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The Sacred Landscape of the Inca

The Cusco Ceque System

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Brian S. Bauer. 1998. The Sacred Landscape of the Inca: The Cusco Ceque System. The University of Texas Press, Austin. 161 pages, plus 76 pages of appendices, notes, glossary, references, and three indices.
This large-format book is an examination of the complexities of the Cusco ceque system, the highly geometrical ordering system by which the Inca structured their social, economic, and religious lives. Ceque is the Quechua (Inca language) word for line or border, and the ceque system in the region of the Inca capital of Cusco can best be visualized as a series of lines radiating out from Cusco, lines which defined districts, which acted as roads, which tied the region to the center. Like the older Nazca lines, these lines are real; in some cases they can still be traced across the landscape of western South America, and along the lines like knots in a string were situated a series of shrines or huacas.
In the Quechua language, huaca means anything out of the ordinary in the natural world; whether outstandingly beautiful or outstandingly ugly. Mountain tops, funny rock formations, springs; the huacas were named after their characteristics. The translated names of the Cusco huacas are evocative as heck and include Many Colored Hill, Red Town, Small-Frog Spring, Cold Waterfall, Mountain Lion, Watercress Spring, Gold Band, Nettle Spring, Royal Headdress Meadow, Clean Clay. The huacas were used as stopping places along the road, shrines where prayers and offerings of everything from coca leaves to sea shells to gold and silver objects to (in rare cases) children were left. There were probably thousands of these shrines throughout the Inca empire, which at its height stretched nearly the length of South America's Andes mountains, from modern day Columbia to Chile. Each system radiated out from a regional center like a sun and its planets. Many many hundreds of the huacas were destroyed by the Spanish invaders and missionaries who saw the huacas as threats to the emplacement of Catholicism; and indeed, the huacas and what they represented certainly were a real threat.

Bauer's Research

Bauer's research in this book seeks to identify as many huacas as possible that were associated with the ceque system of the town of Cusco. In an understated irony, his best source of information is Bernabé Cobo's Relación de las huacas, which is a detailed description of the Cusco ceque system written for the express purpose to allow the various missionaries to stamp it out of existence. Armed with Cobo's Relación and other similar texts produced by the Spanish, Bauer and his associates combed the countryside, eventually identifying over 350 of the ceque shrines.
Three very useful appendices are included in this book, one of which is an English translation of Cobo's Relación de las huacas; another contains suggested Spanish and English translations of the Quechua names for the shrines of the Cusco ceque system. I loved this book. It's almost a (readable) encyclopedia into the mind of the Inca, or at least as close as any English translation of a Spanish chronicle of a Quechua culture can possibly be. The Sacred Landscape of the Inca is well-written and extensively documented; lots of pictures and drawings and a ton of information I couldn't possibly present in 500 words. Plenty of notes and bibliographies for the professional, plenty of ideas and explanation for the enthusiast.

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