Just a few short days after its controversial installation, vandals have damaged a unique Moche phallic statue that was erected outside the city of Trujillo in northern Peru. The 9-foot (2.7-meter) tall fiberglass monument is notable for two things: first for its bright red color, and second for the male figure’s enormous phallus, which points skyward like a telescope or a rocket ship ready to blast into space.
Peruvian women praying to the Huaco Erotico Moche phallic statue, which was recently vandalized. ( Municipalidad Distrital de Moche )
The Moche Phallic Statue Viewed As Scandalous By Some
Dubbed Huaco Erotico, the graphic statue is supposed to represent a man from Peru’s lost Moche culture, which was known for producing smaller artifacts that often included provocative sexual imagery . The Moche phallic statue was installed along a trail that connects the ancient Moche temples of the Sun and the Moon, which were built by the culture that occupied the northern coast near modern-day Trujillo from approximately 100 to 800 AD.
Naturally, the statue has been an attention-getter from the moment it was unveiled in late December. Locals and tourists alike have been flocking to the site to have their picture taken standing beside it, while others have protested that it as an abomination that shouldn’t be on display outdoors in an area easily accessible by children.
Unfortunately, a group of people who belong to the latter category decided to take extreme action to express their displeasure with the phallically-enhanced statue. After taking a security guard hostage at knife point, three masked individuals used a hammer to smash a large hole in the five-foot (1.5-meter) penis, which amazingly remained attached to the statue despite this vicious assault . The three men then fled the scene, firing several gunshots in the air to put an exclamation point on their violent attack of the defenseless plastic monument.
Arturo Fernández Bazán, the mayor of the district of Moche (named after the region’s ancient inhabitants), expressed his outrage at this unprovoked attack on the life-sized replica of a Moche fertility statue .
“In our Mochica culture, these types of ceramics vessels were not considered erotic but represented the Godhead,” Fernández Bazán told the local media. “The [Ancient] Greeks had another type of representation. We have been more aggressive and more direct with our feelings.”
Fernández Bazán blamed the attack on political enemies, defiantly stating that he refused to be intimidated by such thuggery. In retaliation, he says he will order the construction of 30 new statues saluting the ancient Moche culture, several of which will feature erotic themes or depictions of childbirth.
Peruvian stirrup spout bottle with phallic figure ( MET Museum of Art )
Who Were the Moche People?
The Moche are a mysterious people known only through the intricately manufactured artifacts and impressive ruined structures they left behind. They were both a pre-Incan and pre-Columbian civilization, acting as the dominant power in northern Peru from early in the first century AD to the mid-eighth century AD, when their influence began to decline. The southern and northern Moche were separate groups politically, and the area around Trujillo was included within the borders of the southern Moche region.
Archaeologists have recovered hundreds of samples of ceramic pottery from various excavations in Moche territory, approximately 500 of which feature explicit sexual themes and activities. It is this unusual pottery that the Moche are best known for in the modern world, which is what motivated a local artist to make the oversized statue that pays salute to the Moche’s interest in fertility and sexuality.
In addition to their ceramic work, the Moche were also accomplished metalworkers and agriculturalists who found a way to survive on dry and marginal land near Peru’s Pacific coastline. They constructed large-scale irrigation systems, plus dams to create reservoirs that could hold prodigious quantities of water all year round.
The most notable remnants of the ancient Moche culture are the two grand temples they built near Trujillo. The Temples of the Sun and Moon , also known as Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna, are pyramidal in shape and constructed entirely of adobe.
The Moche culture Lord of Sipán burial, discovered in 1987. (Bernard Gagnon / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The Temple of the Sun is the larger of the two structures. It is believed to have been an administrative and governmental center. A story from Moche mythology claims it was built by a team of 250,000 workers, who supposedly completed the Herculean task of piling up 70 million adobe bricks over the course of just three days.
The smaller Temple of the Moon was likely reserved for religious ceremonies and rituals. It features several murals that depict the Moche creator god Ai Apeac. Archaeologist Max Uhle discovered the Temple of the Moon in 1899, as he became the first archaeologist to excavate a Moche site.
The most significant archaeological work in the former Moche territories in the northwestern deserts of Peru took place in the late 1930s and 1940s. Ceramic pottery and the remains of ancient infrastructure projects were found during these searches, which proved to scholars that the Moche civilization had reached a high level of development.
It is not known why the Moche disappeared from northern Peru in the ninth century. Climate studies have found evidence to suggest severe droughts were experienced starting in the sixth century AD, possibly causing a decline in the productivity of the land that made it increasingly difficult for the Moche to survive.
The Moche were quite warlike and apparently often in conflict with their neighbors. It’s possible that military setbacks weakened the civilization over time, until it was no longer a viable entity.
A Moche culture Alpaca wool tapestry (600–900 AD). (Lombards Museum / CC BY 3.0 )
Restoring Historical Knowledge from the Pre-Incan Past
When asked about the controversy over the Moche tribute statue, Peru’s culture minister Gisela Ortiz made her feelings clear.
“The idea that children shouldn’t see it or it’s too offensive belongs to the time of obscurantism,” she told the Guardian . “As Peruvians, we should all feel proud of our diverse heritage, including the sexual or erotic part, which is inherent to the human being.”
To prevent any more sabotage, or something worse, Ortiz is calling for the creation of a community outreach program that would explain the historical significance of the statue to the local population. Such a program might also emphasize the statue’s value as a tourist attraction, which appears to be quite substantial given the great number of visitors that have come to see it and take selfies next to it in its first couple of weeks of existence.
Top image: The vandalized Moche phallic statue of Peru will be repaired, and more provocative statues will be added to the landscape around Trujillo. Source: Radio Yaravi
By Nathan Falde