You know that old saying, “dog is man’s best friend”? The gringa completely understands this. She has lived her life according to this rule. I grew up on a cattle ranch exposed to working dogs that were smart and worthy of respect. They opened gates, herded cattle into corrals and other pastures, and kept them moving down chutes when they balked. It was the gringa’s habit to roam the woods around our house and down into the Brazos River Valley. But I was rarely alone. Morris was a Keeshond that my older sister got as a puppy. He stayed at my parent’s home after she moved away. I would give him horrible haircuts with garden shears every summer, snipping off his long, thick coat to give him some relief. That was a foreshadow of what was to come.
When I entered college with aspirations of becoming an English teacher, I had to get a job. I began working for a veterinarian. Eventually, the veterinarian trained the gringa as a dog groomer. The gringa’s health held up for about two semesters then epilepsy came charging in demanding attention. This began a cycle of sporadic attempts to go back to college, working, health crisis, hiatus, and on and on and on. Eventually I realized that it was unlikely I would ever sustain a lengthy enough stretch of good health to graduate or even make a reliable employee. I gave up on a teaching degree, said a tearful thank you and good-bye to a very kind veterinarian, and began a career as a self-employed dog groomer, a career that lasted more than 25 years.
During that time the gringa had Sparky the hero dog who took a bullet to save his family, as well as many other dogs that have been rescued and re-homed. The gringa currently has a service dog who is also my constant companion. Abby is a seizure-alert dog who is small enough for me to carry in a front-pack wherever I go. Abby is as adorable as she is good at her job. She has a perpetual puppy look. A Maltese-Yorkie mix, the gringa calls her a Malarkie.
Now, the dear reader is probably wondering where the gringa is going with this dog-biography. Well, the gringa is going to Peru and other ancient civilizations. She has recently found out that the caveman’s ancient ancestors sacrificed dogs. Eyeing him suspiciously as I curl a protective arm around my Abby, I try to imagine him thousands of years ago sacrificing a dog. The gringa can’t see it in her mind’s eye.
The caveman is such a kind, gentle soul. Just about every Peruvian I have met when we have traveled to his jungle origins are similar in nature. Quick to smile and laugh with a gentleness and generosity that would bring tears to your eyes. And dogs roam freely. Even in the capital city of Lima they are left unmolested to go about their business. So what was up with sacrificing them so many years ago?
In Lima, there are ruins underneath the city’s zoo where archaeologists are excavating remains of what they believe to be warriors who died violent deaths and dogs who were ritually sacrificed and buried with them. This is the work of the Ychma culture. This is not the first discovery of human Ychma remains within the city, but the finding of sacrificed dogs, by rope strangulation and slit throats (egad!), is what makes this site a bit more interesting.
The Ychma lived about 2,000 years ago in the area of Peru that is modern day Lima. Typical burials of the average Ychma would include pottery, textiles and often items related to the textile industry like thread and needles. The skill of crafting textiles was a gift from their god’s father, Virachocha, who beget many gods, particularly the Ychma god, Pachacamac.
The Ychma people were also buried facing the sea, in honor of their god’s wife, Urpi Wachay, who is an ocean deity. Her name’s translation means “one who gives birth to doves”. The gringa finds that beautiful. Anyway, I digress.
The Ychma god, Pachacamac, was one of the Sun God’s children. Pachacamac was a god of fire, interacting directly with humankind. His father, Sun god Viracocha, the god who created the world and taught the making of crafts such as textiles and pottery, was invisible, remote and uninvolved with his creation. After creating the world and showing humanity how to tend to itself, he left their governance up to his children. Eventually the world he created became corrupt and needed rejuvenation. That was the work of Pachacamac.
He had a tri-une, or three level, nature. There is the level that is unseen, unmanifested. There is also the aspect of his name’s translation that literally means the “one who moves the world”. Seeing how Lima is often rocked by earthquakes it is easy to understand why this characteristic was adopted. Then there is the name translation aspect that means “the language of man”, as in being an oracle, a god who communicated directly with mankind.
The nature of Pachacamac is thought to be like that of a spoiled and precocious child, embodied in the earthquakes as temper tantrums. Sacrifices were meant to appease him, just like giving candy to a baby. The Ychma built a shrine and temple complex that still inspires religious pilgrimage today. Pachacamac held such powerful sway over the Ychma that even when the Incas subjugated them in the 1400s, the empire absorbed Pachacamac into their own religious pantheon.
The Ychma also built the ancient cities Puruchuco and Cajamarquilla along with 16 stepped pyramids. The pyramids were religious sites to make offerings. There were agricultural items and foods often given in ceramic containers. There were also pyramids dedicated to human sacrifice. Not only were humans sacrificed, but animals like frogs were sacrificed as an offering that would please the gods so that they would send rain. But the gringa still wants to know why they sacrificed the dogs.
The Ychma were not alone in this practice. The ancient Greeks did it. The ancient Romans did, too. Romano-British dog sacrifice remains have also been found. But why? Depending on the culture and religion, the reasons varied: fertility, guardians, divination, guide passage from life to death, provide companionship in the afterlife. Although archaeology experts have yet to publish the significance of the sacrificed Ychma dogs, the gringa has drawn her own conclusions.
I believe that since they were buried with warriors who show evidence of violent, deadly wounds, she believes the dogs were intended to provide protection, as well as companionship, in the afterlife. A noble death? Yes, so my soft heart takes some comfort that the dogs died as revered symbols rather than exterminated as pests. But still it irks me. But the gringa will no longer eye the caveman suspiciously when he walks by Abby with knife or rope in his hands.