October 15, 2018

The Author Walks

By John Dunkelgrün.

The National MuseumVolkenkunde in Leiden fully deserves to be much better known. Together with the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, the Wereldmuseum in Rotterdam and the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal it has a world class collection of ethnological items, manuscripts and books.

Together these museums are known  as the Stichting Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen. They offer exciting expositions and excellent research facilities. As of Thursday July 27th they present a very important exposition called “Camina el autor” (the author walks), Criticism and Compassion: Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala”. It consists mainly of a travelling exposition from Peru with some very important artefacts from the National MuseumVolkenkunde itself and the Tropenmuseum.

It is therefore fitting that the Ambassador of Peru, H.E. Mr. Carlos Herrera chose this venue for the annual reception in honour of Peru’s National Day. In the presence of several hundred people among whom at least 30 ambassadors, Ambassador  Herrera signed a document together with Mrs. Miep Huivenaar for the return of a small but historically important piece of finely woven cloth.

The core of the exposition is a magnificent and very important manuscript by Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, the Nueva Corónica y buen Gobierno.

H.E. Mr. Carlos Herrera and Mrs. Véronique Micléa.

The manuscript of over 1,000 pages with hundreds of very fine illustrations was meant as information for the king of Spain, Philip III. The writer, a direct descendant of the Inca’s, depicts the history of the Inca people before and after the conquest by the Spaniards. He does so very much from the perspective of the people. [to use the word “Inca’s” for the Inca people is a misnomer, it was the title of the head of state, the king or emperor].

He even, courageously challenged the Spanish claim that they took their country in the name of Christendom, while acting in a most unchristian way themselves. Poma was the first anti-colonialist writer of the new world. In a meticulous way he not only described the problems and hardships under Spanish rule, he suggested solutions. In a way that rings very true today, he almost seems to talk to us across the ages.

Unfortunately the manuscript was neither published nor given to the king in Spain. It disappeared for centuries before mysteriously surfacing in the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen in 1908 where it had languishes since the late 17th century.

Apart from the travelling exposition, which mainly centers about the book and the light it shines on the Inca culture and the Spanish influence, the exposition shows a very rare tunic an uncu, which due to its fragility is hardly ever shown, and a quipu, the knotted cord with which tax receipts were recorded. There are some recent indications, that these cords were also a form of keeping texts, but that is still a question mark.

Added to the exposition are works by the famous Lima painter Enrique Polanco, who made a series of vivid paintings trying to see modern Lima through the eyes of Poma de Ayala.

It is heart warming for your correspondent, as his former gallery was the first to show works by Polanco in The Netherlands.

The exposition may be enjoyed until August 7th 2019.

Museum Volkenkunde | Steenstraat 1 |Leiden. T: 0880042800 | Volkenkunde.nl

During the Summerholidays ( until 2 September 2018) the museum can be visited 7 days a week from 10am till 5 pm and after 7 September the museum will be closed on Mondays.

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Photography By John Dunkelgrün and Kim Vermaat.

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