of Beijing event
By Wang Ru
Tuesday, May 21, 2019, 13:06 By Wang Ru

Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616) writes and translates many books that record the history of the Inca empire and other aspects of that society. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

Chronicler Inca Garcilaso de la Vega-whose name is less well-known in China than in some other parts of the world as compared to Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes and English playwright William Shakespeare-died on April 23, 1616, the same date as the two other literary icons.

In the Royal Commentaries of the Incas, Garcilaso de la Vega also uses China to describe the Inca empire since his Spanish readers at the time had interest in China

The date was announced as the World Book and Copyright Day by UNESCO in 1995.

The Cervantes Institute in Beijing recently held an event, where Peruvian writer Fernando Iwasaki and Xu Shicheng, a researcher with the Latin America Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, discussed Garcilaso's works.

Born in the city of Cuzco in Peru in 1539, six years after the Inca empire had perished, Garcilaso was the son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca princess. He was seen as a mixed-race person, or mestizo, a word that was adopted by the first Spaniards who had children with local women.

"I openly call myself by it (mestizo), and pride myself upon it," wrote Garcilaso in the Royal Commentaries of the Incas.

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According to Iwasaki, Garcilaso's parents never got married, which is why he lived with his mother's Inca family for the first 10 years of his life before his father took him into his household.

"He learned a lot about Inca society and people since childhood."

Garcilaso left Peru at age 20 in 1559, after his father's death the same year, and didn't returned from Spain during his lifetime. He wrote and translated many important books, including the Royal Commentaries of the Incas, which records the history of the Inca empire and other aspects of that society.

"The book is considered among his greatest contributions. In many ways the image of the Incas throughout the world is based on Garcilaso's descriptions in the book," Xu says.

The book contains nine volumes and 212 chapters, forming a vivid and detailed picture of Inca society. Garcilaso sourced information for the book from his maternal relatives' memories of the empire, his own childhood experiences and another book, Historia Occidentalis, written by Blas Valera, a fellow mestizo.

Garcilaso spent 20 years on his book before it was published in 1609.

"This is not just a history book but also one with many literary details and emotions. The language is refined and very beautiful," says Xu, who believes reading the Royal Commentaries of the Incas is an enjoyment.

Peruvian writer Fernando Iwasaki speaks about Garcilaso and his works at the Beijing event. (WANG RU / CHINA DAILY)

Garcilaso describes a temple of the Inca empire in a detailed and vivid way, including how people worshiped at that time.

"Although the book is written in Spanish, it has the Peruvian spirit. I can feel the writer yearn for his native land through this book," Xu adds.

Many in Western countries use Rome as a reference when describing a place for comparison, Iwasaki says. In Garcilaso's time, missionaries from Portugal and Italy traveled to China and spread information about China in European countries. As a result, China also became a reference when people described places then.

In the Royal Commentaries of the Incas, Garcilaso also uses China to describe the Inca empire since his Spanish readers at the time had interest in China.

"We generally believe he exaggerated the strengths of the Inca and overlooked oriental civilizations to some extent," says Iwasaki.

Xu also believes Garcilaso prettified some parts about Inca empire in this book, such as the relationship between Incan emperors and the ordinary people.

"The annexation of many ethnic groups to the Inca empire would not have been possible without bloodshed," Xu adds.

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The Chinese version of the book, translated by Bai Fengsen and Yang Yanyong, was released in the 1990s. Other than being mostly written in Spanish, the book has many passages in Quechuan, an indigenous language spoken by the Inca people.

"The Royal Commentaries of the Incas is valuable for the study of Inca culture, and we hope to offer a feast of knowledge by hosting this activity to discuss him (the writer) and his works," says Peruvian ambassador to China Luis Quesada.

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