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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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Protection from the Mountain

One cannot escape the presence of the Mountain because it is everywhere in the Andean world. The first defense of the Quechua people against the Mountain is to keep the Mountain appeased. The offerings of coca, sugar cane liquor, and other sweets have been previously described. However, there is a way to provide further protection.

Protection for the defenseless

Babies come into this world defenseless, and they need the special protection which only an amulet (chuspa) can provide. The chuspa is a small knit pouch filled with special ingredients and hung around an infant's neck as a deterrent against the power of the Mountain. The ingredients which deter the Mountain are of two types: the first type consists of rue seed, garlic, and rock sulfur, which are offensive in smell to the Mountain. The second type is the wayrush seed, which, due to its shiny bright red color and black spot, is attractive to the Mountain, thus blinding him to the child's presence. With this double protection a baby has a greater chance of living through the vulnerable years of infancy and metaphorically becoming an awkis, an 'elderly person' of three to five years old, competent to walk without falling down.

The ability to distract the Mountain's attention with brightly colored objects is exploited to extend protection to others and to animals as well. A woman may tie a brightly colored yarn around her wrist or hang a yarn flower (wayta) from the waist over her traditional black skirt as a tassel (piñi), an amulet to protect against the Mountain. These same tassels are frequently seen hanging from the ears of sheep, cattle, and pack animals. It is better for the Mountain to 'love to death' the object which it finds attractive than a person or the animals.

These examples demonstrate the relationship that exists between the Quechua people and the Mountain itself. While the Mountain is the predominant spiritual being of the Andean world, there are many more spirits, all of which are feared. I have listened to grown men and women telling of their own personal nighttime encounters with beings and circumstances which profoundly frightened them. Others pass on second-hand reports, which the listeners believe completely.

The Mountain, when fed and happy, is able to protect people from all of these dangers.

Document created: June 6, 1997