Issue - November 2008

November 2008

In this issue of the cocha-banner: Catriona Knox interviews Leonardo de la Torre about internal aspects of migrants in Bolivia; Perry King explores the practice of Yoga in Cochabamba city; Encouraging people to donate blood is the topic of Barbara Walter's article; finally more...

November 2008

Felines reveal cultures the past

Ivan Montaño
Biologist, expert in Global
Information System (GIS)

Ivan Montaño V. is a biologist and expert in Global Information Systems who until recently, worked for the Museo Archeologico de San Simon. Here he writes of the role held by South America´s Big Felines in ancient indigenous cultures.

Before the arrival of the Spaniards, traditional South American cultures adored and worshipped the Jaguar and the Puma. Big cats and bears were idolised by ethnic groups who lived in the Yungas and in mountainous regions.(1) Before entering a wood or jungle, they used to worship these animals at sacred sites. These cultures valued in particular a star called Chuquichinchay, the star of the Jaguar, which they believed watched over the jaguars, bears, and other fierce creatures, protecting people from being killed and devoured in their treacherous jaws.

In ancient Peru the jaguar was known as “otorongo” (2). Myths describe the tale of an Inca who transformed himself into a jaguar and called himself otorongo achachi ynga amaro ynga (Inca, ancient jaguar, Incan serpent). The son of this Inca, fathered with an indian woman, was called Otorongo Achachi. The image of this mythical animal appears behind a Chonta tree on the shield of arms of Manco Capac. (3)

Pumas were rare sightings in most areas as they were considered as a threat and hunted by local communities. However, in the province of Pumallacta, these animals were more abundant and were worshipped as deities.(4) The Incas constructed their capital city of Cuzco in the form of a puma in reverence for this magnificent animal.

In one area of the city, named Pumacurcu, pumas were kept in captivity where they were tethered and held until they were controllable and then brought in front of the Incan king. Another part of the city, where two streams met at a point, was called Pumachupan or “Puma’s Tail”.

Here also, the Incas kept many pumas, tigers, and bears in captivity. In addition to these places, the city had enclosures or “zancay”, where they raised jaguars, pumas, cats, bears, and other ferocious animals to devour unfortunate traitors to the king. (5)

Worship of the jaguar and the puma was linked to their ferocity, strength and bravery. Incan cultures paid tribute to these animals through sacrifices of human hearts and blood in Chucurpu (Perú), Tumbez (Ecuador), la Isla de Puna (Ecuador) and in the Manta province in Puerto Viejo (Ecuador) (6), and through the practice of cannibalism in some parts of Colombia(7) and in Caranque province, Ecuador.(8)

Ancient reverence for these animals is preserved through the icons found on ceramics, carved rock and cave paintings from cultures such as the Moche, Huari, Tiwanaku, Chane, Chimu, Inca, and Aguada.

The Andean cat was known as “ozcollo” in Quechua language and “titi” in Aymara. (9) This cat gave the island of Lake Titicaca its name: ancient legend tells that the inhabitants of the island saw an Andean cat on a rocky crag, shining with a brilliant light. On being sighted by the people, the cat disappeared in a flash of blinding light, and the people realized that their island must be the palace of the sun. For this reason, the Incan king named the island “Isla del Sol” or “Island of the Sun” and proclaimed it one of the most sacred parts of his kingdom. Previously in the area, many people in the city of Guanuco had seen by night the brightness of these cats and tried to capture them, but they were always outwitted because these animals, equipped with their sharp instinct and a magical cloak given to them by nature, disappeared into the rocks when they were reached. The Incas guarded these stones and named them “Intiptoca”, or “spittle of the sun”.

The Andean cat is another feline of great significance in indigenous culture. For the Aymaran people, the Andean cat was the guardian of llama herds. These communities actually used mummified cats as sacrificial offerings in order to ensure increases in their flocks. This tradition is preserved in a cave painting in Calacala (Oruro), which depicts two Andean cats surrounded by a herd of llamas.

This historical evidence shows us that before the arrival of the Spaniards, jaguars and pumas were worshipped for their fierce strength and power; and the Andean cat for the belief in its splendid brightness, and for its role as guardian of llamas. Historical artifacts such as ceramic art, rock carvings and cave paintings have preserved these ancient cultural ideas for current generations to guard and appreciate.


1. Polo de Ondegardo (1571 “Los errores y supersticiones de los indios”)
2.Garcilazo de la Vega (1615, “Comentarios Reales de los Incas”. Tomo II)
3.Guaman Poma de Ayala (1613, “Nueva Crónica y Buen Gobierno”)
4.Garcilazo de la Vega (1615, “Comentarios Reales de los Incas”. Tomo II)
5.Guaman Poma de Ayala (1613 “Nueva Crónica y Buen Gobierno”)
6.Garcilazo de la Vega (1615, “Comentarios Reales de los Incas”. Tomo II)
7.Cieza de Leon (1553 “ La Crónica del Perú”)
8.Garcilazo de la Vega (1615, “Comentarios Reales de los Incas”. Tomo II)
9.Fray Alonso Ramos Gavilán (1621, “Historia de Nuestra Señora de Copacabana”)

Exploring the Practice of Yoga
The practice of yoga in a Latin American country does seem unusual because it may be culturally exotic and misunderstood by Bolivians. But it is sought by local citizens and others alike. "More health and as well more elasiticity", says Dr. Raul Antezana Saravia, the creator and director of the studio, as he also describes what students seek when ...
read more ...

Archive Issues

2007 | 2008 | 2009