altar of condor
feathers, bowls of choclo, bulls,
a vicugna skull
In a courtyard in Ollantaytambo, we happened upon this collection of what appear to be shelves full of revered objects. Three long condor feathers stand upright in a bowl of ground choclo, or maize. Choclo in its various forms, dried, ground and fermented into maize beer, are all used as ritual offerings. The large pottery vessel and teapot sitting on pottery stoves may be used for fermenting the aqhachicha. The condor is an important symbol in Inka mythology. The Inka perceive the world as having three levels: Hanan Pacha, the upper celestial world, contains the sun, moon, stars, rainbow and lightning; Uku Pacha, the inner earth, is the realm of Pachamama, the earth mother; Kay Pacha, the outer earth, is the realm of humans. These three realms are symbolized by the chakana, the three-stepped cross or world tree. The condor, snake and puma are the totemic representatives of these three realms. The bull is associated with strength. A pair of ceramic bulls are often placed on top of houses as guardians. The small skull may be that of a vicugna, or vicuña, as depicted in the pottery vessel next to it. Vicugna, a wild camelid related to the llama, is known for its extremely fine, warm wool. The small animal only produces about one pound of wool a year. During the time of the Inkas, vicugna fibres were gathered during a communal chacu, in which multitudes of people herded hundreds of thousands of the animals into funnel traps where they were sheared and then released. This was only done once every four years. The vicugna was believed to be the reincarnation of a beautiful young maiden who received a coat of pure gold once she consented to the advances of an old, ugly king. Because of this, it was against the law for anyone to kill a vicugna or wear its fleece, except for Inka royalty.