One word resonates throughout much of Spanish South America. It suggests a golden time, before the Europeans came, when most of what became the Spanish colonies were joined in a single polity. It was glorious and a wonder in the world.
Today, its vestiges draw tourists from far and wide. They enhance its mysteries and create new ways of thinking about it but for hundreds of millions of people along the Andean spine it suggests a time that was and a time they hope might be again.
The word is Tawantinsuyo, the whole of the four parts. To its north reigned the Chibcha and to its south the Mapuches. To its east the world of the Chunchos, the jungle dwelling Indians whose civilizations and development are only now becoming visible again. And, to the west, balancing the sea of green on the east lay the gray-blue waters of the Pacific with their Polynesians and Melanesians.
It suggests a time when Indigenous people were great and led the world with a way of life, a world view or cosmovision, now called “living well”, el Buen Vivir or Sumaq Kausay, a time of ayni—sharing—among people and the universe.
It sounds as a critique of the present when six countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru) hold pieces of it, engage in quarrels and national struggles with each other, and impose Western ways that many find opposed to the wisdom of the Earth.
UNESCO has recently honored its trunk roads, the Qhapaq Ñan, an amazing achievement which draws the region together. Though abandoned by the modern states these ancient roads still makes Tawaintinsuyo visible, hope-able, and dreamable.
It, the Inca Empire, remains an ideal and a hope that rings in the politics of the region and in the hearts and memories of school kids and its people.
There are other areas of unity, the Andean Community, Bolivarismo, various free trade zones, but none has quite the roots, the image of reversed colonialism and class, and the critique of the modern order as Tawantinsuyo, the grand at whose heart still beats a city of myth and mystery, Cuzco. It claims to be a future.