Food Culture, Literature

How the Inca Got His Wife

The Qoya, The Inca's Wife ( poma/120/en/text/?open=id2973071)

On the slopes that drop down to the city of Cuzco from the archeological park of Sacsayhuaman there are some caves. People in Cuzco tell stories that the Inca still lives in those caves. They are considered dangerous. Some people even claim to have been in there and been turned away by the Inca with a shining light. These stories intrigue because of the way they relate to a much older tale from somewhere else.

Huarochirí is an area upriver from Lima and at quite some distance from Cuzco. Nevertheless, there is an important mountain there called Pariacaca. It is a massive snow-clad peak that rises to almost 19,000 feet above sea level. About him and other points of the earth a set of stories was collected not long after the arrival of the Spanish in Quechua. A translation into English with comments was published by Frank Salomon and George Urioste in 1991 called The Huarochirí Manuscript.

The stories are rich and complex about Pariacaca and his female counterpart Chaupi Ñamca. But for us one story in particular is interesting because it is set in Cuzco and involves the Incas shortly before the conquest.

Pariacaca Mountain Today ( wikipedia/commons/a/a2/ Nevado_pariacaca.jpg)
Pariacaca Mountain Today ( wikipedia/commons/a/a2/ Nevado_pariacaca.jpg)

This story says that the creator god Cuni Raya Teqsi Viracocha asked the Inca Huayna Capac (the Father of Huascar and Atahualpa, the Incas who were fighting when the Spanish came) to meet him at “Titicaca”. Initially one thinks of the Lake but the the context relates it back to Cuzco and a place called today Tetecaca and its caves.

Today there is an important cross there with its shrine and many people have devotion to it.

The God and the Inca sent shamans into the earth to visit with the god’s father and bring back his sister as a wife for the Inca. Of all the different shamans, the swallow was successful, though at first he failed.

On the journey, when he wished food there appeared food and when he needed sleep a bed appeared.

Caves by the Cross of Tetecaca in Cuzco
Caves by the Cross of Tetecaca in Cuzco


The swallow, like those who inhabit caves all over the world, returned five days after he left. He brought the woman, only she was tiny, a woman in miniature. The text says that she was in a small chest or box. She had hair of gold and the dress of a woman of the highest rank.

The god–now his brother-in law– said, once the Inca had his bride in the box, they could not be in the same place anymore and so must divide the world, never to see each other again.

When the Inca opened the box, the world filled with lightning, such was the glory of his wife and such the power of lightning and its glare. It also marked the division of the world into two.

Ceremonial Area Inside a Cave by Tetecaca
Ceremonial Area Inside a Cave by Tetecaca

Huayna Capac then said he would never leave that place. There he and his wife disappeared forever.

This story is fascinating. The people of Cuzco claim the Inca still lives inside the world. Wherever there are caves or tunnels they tend to tell that the Incas can be found inside them.

It should not surprise us, as a result, that they are also fascinated with foods that have an external coating and then something glorious inside, such as a tamale or a rocoto relleno. Whether people know or not, they follow the form of this story of how the Inca got his bride. She came in container like the corn dough of the tamale or the wrappings of egg and rocoto of the stuffed pepper.

Furthermore, the people of Cuzco are increasingly adopting the cult of miniatures that comes from Lake Titicaca, just as myth says the Inca did. On the Lake they say there are tunnels that connect key places directly with Cuzco.

Out of those tunnels come not just brides in miniature, but also almost anything you can want. You obtain them, take them home, care for them and, given your faith and devotion, you can expect them to be made real over the course of a year or so. That is the people’s increasing devotion.

These miniatures can be obtained on the Lake, to be sure, or in many celebrations. However they also can be found in the shrine of Huanca and in that of Qoyllurriti which attract thousands of devotees annually.

Miniatures for Sale on Lake Titicaca
Miniatures for Sale on Lake Titicaca

While not from Cuzco and not from the present, the Huarochiri story about the Inca names an important place in the city and speaks of things still relevant today as it tells how the swallow brought the Inca his wife who was the sister of the great God Viracocha. It insists, just as do the people of Cuzco, that the Inca still lives.

Carved Stone Seats and Cave by Tetecaca
Carved Stone Seats and Cave by Tetecaca
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