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Coca and the Mountain
Observations into the Worldview of the Quechua of Panao

by Terry P. Smith

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The Mountain

This section begins to detail practices and beliefs of the Quechua world, specifically those which relate to the Mountain and coca.

The Mountain as a material and spiritual reality

The mountains dominate the Panao Quechua world. These people live among the easternmost ridges and valleys of the Central Andes' Cordillera de Huachón. Communities within the quechua or chrakra ecological zone are located between 2,400 to 2,700 meters (8,000 to 9,000 feet) and other communities are located in the puna or jirka up to 4,260 meters (14,000 feet). However the mountains' dominance is not restricted to the physical environment but also pervades the spiritual dimension of everyday life. The predominant participants in the introductory text are the Mountains. They are animate beings, predisposed to malevolence and thus they require the devotion of their 'grandchildren', the Quechua people, to assure their benevolence.

Origin of the Mountain

The origin of the mountains and of the Quechua people themselves seems to be a moot question in the culture. The events in the lives of one's parents or grandparents is of little interest and their history is lost. And while it is said, "Father Mountain lives forever. He does not die," the origin of the Mountain's being an animate being is remembered as follows:

Tayta Jirka originated long ago when it rained fire on the earth. Some people tried to escape by going into holes and caves in the earth, but those people were covered up. Their access route back to the surface closed off. So they remained inside the earth. They shrunk, but their spirits remained, and they now inhabit the mountains. They are the Mountain. (Pablo Villogas Javier)

The mountain Mashkara Punta (Mask Peak) appears to be the head of a man looking off into the distance and is considered to be the most powerful Mountain. He along with Apallakuy, Ismalón, Waräkuy, and Punta Siete Colores are the Pichgan Punta (Their Five Peaks) of the Panao Quechua people. These are considered to be the highest peaks and thus the most powerful. While each peak has its name, the Mountain is most commonly referred to as Yaya Jirka or Tayta Jirka. These names characterize the Mountain as being male. Yet at the same time it can be referred to as the Pacha Mama, traditionally, 'Mother Earth.' The culture's predominant referent, however, is Tayta Jirka (Father Mountain), which is reflected in this paper.

For the Panao Quechua peasants the earth is the focus of their lives; the earth is the Mountain. Thus the presence of Tayta Jirka is an all-pervasive presence in their lives and culture.

The heart of the Mountain

When questioned about the nature of the Tayta Jirka, there are many responses. These answers reveal the heart of the Mountain:

In spite of what appears to be the malevolent nature of the Mountain, people trust in the Mountain to watch over all aspects of their lives. His presence may even be represented in the home by rocks brought from prehistoric archeological sites: a big rock represents the man of the house; a smaller rock, his wife; and the little rocks, their children. These 'living' rocks then assure that the family will live well.

Document created: June 6, 1997