Ritos y tradiciones de Huarochirí is Gerald Taylor’s version of Ms. 3169 from the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. The contents of the document, Father Francisco de Ávila’s collection of myths and tales from the Peruvian central coast, are well known and often cited. However, Taylor’s careful editing of the Quechua original, his ethnographic and linguistic annotations, and Antonio Acosta’s insightful biography of Ávila make this edition an important contribution to Andean studies.

While a native origin of the tales has never been in doubt, the reasons for and the exact date of their collection remain clouded. Acosta argues convincingly that Ávila organized a survey of local informants to curry favor with the Catholic hierarchy in the wake of his conviction on Indian charges of financial and moral misconduct in 1607. According to this version of the priest’s life, Ávila intended to both discredit his accusers and show his own investigative skills as a way of recouping his fortunes and gaining a position in Lima. Apparently, Ávila did his job too well. His presentation to the archbishop not only rescued his standing in Huarochirí but also established him as juez visitador de Idolatrías, a position which kept him away from the capital for the next 30 years.

The manuscript preserves 33 pieces of the rich oral heritage of Huarochirí province. Among the tales are classic versions of folklore genres: the trickster, Cuniraya; a flood which destroys the earth; visions of the afterlife. However, the tales spring directly from the traditions of the Huarochirí, Challca, and Mamaq, and give valuable information on the history of these peoples, only briefly dominated by the Inca. The core of this ethnocentric account appears in chapters 5-16, which treat the life and times of the province’s mythical hero, Pariacaca. These chapters form the most easily understood section of the manuscript. They appear to have come from the same informant and clearly document a unified tradition. Recent work on the area, from which monographs by Karen Spalding (1984) and María Rostworowski (1978) stand out, draws heavily on this section to establish a pre-Spanish chronology and social context for Huarochirí and the central coast. But, to date, scholars have shown a reluctance to move beyond extracting small fragments from the accounts.

Taylor’s work reopens the tales to inquiry. His 1980 French transcription, virtually unnoticed in this country, established what amounts to a new version of the text. Ritos y tradiciones expands the French edition with observations on the complex ethnography of the region, on the specific origins of some of the chapters, and on the way in which the manuscript was edited. Taylor achieves his exegesis through an extensive apparatus of notes, symbols, and indexes which accompany his Quechua and Spanish versions of the text. The Instituto de Estudios Peruanos and Instituto Francés de Estudios Andinos share in the edition’s accomplishments by their willingness to sponsor the complex book design which brings Taylor’s ideas to life.

By combining commentary, supporting sources, and linguistic analysis, Gerald Taylor opens new vistas for the seasoned student of the Andes, and makes the Huarochirí document comprehensible to novice readers. His edition of this important manuscript establishes a standard for erudition and for clarity.