A couple of ceramic Bulls stand on the middle of most rooftops in Cuzco where they stand as if on a hilltop looking out on the rolling, downward-sloping pastures of orange tiles. This powerful image is one of good fortune and protection for the house and the families that inhabit it.
This tradition comes from the time of the Incas. They relied on images of alpacas that they called illas. These alpacas had a hole in their loin where one could put alpaca fat and then bury them in the Earth in order to obtain protection for their agriculture as well as a good harvest. They also used illas to protect their flocks of alpacas and llamas, as well as to guarantee their reproduction. Illas in the form of houses were also used to protect buildings so that they would be safe and last.
Illas have been found in our city. We can see them in the Museo Inca, the Inca Museum, of the National University of San Antonio Abad in Cusco, Commonly called the UNSAAC. The residents of Cuzco enter the museum free upon showing their ID, while visitors to the city pay 10/S. There we can see the three kinds of illas that were used in the Inca epoch.
With the coming of the Spanish, the people of Cuzco made a change in the form of the illas. They added to the three mentioned above the bulls of Pucará. The name Pucará comes from the place where the bulls begin to be made. Pucará is on the broad grasslands of the altiplano, the high plateau, of Puno, as it approaches the pass of La Raya from which a highway drops to Cuzco. The area of Pucará is famous for its herds of cattle, sheep, and especially the native llamas and alpacas.
The high grasslands have always had symbolic importance for the people of Cuzco because from them came the herders of camelids (llamas and alpacas) as well as much of the freeze dried potatoes, the chuño and moraya, that were important food stocks.
From the also came, according to one of the two versions of the origin story of the Incas, the founding couple Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo. The story relates how they journeyed from Lake Titicaca which is in the center of those grasslands, and which was also the center of one of the most important Pre-Inca civilizations, that of Tiwanaku.
Pucará was an important site where the northern form of the Tiwanaku civilization developed. This may also play a role in the value people give to the toritos, or bulls, from Pucará.
This grassland and lake area is also important for a Pre-Inca set of stories about the hero Thunupa, who is also related to the lightning and is assimilated sometimes to the great god Viracocha and sometimes to Illapa the god of thunder and lightning. Pucará became an important center for the making of pottery which was widely distributed. Intriguingly a center of pottery making closer to Cuzco, Raqchi, is also associated with Thunupa, Viracocha, and Illapa. It was the site of the great temple to Viracocha built by the Incas.
In any case, these ceramic bulls make their way to Cuzco where, more than folk art, they are important protectors and bringers of good fortune to the houses and building Cuzqueños inhabit. People see them as bringing happiness and well being to the people in them.
People place two bulls in the middle of the highest part of the house. They face in the same direction as the houses and in between them rises a cross, both a Christian symbol and something related to Illapa, the thunder god, flags, and metal roosters. Generally they are placed when the houses are finished but before the people begin living in them.
The most common are Bulls of natural terracotta color adorned with white and purplish red on their chest while on their heads is found green. They have the expression of a majestic and noble bull and carry the vigor and power of these animals.
The potters who make these bulls are very skilled. They make them with many details and with distinctive colors to make the bulls stand out. You can buy these bulls in the Saturday fairs around the city. They also are found in the city’s markets. In either you can find the Bulls that you most like.
The bulls of Pucará are very well known. Contests are held for the potters to see who can make the best bulls. The potters respond with magnificent bulls made in clay, but with details in gold or silver. The best of these are recognized world wide as important elements of folk art and find place in many museums around the world.
A market has opened for these bulls as decorations for the inside of houses and as representations of the Peruvian folk. Artists now explore and develop their artistic potential.
Nevertheless, the natural place is on top of the roofs of Cuzco. There they stand between house and sky. With their snorting, stamping of hooves, and slapping of tail they bring a watchful eye and care for those who live inside.