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Handbook of Inca Mythology

Paul R. Steele & Catherine J. Allen,

ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, California

(Pag. 213) MOUNTAINS

Throughout the Andes, mountains or smaller hills are the loci of many stories that tell of
encantado cerros (haunted hills) and frightening things that happen, generally at
midnight, that is the middle of the night. Today, the highest snowcapped peaks of the
Andes are thought to be inhabited and animated by powerful lords who act as guardian
deities to the people. These peaks are known by the name Apu, a word comparable to
Lord that was also used by the Incas as a title for army officers and high government
officials. The Apus (Quechua plural is Apukuna) are thought to keep watch over the
surrounding regions and to command a hierarchy of lower hills. Hierarchies can also
extend to regional and interregional sets. Rural Andeans refer to the Apus as
uywaqniyku, those who nurture us, and they feel that their relationship resembles that
between parents and children. These sacred places watch over and discuss human moral
and ritual behavior. Illness and bad luck are taken as signs of the Apus displeasure.
(Pag. 214) Trained diviners can communicate with the Apus by tossing handfuls of
coca leaves onto a woven cloth and studying messages encoded in the configurations of
Most, but not all, mountains are considered male, and double peaks like Pitusiray,
which overlooks the Vilcanota River, and Paria Caca from Huarochir tradition, were
especially revered. Collectively, ethnic groups shared common ancestors that could be
mountains, like Paria Caca and Huanacauri. These two peaks produced offspring who
formed more localized founding ancestors like Tutay Quiri in Huarochir and the Ayar
siblings of the Incas. Regulated annual ceremonies were conducted at these sacred
mountains. Huanacauri and other peaks in the landscape overlooking Cuzco, like
Anahuarqui, were visited by teenage boys as part of their investiture into manhood
before entering adult society. The highest Andean peaks, like Llullaillaco (6,700 meters)
in northwest Argentina, were utilized by the Incas as the final resting points for
Capachucha sacrifices of young boys and girls. The mountain tundra areas (puna) near
high peaks were also synonymous with connotations of what was primitive, coarse, and
wild compared to the lower valleys of agriculturists. Thus, the poor man Huatya Curi, a
Yauyo highlander, was associated with wild animals that dwelled on the high puna.
(Pag. 215) Despite their primeval and ancestral qualities, Andean mountains are not
static objects fixed on the landscape, but are alive and can move across the landscape.
Peaks like Huacayan, Anahuarqui, and Ancasmarca were believed to have grown
higher and higher as the floodwaters increased, thereby providing safe haven for
humanity and animals. Today, stories reveal how mountains may fold over themselves
or block roads in order to thwart human passage. Of course in reality, Andean landslides
have buried entire towns. The battle between Paria Caca and Huallallo Carhuincho, the
two mountain peaks from Huarochir, reveals how Andeans viewed these animate
ancestors. Columbus sees Paria Caca and his five brothers/sons as a monumental

mountain family (1990). This mountain family moves across the landscape reorganizing
ethnic groups into new alliances and geographical relationships. The new kin-based ties
and descent groups are traced through the extended mountain family. The word Caca
(or qaqa) means rock as well as gorge, abyss, and by extension valley,
ravine, and promontory. Thus, the mountain Paria Caca represents varied
geographical features in the Andean landscape. This all-inclusive appeal is comparable
with a different set of meanings of the word Caca; these terms refer to ones wifes or
mothers kinsmen: wifes father, mothers brother, wife giver. Kinship is manifest in the
Paria Caca mountain family of sons/brothers that traverses the landscape reorganizing
and uniting local communities and reshaping their boundaries, comparable to the
actions of an extended family of in-laws. Contemporary ethnography sheds light on the
relationship between these two sets of meanings: When a mountain spirit wants to
initiate a more intensive and prosperous relationship with a household, however, his
demands can no longer be confined to food, and focus on the ritualists daughter as a
sexual partnerIn these cases, the mountain spirit virtually becomes a son-in-law
(Gose 1994, 79).
Columbus notes the root word pari in Aymara refers to rock, heat, and eruption,
associated with a vital regenerating force. The volcano blows its top and thus doubles
itself: Seen from below, the volcano rim seems like two soaring peaks split by the
abyss, destructive scission connecting to a magic multiplication or fertilization (1990,
183). This fertilizing force is distributed throughout the region over which Paria Caca
and his sons/brothers traverse. Huallallo Carhuincho also fights with fire. Thus the two
mountain/volcanoes compete with the energizing force of red fire, but Huallallo
Carhuincho is volatile, unrestrained, and excessive.
Thus mountains have offspring and also pairs. For instance, Machu (old) Picchu is
overlooked by the peak Huayna (young/fresh) Picchu. Some prominent snow-capped
peaks around Cuzco are also described today with various functions within the social
structure of modern society. Thus the peak Salkantay is known as the Apu militar or the
lawyer, while another peak represents (Pag. 216) the medical profession. The most
important peak in the Cuzco region was Ausangate, the tallest mountain in southern
Peru. Today Ausangate is considered to be a creator of all things, but recently seems to
have lost much of its fame to the nearby Sinakara chain that is home to the increasingly
popular cult shrine of Qoyllur Riti. Around Cuzco, there is also more than one
mountain named Huanacauri. For example, near the community of Sonqo in
Paucartambo, the Incas are said to have crossed a local hill named Huanacauri as they
fled to the eastern lowlands ahead of the invading Spaniards. Some of the inhabitants
say that in the pachacuti that ends our world age, the Incas will return over the same
Carved boulders that dot the landscape can also represent miniature mountains and are
often intimately linked. Sight lines connect the sacred forces of the mountain with the
boulder and viewer. The idea of miniature model mountains may explain the thinking of
the south coast culture that constructed the famous Nazca Lines. Here straight lines
radiate from small hillocks on an otherwise featureless pampa. The lines or pathways
are frequently aligned to the distant mountains in the east. This was probably an attempt
to connect with the source of water that was so vital for coastal peoples.
Mountains continue to be intimately connected with the ancestral dead. Condenados
represent wandering spirits that have sinned and are consequently forced to dwell

permanently on the snow-capped peaks. Throughout much of southern Peru, Mount

Coropuna is thought to be the abode of the dead. Within Coropuna, the dead undergo a
process of desiccation, their body fluids forming a great internal lake that gives rise to
rivers in the world of the living (Gose 1994, 130131). Bastien describes similar beliefs
in the Bolivian community of Kaata, whose inhabitants live on the side of a mountain
they conceptualize as a living human body (1986). After death, ones soul travels
through underground streams to enter a subterranean lake within this mountain; the
same internal lake gives rise to the streams that support living people, animals, and
See also Caari Origins; Coca; Dead, Journey of the; Dualism; Giants and the Miniature
World; Huallallo Carhuincho; Huanacauri; Inkarr; Pachacuti; Paria Caca; Titicaca,
Lake; Tutay Quiri
Suggested Reading
Bastien, Joseph W. 1978. Mountain of the Condor: Metaphor and Ritual in an Andean
Ayllu. American Ethnological Society Monograph 64. New York: West Publishing.
Columbus, Claudette Kemper. 1990. Immortal Eggs, a Peruvian Geocracy: Pariaqaqa
of Huarochir. Journal of Latin American Lore 16 (2): 175198.
Gose, Peter. 1994. Deathly Waters and Hungry Mountains: Agrarian Ritual and Class
Formation in an Andean Town, chap. 4. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
(Pag. 217)
Silverblatt, Irene. 1998. Political Memories and Colonizing Symbols: Santiago and the
Mountain Gods of Colonial Peru. In Rethinking History and Myth: Indigenous South
American Perspectives on the Past, edited by Jonathon D. Hill, 174194. Urbana:
University of Illinois Press.