Lords of War, Gods of Gold
24 June 2012
Probably the most famous museum in Lima is the Gold Museum — Museo del Oro — but the Gold Museum is actually two museums: you walk directly into the Weapons of the World museum on the ground floor, while to see the Gold Museum you must descend into a vault to see what must be one of the world’s great collections of gold objets d’art. No doubt there is much more gold in purely quantitative terms in the world’s gold stockpiles (like that at Fort Knox), but in terms of gold worked for aesthetico-religious purposes, I don’t know of any rival to Peru’s Gold Museum (although I should admit that I have made no attempt to study the issue).
The Gold Museum is not, I am sorry to say, very well kept up at the present, and the admission is now 33 Soles, which is pretty high for a museum admission here. The treasures are crammed into aging cases, and even if it is not practical to expand the size of the vault holding the gold (which would obviously be expensive) it would be possible to up date the cases and the labeling of the displays. Although there are few labels, and the English translations are often incomprehensible, the first and perhaps most famous figure one sees upon entering the vault is a tumi figure of the Lambayeque god Naymlap, who is identified as the god who brought civilization to the Lambayeque region. Now, I don’t know how accurate this is (as I wrote, many of the English language labels of exhibits are indecipherable), but I rather like the idea of a god that “brings civilization.” It is, in any case, an interesting idea.
The Weapons of the World museum is similarly crowded, with an impossible density of display, though it is amazing just to think of how all these guns and knives were collected in one place. I’ve been to other military museums — for example, in Paris and Brussels — that include entire tanks in their displays. The largest item on display at the Weapons of the World museum is a genuine Gatling gun. The bulk of the collection focuses on small arms — guns and knives, as noted — and is fully international, with perhaps more items from the Old World than the New. There is, for example, a comprehensive collection of Samurai swords and armor.
Many notable military men have visited the Weapons of the World museum, and it has apparently become a custom to give a gift to the museum, so that the cases are filled with items identified as gifts of particular persons. There is an entire uniform (dressing a full size mannikin) that once belonged to General Pinochet (dating from when he was still in power). There was also a uniform from Generalissimo Francisco Franco, though it wasn’t clear to me if this was a gift from the general himself. Although gifts of this nature give an uncomfortable reminder of right wing dictatorships — I was wondering if I had looked carefully if I might have found a gift from Alfredo Stroessner — there also appeared to be a gift from one of Castro’s revolutionary cronies (though not one of the more famous among them), so that the museum appears to be equal opportunity for military ideologies.
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