Food Culture, Literature

The Cantu Flower and the Hummingbird

The national flower of Peru is the cantu, also spelled kantu or qantu. This flower comes down to us from ancient times. It is also known as the Inca’s flower since it was used in ceremonies because of its beauty and because young women wore it in the coming of age ceremony, the huarachicuy.

The cantu flower is abundant in the Peruvian Andes and it can be found in temperate climates as well as in cold climates. The flower is like a long bell hanging downward. The plant is known for the water that it has.

There are many stories and legends about the cantu flower. When i was a child people would say that when you picked cantu flowers the heavens would cry because the most beautiful flower had been broken. As a result people said that for the rainy season to arrive people should pick some cantu flowers and in that way the rains would begin.

Furthermore, the cantu flower is the favorite flower of our native hummingbirds. They say that in the season of drought when all the plants were dried up and dead, the cantu still stood tall even though it only had a bit of strength. At night one of its flowers became a hummingbird and with the colors of the rainbow it flew up to the highest points in order to beg the Gods for rain.

Cantu Flowers in Cuzco (Walter Coraza Morveli)
Cantu Flowers in Cuzco (Walter Coraza Morveli)

When it arrived, the gods were enchanted with its beauty and it explained that without rain the cantu flower would die. The gods did not want to pay attention so the hummingbird turned itself into a cantu flower. Since it begged them and continued to insist the gods were moved and sent rain so that this flower would not die.

That is why the cantu flower continues ever since our people’s ancient times and we hope it continues into the future for the next generations to know this flower that represents our culture.

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