by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. This story started, for me at least, about 3 months ago when my helper Aime Joseph and I were at the Shaw’s Market in Porter Square, Cambridge. I almost always visit their floral department while I’m there, since flowers for me are as necessary as food; not luxuries, but essentials, especially during the long, dour days that characterize a Bay State winter.
I knew my options like the back of my hand… especially the roses which these days come in a far wider array of colors than were available when I was growing up. But roses, breathtaking when you make your selection in the store, fade quickly when taken home despite the detailed suggestions for cutting the stem, adding plant food, and changing the water. The rose dazzles, captivates… but too soon dies… at the last a source of dismay.
I needed something else… something different… something to entice… and last… but what?
Then there they were… serenely confident…. an explosion of color… something new, at least for me; they may have been there before but today my eye perceived them rather than overlooked… and while I didn’t know it then these blooms had already begun their insidious maneuvers to seize not merely my eye… but in very short order… my heart.
So did the Lily of the Incas and I commence our relationship… like the person you loved from first glance and later wondered how you ever lived without. Yes, these flowers have such a power and I welcomed them without cavil for I needed their gifts… especially their long-lasting presence, a presence (it pains me to recall) I once doubted.
Each morning, not yet a true believer, still uncertain, skeptical, anxious I ran to my beloved… to see, perhaps to mourn their passing, only to be rebuked by the lilies not just with their beauty but their tenacity and commitment. For such a love one searches for a lifetime. I had found mine in the grocery store.
The Incas and their lily.
Like many flowers the lilies of the Incas have several different names. They are called Peruvian lilies; they are also known as parrot lilies. And like all plants they also bear a sonorous scientific sobriquet, alstroemeria, named by Carolus Linnaeus for his close friend Swedish baron Clas Alstromer (1736-1794). But no name suits them so well or do they cherish as much as Lily of the Incas.
Atahaulpa… Pizarro… destiny… and the flower that remembers.
This plant and its explosion of colors calls us sharply back to the greatest tragedy of the Inca nation; its subversion and destruction by a handful of rapacious soldiers under the command of a destructive genius, Francisco Pizarro (1471-1541). He was born poor, illegitimate and suffered for it in every way. Rage, anger, a need to prove himself to himself and others fueled his ambition. He had nothing to lose and so learned the benefits of unbridled audacity. Such a man, shrewd, inventive, always bold was dangerous… as the Inca emperor Atahualpa — and his entire nation — soon learned.
For both sides their encounter at Cajamarca in 1532 was epochal, for there the tiny Spanish force of just 180 men and 37 horses, masters of stratagem, courage, lies and trickery captured the Sapa Inca (“unique Inca”) and so in an instant made Spain the richest and most important nation on earth… and every Spaniard in the piratical expedition richer than Croesus. This is how it happened…
Pizarro’s force was as nothing against the might of the Incas… but Pizarro would do anything to conquer… and here he had the advantage against the uncomprehending Incas. And so, by treachery Atahualpa fell into his hands. To free himself, or at the very least to preserve his life, he offered to fill a room about 22 feet long and 17 feet wide up to a height of 8 feet once with gold and twice with silver within 2 months.
With this offer Atahualpa enriched the Spaniards and signed the death warrant of himself and all his people… for once apprized of the riches of the Incas, the Spaniards had absolutely no intention of doing anything but extracting more and more. And so was Atahualpa strangled… for he had not merely outlived his usefulness but (now understanding the Spaniards better) understood what must be done to eradicate them. That made him dangerous …. and his brutal end inevitable. The date was July 26, 1533….
And here legend steps in…
For within just days, on the very spot where the last Sapa Inca, the hapless Atahualpa died, his clothes and part of his body incinerated, a flower never seen before began to grow, strengthened by the blood of Atahualpa, soon a vision of loveliness. Of course the Spaniards, who had everything else, wanted this, too. But they could not pluck it… or uproot it. It was tenacious, impervious to whatever they did… but it yielded to an Inca maiden of the royal line. To the astonishment of all, this princess succeeded where the avarice and connivance of the Spaniards failed. The legend states that Pizarro himself tried to pick the flower, but failed. “This,” he said, “is a lily of the Incas.” And so it was, and so it has remained.
The Spanish empire, all of Nueva Espana, is long gone now, forgotten. But the lily of the Incas has flourished. Many hybrids and about 190 cultivars have been developed, with different markings and colors, ranging from white, golden yellow and orange to apricot, pink, red, purple and lavender. The most popular and showy hybrids commonly grown today result from crosses between species from Chile (winter-growing) with species from Brazil (summer-growing). This strategy has resulted in plants that are evergreen and flower for most of the year.
El condor pasa.
Over this exuberance of never-ending beauty flies the majestic condor, the great eyes of the Incas. Peruvian composer Daniel Alomia Robles wrote their anthem in 1913, inspired by Andean folk tunes. Go now to any search engine and find the version you like best. My personal favorite is by Wayna Picchu, a Latin folk band from Peru. Simon and Garfunckel’s version (1970) made the song famous and makes the words plain: “A man gets tied up to the ground. He gives the earth its saddest sound. Its saddest sound.” To rise, strew your hard path with lilies of the Incas… and look up in wonder whenever the condor passes. The unyielding flowers are for beauty… the condor shows you deliverance… freedom… joy. Look up now… he is passing somewhere near you and beckons… Perhaps this time you will respond… and soar.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today at http://www.worldprofit.com