Friday, October 19, 2012

The Caballito, from the beaches of northern Peru

Caballito means little horse. The modern name of a very old totora reed boat tradition, the caballito feel like your literally stradling a mix between a steed and a kayak. In the beaches of Northern Peru´s Huanchaco surf town, I recently had the chance to build and ride a caballito, all in one day, my birthday October 16th!
Roughly three meters in length, the Caballito is a one man fishing vessel used to buck over the rough Pacific waves to haul in fish from nets cast just off shore. Over a four hour period, and the focus of my next blog, I worked with Carlo, and master Caballito builder Victor, to build the caballito before I had the chance to ride it just before sunset.

A ceramic sculpture from the Moche civilization and formative period, roughly 1600 years old, depicting the Caballito and use in fishing and daily life. Museo Larco, Lima.

A silver casted sculpture of the Caballito from the Fusion Period between Chimu and Inca civlizations, roughly 500 years old. This depicts the possible spiritual aspects of the Caballito, with a human sacrifice tied to the back of the craft to be offered to the sea. Museo Larco, Lima

From the two sculptures above, and many more found throughout the dry beaches and river valleys of Northern Peru, it is evident that the Caballito tradition, or Totora is at least a two thousand year old tradition passed down from the Moche, Salinar, and Chimu civilizations that have existed in the region, as a cradle of human civilization in South America.

Still surviving as fishing vessels, with relatively little changes to the styles from what we can tell from these ceramics burried by tide sediments over eons. It was truely a humbling experience to be in the presence of these incredible works at the Museo Larco, in Lima.

The dispersing adobe walls of ChanChan.

People have been settling the river valleys and harvesting fish from the incredibly productive northern coast form at least four thousand years before today. This developed into what was called the Moche civilization, whos ceramics have survived until today burried in sand. The Chimu civilization, of which the capital was at Chan Chan, just a few kilometers from Huanchaco, where they still build the Caballitos, was at least 60,000 people at its peak. With dominations of the Incas in the 15th century, the Chimus were integerated and fused into a larger empire. While all these changes happen and civilizations came and went, the small reed boat tradition, and the importance of taking fish from the sea, survive the tides and stormy weather of human dynamics.

A short post because of technical difficulties, I am excited to tell you more about this pearl of human herritage surviving in beaches of Northern Peru. For now, think about the rarity of a surviving tradition in such a way. The Caballitos, original names lost to the harsh sands and seas, are still stacked along the beach after a hard day of fishing, a beautiful sillouette in the same sunset that illuminated ancestoral eyes.


1 comment:

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