Ancient Tiwanaku Tiahuanaco
Five thousand people gathered at the foot of the Bennett Monolith to bid farewell to the guardian who returned to Tiahuanaco after 69 years, March 2002. Twelve Andean amautas (wise men) made a final offering to the giant, asking for prosperity with its transfer. The voice of Luzmila Carpio became a prayer as she said “Do not forget about La Paz.” The removal effort continued all night before the stele departed for its place of origin, Tiwanaku, where it was received with a number of welcoming ceremonies.
“Do not forget the Illimani, do not forget La Paz!”
The activities surrounding the Bennett Monolith’s transfer could not conceal the sadness of the event. All partings are so. “It’s sad to see it go.” Some 300 representatives of communities adjacent to Tiahuanaco had arrived for the event, along with twelve amautas who would be responsible for making the offerings to the Pacahamama asking permission for the stele’s journey. “We’re pround that the monolith return to Tiahuanaco. Our forebears, our grandfathers, wished to take it but they couldn’t. That’s why we have had droughts and suffered. Now all will be good. This is a good omen!” said Jorge Quispe, a councilman from Tiahuanaco.
The sound of the pututus marked the beginning of the ritual ceremony. Outside the temple, people fought each other for a good space to view the monolith. Within the center, authorities, special guests and journalists awaited. Torches blazed. One by one, the twelve Andean wisemen presenter their offerings, lit by the light of a great bonfire. “Let there be a good harvest, and may La Paz not miss you.” “May the monolith forgive us, may it forgive us.” The expected speeches came next, as one by one, the council imparted Bolivia’s heritage that the monolith should return to its rightful home to be preserved. A year in the making, the great cultural project was fulfilled,” said Antonio Eguino, Vice Minister of Culture. It is a joy to us to have recovered it,” said the emotion-filled mayor of Tiahuanaco, Tito Flores, who gave two miniature replicas of the stele to the Vice Minister of Culture and the mayor, respecitvely.
“This is a sad night for residents of La Paz, but also a joyful one,” said La Paz mayor Juan del Granado. “We bid farewell to our protector so that he may return to the land in which he flourished.” The authority repeated its promise to provide a replica of the monument shortly. “The Monolith is leaving, but he shall remain with us because it is part of our culture, making a single fatherland out of its diversity.” Then the voice of Luzmila Carpio filled the semi-subterranean temple.
“Achachila Illimani, give us the light of thy snowy mountains to light our way,” sang Luzmila, and her musical verses rose like a prayer before the monument. Beside her, members of the Norte Potosí groupd also proffered their artistic offering. “This is the love of the peoples–our love for the monolith.” The public followed the ceremony almost respectfully at all times. There were screams, the poorly timed bursts of camera flash, and the inevitable: “Please sit down, young man–I can’t see.” The closing was swift. It was necessary to return to the task of moving the stele. “Please leave the temple and taste the monolith-shaped cookies offered by La Francesa,” were the final words of the master of ceremonies. The pain of sorrow became a prayer: “Monolith, do not forget the Illimani. Do not forget us.” Sad, as are all partings. The sacred fire bid farewell to the stele, which returned to Tiwanaku in March 2002, after a 69 year absence.
Arrival of a New Age Monolith Successfully Returned
For many decades, the Andean peoples of La Paz, Bolivia, waited for a sign that would announce the arrival of a New Age, the conclusion of a cycle, the arrival of the Pachakuti. The Aymaras are confident that the arrival of the Monolith to the place where it was discovered 70 years ago will bring prosperity for the entire region. Cmmunities located between El Alto and Tiahuanaco celebrated in a way they are seldom accustomed to: all of them believe that the suffering of the indigenous peoples of the world is coming to an end. “It is already home, to the joy of the Aymaras.”
The long road back, the caravan covered the road to Tiahuanaco, bringing joy to the Aymaras. “We thank you, Monolith, for reconciling us with the universe,” said Javier Tito, shortly before the Bennett stele dparted the country’s most Aymara community. As thought to seal his words, a bolt of lighting lit the horizon and rains poured over the Altiplano. The monolith’s final procession was lit by bolts of lighting, an auspicious sign.
The caravan which escorted the massive carving was formed by over one hundred vehicles–official cars, public transit buses, especially contracted vans which accompanied the Stone Giant on its last journy. Departing the urban environs of El Alto, the stele headed east on the road toward Desaguadero, the border town with Peru. Its first reception was organized by residents of Laja, a community in which the original city of La Paz was founded in 1548. To the rhythm of tarkas and drums, the locals gave the statue a warm welcome.
Curiously, as the Monolith went past, the skies grew dark and abundant rain fell on the highlands, while scant kilometers ahead the sun shined radiantly, and the earth dried once more in the caravan’s wake. Farmers interpreted the phenomenon as a good omen, heralding better days for the Aymaras. And thus returned the stele, amid sun and rain.
Residents of all of the nearbay towns greeted the returning colossus. They expected that the sculpture’s journey will mark a now and a hereafter for the Aymaras. “Now our suffering will cease, since the Monolith will no longer punish us. The Aymara will rule again now that the Pachakuti has arrived,” said the hopeful elders of nearby communities as they prepared their offerings for the caravan’s passing.
Still another ceremony took place in Vilaque, only a few kilometers before reaching Tiahuanaco. Given the lateness of the hour, already 5:00 p.m., the people were emerged in the festivities and danced unceasingly. The arrival of the ages-old sculpture had unleashed the euphoria. But no reception was as grand as the one organized at Tiahuanaco. All the elements were there, from a uniformed band whose members remained in military formation despite the rain, to bright and colorful dances, and even the songs of the K’achas conveyed by the PA system provided by a beer company.
The archeological treasure had returned to the place it was sculpted. However, the work necessary to compact the soil where it would stand once more was still taking place. While compactors flattened the terrain, a water pump dislodged the water which had ponded in the area. Final placement of the statue was another day.
The stele’s 69-year absence came to an end with a new time of hope for the Aymaras. The most optimistic among them said it was the Jach’a Uru–the great day in which the indians shall be freed from bondage to begin a new age.
The Bennett Monolith
The largest Stelae at Tiahuanaco (above) is 24 feet high (20 ton), known as the Bennett monolith or Pachamama’ monolith, stood for several years in front of La Paz stadium when it was taken from the original site at Tiwanaku in 1932. The monolith was ceremoniously returned in March 2002. The Bennett Stela was contemporaneous with Kalasasaya. Found resting in the semi-subterranean courtyard at Tiwanaku. The monolith depicts a rigidly frontal figure holding a kero (beaker) in one hand and a knife in the other. Its legs bear relief designs suggesting metal disks; over the rest of its body are incised birds, anthropomorphic jaguars, human beings, and geometric patterns. The kero held by the Bennett Stela is identical in form to one of the major ceramic types manufactured at Tiahuanaco. The lower half of its body is covered with fish-heads, reminds one of the Mesopotamian deity, Oannes, the half-man, half-fish, amphibious being who conveyed special knowledge to ancient mankind. Oannes is often associated with the Andean creator god, Viracocha.