Creatures of the Chacana

01 Jul, 2012 | Xenia Elsaesser


The Chakana is the inca cross, symbolizing different levels of life through which the shaman transgresses in trance. He goes first to the underworld, embodied in the snake, and learns ‘I live. don’t lie.’ He passes through the current world, where the puma represents ‘I work. don’t steal.’ Finally in the upper world of the gods the condor speaks, ‘I love. don’t be lazy.’ For a shaman (or kallawaya, in Aymara) the snake’s skin, jaguar or puma’s tooth and condor claw are vital talismans.



'Amaro' or 'amaru' is the Quechua word for dragon or snake. The first Incan king was called Manco Capac Amaro. It is sometimes said that he himself was an amaro. More prevalent, however is the understanding that he in fact killed one, adding 'Amaro' to his name as a badge of victory. Thereafter anacondas and boas were often offered as tribute to Inca kings, and the snake adorned the royal arms and shield. This tradition was continued by the renowned Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, on whose shield two intertwined amaros are depicted.

In Quechua meteorology rainbows are understood to be enormous two-headed snakes that emerge from the earth during rain and return when the rain is over. This cycle marks the be-ginning and end of the rainy season. Because of this the snake has aquatic connotations and it is also said to have guarded lake Titicaca.

Puma Puma

Lake Titicaca was originally called Lake Titicala, meaning 'puma rock,' but after it was wrongly transliterated to Spanish, it was left with the name it has today. There are varying stories as to why the name Titicala was originally given. One tells of a couple boating on the water who found many dead pumas floating there and named the lake in their memory. Another less gruesome version has live pumas brought in to protect the Isla del Sol, then known as Taypyquala. The animals were to be seen sunbathing on the rock all day, and gradually the name Tapyquala morphed into Trtiquala, meaning gray puma rock.

Condor Condor

The condor is the ancient messenger of the gods, to whose high echelons it ascended, carrying the people's prayers. It may also have borne the sun into the sky. Incorporated into the Bolivian coat arms, it is the national bird of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador, and carries symbolic weight in Peru and Argentina.

Mama Mama

The mama is the spirit of a great female deity. Natural places or plants can associated with a protective mama spirit, which often takes animal form. For ex-ample, as snakes are associated with water, a lake's mama might be a particular boa constrictor. Should that boa constrictor be killed, the lake will dry up.

Tangarana Ant Ant

Tangarana ants in the Amazon are believed to be the mama of the tangarana tree. These trees have hollow stems housing colonies of large ants. They are very aggressive creatures, and should any foreign body bump against the tree bark the ants pierce them through the bark with a very painful sting. They also tend to the tree by snipping any unwanted vines, and the tree returns the favor by producing extra-floral nectars which they can eat. Traditionally, adulterers were tied to this tree to suffer endless pain from the powerful stings.

Pink Dolphin Doplhin

Bufeos colorados, or river dolphins, are believed to be powerful shape shifters who might become human in order to impregnate women. Their whistling has caused them to be linked to shamans, who blow virotes, or magical darts. It is also rumored that sorcerers might attract women by use of a charm made from a ring of dolphin tissue, cut from around the vagina of a bufeo.

Conopa Conopa

The conopa is a stone or wooden llama figurine. It is painted with llama fat and dirt, and has a hole in its back where the fat can be packed tighter, and coca leaf offerings are sometimes placed. It is a symbol of fertility, good luck and prosperity and is placed both in llama corrals and people's homes.

Llama Foetus Llama

Like the conopa, a dried llama foetus symbolizes prosperity, fertility and good luck, but it is even more powerful than the conopa. It might be buried under the foundation of a house or kept conserved in a large jar. It is given to the Pachamama as an offering.


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