Written by: Kaleigh Rhoads
My relationship with my children was always strong, one of love and reciprocity. I nurture them, and they, in turn, shower me with offerings and prayers, but they have lost their ability to communicate with me and with all of the sacred places of the landscape known as the Huacas and Tirakunas directly; a power that their Incan ancestors did possess. Our only forms of communication are indirect, through dreams, the use of coca leaves, and inferences about the health of themselves and their crops. (Allen 1988).
In the 1500s, the Spanish conquistadores set out to invade Tahuantisuyu: Land of the Four Quarters, the largest nation on earth at that time (Moseley 2001). With the Spanish invasion came violence and theft, but a great disturbance in culture and cosmic beliefs took place. The introduction of Spanish ideology and religion conflicted with my Quechuan children’s ancient cosmology, in their faith in God, relationship with the earth, and their relationship with the dead.
There is still love and respect between my Quechuan children and myself. Yet, ever since the Spanish came for their gold, our relationship has grown more confusing as they try to reconcile the differences between Spanish culture and their own.
In recent years archaeologists from the Old World have traveled to the Andes to try and understand the culture of my Quechuan children. Those from the Old World forgot many centuries ago of my power, life, and ability to respond to human activity. Many generations have passed since that time that I cannot blame them for not understanding this concept. Don’t I deserve a tribute for tolerating this treatment to provide for my children?
They do owe their lives to me, after all. The ancient Moche culture took this tribute very seriously. Hoping for water, fertile soil, and balance in an exchange, the Moche people would capture prisoners in combat and spill their blood in a ritual offering to me (Moseley 2001). Even today, my devoted Runakuna children know that when they cut into me with foot plows, they must appease me with coca leaves and chicha for fear that I may collapse, strike them with illness, or cease to nurture their crops.
My children have chosen to honor me in their construction of plaza hunidas, or sunken courts. These are large pits that have been dug into the ground and have a staircase on either side. Today relatively little is left of these courts as much of them were destroyed by looters (Moseley 2001).
My purpose here is not to complain that the “cult of Pacha Mama” has ceased or that I am not receiving enough tribute. Instead, I am sad for my Quechuan children for the confusion that the Spanish have caused.
They refer to God as Taytanchis, our father. I, Pacha Mama, am here in an immediate sense. I am vigilant and sensitive to the needs of my children. One day when the weather was particularly wet and harsh, one of my children, who was pregnant, sick, and cold, exclaimed, “Taytanchis sends the rain. He doesn’t care. He’s sitting up there nice and warm while we’re down here freezing” (Allen 1988).
The Catholic God’s idea has caused much turmoil in the arenas of death, the afterlife, and ancestor veneration. Taytanchis is considered unapproachable except in the end, and my children are insecure even with this concept. In this hacienda heaven, Taytanchis is the hacendado, or landlord, who cares for the souls but makes them work. My sons and daughters are only partially accepting of this idea of the afterlife.
It is no wonder why this is such a difficult concept to get such an oxymoronic cultural situation. These people live in rural communities that have defended themselves for years against hacendados, taking advantage of them. How could they possibly accept that that is just what is waiting for them in the afterlife? Although many missionaries have passed through Quechuan communities to enforce Catholicism, rarely have any of these communities a priest as a permanent resident (Allen 1988).
One of the greatest injustices that acted on my children was the destruction of their ancestors’ mummies. Ancestor veneration has always been important to my Quechuan children, and ancestral mummies were so strongly identified with their specific wakas, or sacred places, that it would be a very serious offense to move. Spanish missionaries set out on their conquest to destroy these mummies and replace this tradition with Christian mortuary practices in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
For years my children faced a morbid back and forth struggled as they attempted to liberate their relatives’ bodies from Christian cemeteries and lay them to rest correctly in the sacred chullpas. It would seem that this battle proved too tumultuous and heartbreaking to continue, for today, my Quechuan children bury their dead in Christian style cemeteries, although they still identify the sacred chullpas with the spirits of their ancestors (Allen 1988).
Allen, Katherine. The Hold Life Has Coca and Cultural Identity in an Andean Community. Smithsonian Books, 1988. 37-123.
Mosely, Michael. The Incas and their Ancestors. 2. New York: Thames & Hudson Inc., 2001.
Silverman, Helaine. Andean Archaeology. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.