What were the sacred Inca animals?

According to the Inca worldview, animals were represented in the Milky Way in the form of constellations. The thing is that animals were essential for survival. They supplied food and wool for the manufacture of clothing. Some were even bearers of messages to the gods of the upper world (hanan pacha). For this reason they were represented in ceramics, textiles and even sacred infrastructures such as Machu Picchu. Learn more!

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The condor

The condor was a sacred bird in the Inca worldview. The Incas called it ‘kuntur’ in Quechua. Its characteristics made it special. It was immense, it flew very high, it had an appearance of greatness, imposing.

For this reason, the condor was considered a bearer of a message between the earthly world of men (the kay pacha) and the heavenly world of the gods (the hanan pacha). The Incas believed that the condor was immortal. Even the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, seen from the top, is shaped like a condor.

The condor was part of the so-called ‘Inca trilogy’ of sacred animals, along with the snake and the puma. The Incas respected this bird so much that they did not hunt it. Their feathers were cared for as sacred objects.

Today the condor continues to be of great importance and symbol of the South American continent. It is present on the shields of several countries such as: Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador.

The puma

The puma was an animal considered sacred according to the Inca worldview. The Incas focused on their agility, strength, and skill in hunting and in confronting other predators of great strength and power.

In the Quechua language the puma was called ‘Puma’. Before the Inca era, this feline was worshiped by important cultures such as the Chavín. The condor was feared. Their representations in ceramics and textiles (in almost all cultures of ancient Peru) exalt their claws and fangs.

The Incas included the puma in the so-called ‘Inca Trilogy’ (along with the condor and the snake). The puma represented the earthly world of men. The puma had a special connection with the god Inti (the sun). It was also believed that he protected the Inca (the son of the sun).

Today the puma is the second largest cat in America. Unfortunately, in some countries on the continent it is in danger of extinction (due to the presence of man in its habitat). It is still feared and respected by indigenous cultures on the continent.

La trilogía inca
The inca trilogy

The snake

According to the Inca worldview, the snake was considered a sacred animal. In the Quechua language the Incas called it ‘Amaru’. They appreciated his ability to renew himself, his intelligence to sneak and hunt.

Because it was a terrestrial animal, the Incas believed that the snake could communicate the earthly world (kay pacha) with the underworld, the space of the dead (uku pacha). For this reason, it was also part of the so-called ‘Inca trilogy’, along with the puma and the condor.

For the Incas, the snake could control the underground waters necessary for the fertility of agricultural products. They also believed that it could cause rain.

The snake was represented not only by the Inca culture but also by almost all cultures of ancient Peru, such as: Mochica, Wari, Tiahuanaco and more. On Inca ceramics, for example, the snake was drawn in spirals, circles and other geometric shapes.

The Incas also represented the snake in sacred temples and Inca palaces. When drawn with two heads, it represents the duality or harmony between worlds, necessary for life.

Today the snake is respected and feared by Andean man. It is even believed to have important healing properties.

The llama

The llama was the most valued auquénid by the Incas. In Quechua they called it the same way ‘llama’. It had great importance for its ability to transport products on its back (an adult llama can carry up to 30 kilos). Also for its delicious and nutritious meat, a source of food in the Tahuantinsuyo empire.

The llama was also revered for its connection to the sun god. It was believed that he (the god Inti) preferred the llama, which is why it was sacrificed during religious ceremonies in honor of the sun.

For example, every winter equinox, the Incas sacrificed a black llama (a rare species and therefore revered even more) at the Festival of the Sun or Inti Raymi.

The llama was also represented in Inca ceramics and textiles. Even some Inca buildings show figures of llamas on their walls (such as on the immense platforms of the Inca city of Choquequirao).

The llama was also considered one of the constellations in the Inca milky way. During the Inca Empire, these were constantly used to transport products from one city to another. In the Inca Empire, their presence was of great importance and necessity.

Today the flame continues to be widely used by Andean man. Its wool is used for the manufacture of clothing. Your skin to make leather. In some towns it is still used for transporting goods.

Andenes de llamas en Choquequirao
Llamas platforms in Choquequirao

The dog

During the Inca period, the dog (Allqu) was considered of great importance as a companion (pet) as well as its relationship with the gods. The dog was believed to be a guide of souls in trance to the world of the dead.

Because of this, not only in the Inca Empire, but also in several cultures of ancient Peru (such as the Mochicas), the dog was buried alongside its (elite) owners in the famous royal burials. The most famous example is the burial of the Lord of Sipán (Mochica burial discovered in 1987).

In the Inca era, and in ancient Peru, there were various native dog breeds. Perhaps one of the best known is the ‘Viringo’, also called ‘perro calato’ or ‘peruvian dog’. Its presence dates back up to four thousand years, in the Caral culture, the oldest in America (3 thousand – 1,800 BC).

So, for thousands of years ago, the dog was loved and respected as a companion animal. Also for its usefulness in herding llamas. There are many burials of great people from ancient Peru with their dogs.

Today the dog continues to play an important role in Andean communities. He is loved and useful in daily tasks. There are even breeds from ancient Peru such as the ‘calato dog’, present for more than three thousand years ago.

The bear

The bear, called ‘ukumari’, in the Quechua language, was a highly respected animal in the Inca worldview. They believed that it had a connection with the moon goddess (killa) and water (yaku). In addition, it was believed that the bear protected the forests, spaces where man had to maintain a natural balance.

Of course, the bear of the Incas was the spectacled bear, the only species of bear in South America, which can reach two meters in height and weigh up to 175 kilos.

Because of this, the Incas admired and respected the bear’s strength and wisdom, as well as its ability to take care of its territory. The bear is not an aggressive animal if it is not disturbed or invades its territory.

That is why the Incas did not make a poaching house for the spectacled bear. These animals only lost a large number of their species starting in the 19th and 20th centuries, when man invaded their territory to build homes and colonize the jungle.

Today the spectacled bear is a vulnerable species. The Andean man values ​​it but, unfortunately, hunts it out of fear and for the value of its fur as leather.

El oso de anteojos
The spectacled bear

The fox

The Andean fox was respected by the Incas for its skill, intelligence and agility. Although it was not included in the pantheon of sacred animals (Inca trilogy of the puma, the condor and the snake), the fox was considered a protector of the ayllu (community), even as a link of communication between the earthly world (Kay pacha). and the world of the gods (Hanan pacha).

The fox, in Quechua, the language of the Incas, was called ‘Atuq’. It was represented in ceramics and textiles both in the Inca era and by many pre-Inca cultures (such as in the famous Moche ceramics).

However, the fox was also linked to the underworld. Its presence was believed to attract evil spirits. This may be related to their cunning in hunting animals valued by the Incas, such as the llama.

Today in the Andean world the fox is considered an animal of respect. It is present in many legends and myths of ancient Peru and in various Andean communities. For the shepherd it is a dangerous animal that harms livestock. However, his presence continues to command respect. 

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