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Colonial Peru, the Caste System, and the “Purity” of Blood

It was the Spaniards who gave the world the notion that an aristocrat’s blood is not red but blue. The Spanish nobility started taking shape around the ninth century in classic military fashion, occupying land as warriors on horseback. They were to continue the process for more than five hundred years, clawing back sections of the peninsula from its Moorish occupiers, and a nobleman demonstrated his pedigree by holding up his sword arm to display the filigree of blue-blooded veins beneath his pale skin—proof that his birth had not been contaminated by the dark-skinned enemy—Robert Lacey, Aristocrats

The historical Spanish obsession with the purity of blood evolved into an elaborate caste system which reached its apogee with the colonization of South America and the subsequent intermingling of settlers with both South American Indians and imported African slaves, all of whose mixed offspring needed a separate classification, of course.

It was an intricate system—designed to pit sections of society against each other and play on the subsequent fear of overthrow by the lower classes, so that Spain could continue to exert its top-down control. But it also signified the relative social importance of the caste members, usually in a pejorative sense, meaning that only certain rights, occupations, and institutions were open to them.

If you had been born in Spain, then you automatically qualified as a member of the elite. If you had been born in South America, but your bloodline was “pure” then you were accorded privileged status, but of the second order, and the most influential posts were out of reach. However, if your ancestors had the temerity to dally with the Indians or blacks, then a complicated algorithm was brought to bear. Continue reading

Welcome to South Americana

Well, hello there. Some of you may be familiar with my other blog Let’s Get Digital, some may not. It’s all good; this place is going to be very different as it’s an outlet for an altogether different obsession: South America.

It’s hard to imagine what I thought of South America before I visited there, but I’m sure it was the standard stereotypes of violent druglords, corrupt regimes, and hedonistic locals.

While those things hold true – to a very limited extent – there is also so much more to the continent, and one of the most fascinating aspects of South America is its history.

From swashbuckling heroes to comic-book villains, South American history reads like an old-school adventure story and I’m looking forward to sharing some of the stories I collected on two separate trips around the continent.

I first went to South America in 2005. I only intended staying for a couple of months before continuing on to New Zealand. However, within a few weeks, I knew I wasn’t going to leave until I ran out of money.

I managed to stretch it out for nine months, and by then I was fully addicted. Even though I traveled to some interesting and exotic places in subsequent years, South America never strayed from the forefront my mind; it gets under your skin.

Returning was an inevitability, and I was able to spend another nine months there in 2009. Although that time I had I good excuse: research. But we’ll talk more about that later.

Please excuse the mess while the builders are at work making the place all pretty. You’ll hear from me soon, and in the meantime, you can learn a little about me here or contact me here.

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