The Q’ero Community

Two hundret kilometers from Cusco, after a two-day trip on horseback from Paucartambo, you reach the Hatun Q’ero peasant community. They have been recognized as the guardians of the Quechua culture. Due to their geographical and social isolation, this community had little influence from the European culture during the colonial period. At present, many traces of the pre-Columbian world can be found in Q’ero.

During the 1970s and 1980s, only a few people had the privilege to get to know the people of Q’ero. During that period, there was a long oral tradition and they used technologies developed hundreds of years ago. Agrobiodiversity was also Andean, with many varieties of quinoa, native potatoes and maize.

The people of Q’ero lived practically isolated and were self-sufficient regarding all their needs. For example, they had their own traditional medicine, practiced by healers and shamans; sophisticated fabrics based on their own wool production; food cultivation covering various ecological floors: the Puna, Quechua and high jungle regions, producing maize and fruits at 1,800 and 2,500 masl.[1]

In order to reach the rainforest, Andean people used an Inca trail that communicated with the land of Yines indigenous peoples in the Kosñipata Valley. Clearly, the geography of the zone allows an ease of communication between the High Andes and Amazon, and it is believed that in former times there was an extensive exchange of products, that can be seen both in the stories of the Q’eros and in the illustrations of their fabrics.

This relationship with the nearby Amazon -region called Anti by the Incas- encouraged the idea for some time that Q’eros are the guardians of the Paititi mythical city, whose location is suspected in the Yines territory. The Paititi myth has to do with the Inkarri myth or Inca Rey, an important part of the Q’ero stories, and basically consists in the idea that the last Inca, Túpac Amaru I, was beheadedby the Spaniards in 1572 and his head rests somewhere in Cusco, where it will slowly rise and reunite with his body, hoping to resume the Tawantinsuyu. This mythical image probably dates to 1780, at the end of the Túpac Amaru II uprising that marked the beginning of the passive resistance in the Southern Andes, with messianic aspects influenced by the Catholic Church.


My wife Helga and I lived in Q’ero between 1979 and 1980 with the anthropologist Óscar Núñez del Prado from Cusco. Our objectives were to record the oral tradition, learn about the Quechua world from shamans and link this “moment” of the community with the “social and exterior moment” through photography. During this process, the Quechua world crystallized the awareness of Q’eros on their situation as guardians of the cultural and spiritual world, that had already been lost, as the old Andean tradition seemed meaningless in a world syncretizing with the West. They called themselves Incas or indigenous and not peasants, as imposed by the Agrarian Reform in the late1960s.

At this time Cusco was living a new phase in recognizing the importance of Andean communities such as the Q’eros. Thus we were able to produce an important number of publications together with anthropologists such as Juan Ossio, the Centro Bartolomé de las Casas (CBC), the Andean Pastoral Institute (IPA) and the local and international news media.

The most important and massive impact was the dissemination of images at a time in which Cusco only had a few photographs of the real Quechua world. The only vestige of the great Inca Empire was shown through dirty and miserable people, and Indian beggars. At the time, the archive of the famous photographer Martín Chambi (1891-1973) who conducted most of his work in Cusco had not been opened to the world.

Through publications, post cards -sold by street children-, posters and exhibitions, the identification of the Andean Indian with the Quechua world maintained by Q”eros in such a special way due to their isolation was reinforced. This was later accompanied by a historic archive of important photographs identified in the CBC in Cusco

Based on this, years later during the 1990s, the renovation of Quechua in Cusco would emerge, with the Mayor Daniel Estrada, the Qosqoruna and movement similar to the romantic indigenismo of the 1930s.

There was also an important impact at the international level, particularly in the German-speaking world, throughout two editions of the book Kinder der Mitte of Editorial Lamuv, who promoted the Q’ero world as a center of Quechua wisdom in the Peruvian Andes.

Today, the people of Q’ero are an important factor in the international mysticism and mystic tourism in Cusco. Their shamans and priests sometimes work with untraditional methods in the community, including the Andes, such as ayahuasca sessions and jungle chants. In the meantime, although they maintain their traditions intact, Q’eros are not living in isolation, with a country lane leading to their territories and many of them working in tourism in Cusco. Thus, in 2007, the Ministry of Culture declared the Q’ero community an Immaterial National Cultural Patrimony of Peru.


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thumbnail of Kinder-der-Mitte-Die-Qero-Indianer-o

[1] Meters above sea level.