Contributed by Camille Williams
Coincidentally, on January 22, 2019, the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, National Geographic sent out an email titled in part “World’s largest child sacrifice discovered in Peru.”
Of course, I clicked on the link. My husband spent two years in Peru as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we’ve visited a couple of times more recently. The article reports the discovery of “269 children [between the ages of 5 and 14 and 466 llamas] who were sacrificed and buried around A.D. 1450 at two sites near Chan Chan, the ancient capital of the Chimú people. Most of the victims [human and animal] were killed with a cut to the chest, possibly to remove the heart, and buried in simple shrouds.”
Deciphering Child Sacrifice
When we visited Chan Chan, a World Heritage site, in 2015 we found it impressive. It is a somber experience to walk through a citadel, a city, abandoned by its people long ago. It is hard not to try to imagine what it might have been like to have lived as they lived—or as we supposed they lived as interpreted by archeologists. We had heard of burials approaching natural mummification along Peru’s dry coastline, but not the child sacrifice sites.
No Chimú writings exist, so archaeologists, admitting to bewilderment and relying on the material history they find and Spanish chronicles, believe that the children and llamas were precious gifts to the gods, a “mass sacrifice in a desperate attempt to persuade the gods to stop . . .” the apparently “. . . unusually destructive rain events likely caused by El Nino, as well as the threat of an Inca invasion.” The value of the sacrificial animals, which were used for food, transportation and clothing, was considerable, and the value of the children inestimable. As anthropologist Jane Eva Baxter noted, “You’re sacrificing the future and all that potential . . ..” “All of the energy and effort that’s gone into continuing your family, continuing your society into the future—you’re taking that away when you take a child.”
State abortion laws in the news
After reading the lamentable story of the Chimú’s child sacrifice, I returned to current events: New York Governoer Andrew Cuomo orders the One World Trade Center lighted pink to celebrate the state’s newly revised abortion law which declared abortion a fundamental human right and reduced minimal protections for some unborn and newly born children; Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signs an executive order ensuring that all state insurance plans cover abortions. Both are confident that their actions will help women and will create a better future for their respective states. A few days later, a Virginia bill which would have removed some restrictions on some abortions was defeated in part because it was interpreted to include the possibility of infanticide. And on February 6, 2019, New Mexico’s state House repealed a pre-Roe v. Wade anti-abortion law.
The fallacy of abortion and women’s rights
In 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion throughout the nation in the belief that it would help women. Since then, it is estimated that more than 61 million legal abortions have been performed in the United States. In 1992, In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a plurality of the court contended that legal abortion is necessary for women’s equality, and that “society has come to rely on abortion as key to socioeconomic development and the organization of intimate relationships.” Certainly to many in our popular culture, women’s rights are synonymous with abortion. However, Erika Bachiochi argues that “the assumptions underlying the idea the pregnancy and motherhood necessarily undermine equality for women,” are wrong. Rather, she contends that “abortion rights actually hinder the equality of women by taking the wombless male body as normative, thereby promoting cultural hostility toward pregnancy and motherhood. Only prolife feminism can promote the equality of women because it does not embrace the falsehood that equality requires women to deny their fertility and reject their children.”
Mirroring the ancient past
We think of ourselves as far more sophisticated and scientific than the Chimu, and yet in culture and law we mirror in part their belief that parents can insure prosperity by sacrificing their children. There are differences, of course. The Chimú sacrificed children ages 5-14; for the most part, abortion takes the lives of the smallest children, faces not yet seen, voices not yet heard. To some extent our culture is still revulsed by infanticide, although there have been a number of serious attempts since 1979 to justify the morality of infanticide and euthanasia.
Yet, we are too much like the Chimú if we fail to understand that any culture which does not protect its young has no future.