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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, an Agent of Sickness

All sickness is said to be caused by the Mountain; all healing is also from him.

Offending the Mountain

When the Mountain is offended, he sends sickness. He becomes angry when people sin against him by urinating or defecating at the entrance of a cave, which is the door of his house, or by removing the building stones from an ushnu (a prehistoric dwelling), or by throwing rocks at the ushnu. Then sickness comes: wilt infests the potatoes; people become blind; others break out in sores or have infected genitals. When these calamities happen, each person must feed the Mountain so that he or she will be well again and so the Mountain himself will be happy.

The sins which offend the Mountain are few and easily avoided. It is much more common to wrong one's fellow man. It is wrong to steal a woman, to steal things, to kill, to lie, and to fight. When the elders tell a person that he has done wrong, then that person knows he has sinned. Then he must make restitution and confess his sin to the priest. However, the person offended or wronged may tell the Mountain about the wrong, and the Mountain will punish the offender. The offender must not only make restitution and confession, he must also feed the Mountain to placate him.

Mountain sickness

In describing the Mountain it is also necessary to describe ajay or manchakay (fright), the illness it causes. Throughout the investigation for this paper, the term manchachimanchi (it frightens us) was repeated. This fear constrains many daily activities. The night becomes a hostile environment, one in which the evil spirits roam and people must protect themselves by staying home after dark. Places such as springs and creeks are inhabited by the spirits so they must be avoided. Caves are the 'mouth of the Mountain' which might devour a person, so people must beware. If a man sits on a rock, the Mountain may castrate him. As people say, "We have to feed the Mountain so that it will not harm us and so that it will help us."

The fear of the Quechua people becomes more acute when a child or person falls. If that happens, his or her spirit is dislodged and the Mountain takes possession of it. The resulting lack of wellness, manchakay (fright), must be healed with the proper treatments which return the fright to the Mountain. These symptoms and their treatment are described in the sections below which elaborate the use of coca. However, there are measures of protection as defense against the Mountain's malevolence. This protection is described in the following section.

Document created: June 6, 1997