The Andean worldview considers nature and people as a whole, a whole in which they both live related to each other in perpetuity.
Some birds, especially the condor, occupy a very important place in Andean religion. They represent the upper world (hanan pacha) connected with the sky. The condor is considered sacred and, as a result, is respected and venerated. The image of the condor appears in association with various cultures from indigenous America from very early days, long before the Incas, and is maintained as a holy figure to this day.
The majestic Andean condor is, with out doubt, an iconic bird for our ancestral societies. You can find it expressed in ceramics, sculpture, paintings, murals, etc. These representations include a range of expressions from long before the Inca period to the present and forms, as a result, an ongoing component of the religious world of Andean peoples.
Legends say that the condor never dies. When it is old, they claim, it returns to its nest in order to be reborn. Others say that when its strength wanes it flies to the highest mountain peak, folds its wings, pulls in its feet and lets itself fall down to the depths of the canyons where it ends its days.
Traditions tell that the Incas left Machu Picchu before the arrival of the Spanish because they saw a condor fall dead in the house of the Sun Virgins. This was interpreted as an omen that announced the destruction of Tawantinsuyo, the Inca Empire, they say, because the condor was and is the messenger from the world above. It is the messenger of the gods.
The Andean condor is an enormous bird, one of the largest on earth capable of flight. When it stretches its wings they can reach a width of 3.2 meters from tip to tip. The bird weighs about 15 kilograms. Because of this, the birds prefer to live in windy sites where they can glide on the air currents without great effort.
The condors tend to be black in color with a weight collar. The males have a crest while the females do not. They tend to eat carrion, dead animals that are decomposing. As a result, they play a very important role as birds that keep the environment clean.
Their reproduction is slow. Each couple only has a chick every two years and both parents have responsibilities to care for the chick for a whole year. Unlike the people of Peru, the condor is monogamous. It lives with a single mate for its whole life. The life span of this bird is about the same of human beings, around 90 years.
The Andean condor is an endangered species. Many are killed in order to obtain their feathers that are then sold for ceremonies. Fortunately there are programs to reintroduce the bird into lost habitats to increase the number of birds in the wild. In this way we hope to conserve this important symbol of our Andean religiosity.