Was that a hawk we saw circling over the State House in Providence, R.I. Saturday ... or an Andean condor?
For the past two days, concert venues in New England have come alive with the sound of Inca flutes and drums. The Boston Symphony Orchestra devoted Friday's concert at Tanglewood to music inspired by the Inca Empire ("Caminos del Inka"), while visitors to Waterfire in Providence Saturday also had a chance to see plume-covered dancers sway to the sounds of indigenous music in the 21st Bolivian festival of Our Lady of Urkupina.
Of the three major pre-Columbian empires in Latin America -- Aztec, Maya, Inca -- it is the Incas who have traditionally gotten the least amount of attention up North. Maybe it's because, geographically, they were a lot farther away. It is likely that more American tourists have visited Mexico City or Chichen Itza than Machu Picchu.
The past two days indicate that New Englanders are showing more interest. On Friday, the Berkshires evoked the Andes as the BSO gave its woodwind and percussion sections a different challenge than their normal Eurocentric fare. Saturday, visitors to downtown Providence could watch dancers wheel around the concert space, listen to the pipers play, and sample Bolivian cuisine such as steak, corn and plantains.
The Inca Empire lost its power long ago with the coming of Pizarro and the Spaniards in the sixteenth century. Perhaps interest in the Inca is appropriate in Western Massachusetts and Rhode Island because they, too, were the sites of confrontations between indigenous inhabitants and European arrivals. It is a welcome sign of humility for the West to recognize that history in the Americas did not begin with the European conquests ... and to celebrate pre-Columbian history through the enduring echo of the Inca flutes.