Today I am pleased to be bringing you a guest post from the authors of the memoir The Gift of El Tio as part of Tributes Books Blog Tour. Please join me in welcoming Larry Buchanan and Karen Gans.
As the cold wind whistled past the black mouth of the cave in the cliffs above his village of San Cristobal, cacique Juan de la Cruz wrapped his coat about him and again stared into the flames for a sign, a message from a spirit, a ghost, or in this case, from his god, El Tio. “Be patient,” he said. He spit as he spoke again of the prophecy that would soon be fulfilled. I sat beside him in the shelter of the cave, the cold seeped from the rock walls to freeze my behind as my face burned in front of the fire. There was no message. The spirits and ghosts didn’t speak, but Juan already knew that a dozer would soon level his Quechua village, and he knew very well that I was responsible.
While prospecting in southwest Bolivia in 1996, I discovered an enormous deposit of silver beneath his village. To make a mine, my company had to move the people to a new site. Karen and I lived among the people for ten years to document the effects of my discovery, all of which are recorded in our recent memoir, The Gift of El Tio. After a short time of living with the Quechua, we learned my discovery had been specifically foretold for over 400 years, the people knew the silver was there all along. It turns out I was merely a pawn of their god of the underworld, El Tio, guided to Bolivia to help fulfill a promise he had made.
“El Tio promised us a gift…,” Don Juan said, stuffing more coca leaf into his already bulging mouth, “…to change our lives forever. We will have so much wealth, so much silver our houses will shine white in the sun, we will not even count our change in the market.”
This prophecy was passed down orally from father to son for at least ten generations; it is known by everyone. I first heard it from some hitchhikers going to the dry lake near Uyuni to gather salt. I paid no attention to it. I am a scientist. Math and physics leave little room for ancient prophecies; there is no icon on my calculator for computing a prophecy made by a naked, beer-bingeing, cannibalistic god of the underworld. I found it a curious story, quaint, picturesque even, but it was well beyond my ability to believe in such things. That is, until I heard the whole story.
The animist culture of the Quechua allows for a pantheon of gods, the Catholic god and the Pachamama foremost among them, but also innumerable lesser gods, spirits, goblins, souls and devils of various sorts. One, a particularly cruel and peevish god, El Tio, lives his entire life within the black interior of mountains, guarding his precious veins of gold and silver, a god never born but who actually was constructed by the Spanish merely to frighten the local workers.
El Tio suddenly appeared in the mines of the Andes as an adult around the year 1605. Even in the absolute black of his subterranean home, El Tio’s beard and mustache glow orange or yellow. His eyes are blue; his face, Caucasian, resembling those of his creators, the Spanish overlords who ruled by the whip in the mines of Bolivia. The Spanish had molded a clay god after their own diabolic image and enthroned him to rule in this sunless underworld, telling the exhausted workers that this hideous clay figure was El Diablo, their Dios of the mine, their god who guaranteed torture and death for anyone who dreamed he could somehow escape the impossible quota of toil demanded of every indigenous male in the Andes. The miners certainly came to fear El Tio for they soon learned the hard way that their new god had an insatiable appetite for human flesh. He was always hungry.
The rumor is that the Quechua could not pronounce the lisp in the Spanish “Dios.” Over the years it became “Tios,” then “El Tio.”
As told in The Gift of El Tio, the people believe El Tio had hidden a gift for those who continued to believe in him, a gift to be unveiled after 400 years in the year 2000. I discovered the silver in 1996, close enough for the people to believe my discovery was the fulfillment of El Tio’s promise. Coincidences such as this do not exist in the world of science; everything must be rational, but truth is I did begin to wonder, to question. I started attending the numerous Quechua ceremonies in order to document their old ways. In doing so, I became enthralled by the Quechua culture.
In The Gift of El Tio Karen and I document how the gift was discovered, how it changed the lives of the villagers, how it did, indeed, make them wealthier beyond their dreams, and how their new homes did shine white in the sun. We also document how, true to the perverse nature of El Tio, in accepting the gift the people also had to accept the strings attached: the destruction of the village and the loss of their entire way of life.
Thanks for sharing this fascinating post with us.
I am looking forward to reading The Gift of Eli Tio
Larry Buchanan earned his PhD in Economic Geology in 1979 and taught university-level geology for several years, but his love of the field led him to gold and silver prospecting in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. In 2006, he won the coveted Thayer Lindsley Award for the San Cristobal silver discovery. Dr. Buchanan has published a dozen scientific works and is a sought-after speaker at international conferences and college campuses.
Karen Gans earned her Master s degree in Early Childhood Development and has thirty-five years of experience as an educator, counselor, and consultant. She taught English in the Quechua village while the couple lived in Bolivia. Ms. Gans and her husband have four children and two grandchildren and reside in Ashland, Oregon.
The Gift of El Tio
by Larry Buchanan and Karen Gans
Purchase: Barnes and Noble/Amazon
Larry, a world-renowned geologist, discovers an enormous deposit of silver beneath a remote Quechua village in Bolivia and unwittingly fulfills a 400-year-old prophecy that promised a life of wealth for the villagers. Karen, a specialist in child development, is deeply disturbed by the prospect of displacing the people in order to open a mine. She challenges Larry to leave the comforts of home and move to the village in order to bear witness to the massive change his discovery will spark. Thus begins the couple’s life-changing, ten-year journey into the Quechua community, their evolution from outsiders to trusted friends. Then part two of the ancient prophecy is disclosed to them, and they are shocked by the truth of its predictions: alienation, despair, even cannibalism.
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