The Motorcycle Diaries


Ernesto Che Guevara

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The Motorcycle Diaries: Chapter 29 Summary & Analysis

Ernesto visits Cuzco’s ancient Inca fortress and speculates about its tactical significance as a defense for the city. He differentiates between “sober” Quechua architecture and the “splendor” of Inca construction. He then envisions the Spanish destruction of Inca infrastructure, saying these acts were motivated not by military necessity or economic greed, but by the desire to demolish any evidence of former Inca dignity and grandeur. To Ernesto, the forcible replacement of Inca temples with Christian churches is the epitome of this violent political transition, and because of this he finds them sinister to visit.
The city’s architectural history is a battleground on which different cultures compete for dominance. The preservation or destruction of old fortresses shows which cultures are in power. But just as the conquistadors used their own culture as a tool of oppression, forcibly imposing it on the people they conquered, recognizing and reclaiming ancient cultures can help contemporary members of the proletariat to begin to empower themselves.
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Leaving the center of the city, Ernesto treks along the outskirts to various sites where Incas waged battles against other indigenous peoples or European forces. Ernesto admires the sophistication of these erstwhile fortresses while noting the eerie and mournful quality of their current ruins.
These ancient battle sites remind Ernesto and the reader that South America’s indigenous people weren’t always poor and powerless, but once commanded large armies and fought significant battles.
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Finally, Ernesto visits Machu Picchu, noting that he agrees with Bingham (the American archaeologist who “discovered” the site in modern times) that it was not just a point of military defense, but also a sacred religious site. Ernesto explores the entire ruin, trying to imagine what life was like when people lived there. He concludes that sites like Machu Picchu are “irrefutable” evidence that powerful and sophisticated indigenous societies existed in South America before the European conquest, and have the potential to exist there again.
The complex archeology of Cuzco and surrounding sites makes Ernesto realize the importance of culture in moments of political strife. Even though the proletariat seem to have few weapons at their disposal, reclamation of their grand heritage is at least a strategy to bolster unity and morale, reminding them of the identity they share and fight to protect.
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