The Andean Cross

Today I was contemplating the Andean Cross.  In the Quechua language  this cross is called Chakana. It’s name comes from the Quechua word “Chakay” meaning to cross or bridge.

Incan life and society was based upon prinicples of belief and behavior that is symbolized by the Chakana.  The chakana still holds meaning to modern day Andean culture.  Art and jewlery made by Incan descendants often depict the Chakana.  In fact, I purchased a lovely silver Chakana pendant while I was in Cusco.

The Chakana is a 3-stepped cross symbolizing the 3 tiers of Inca life:

  • Hanan Pacha: the upper world of the stars, celestial beings and gods (It’s animal totem is the condor)
  • Kay Pacha: the middle world of Mother Earth and human life (represented by the puma)
  • Uqhu Pacha: the lower world of the underworld and death ( represented by the serpent)

The circle in the center denotes Cusco, the navel of the Inca Empire.  Cusco, from the Quechua word “Qosqo” means origin, navel, belly button.  The entire Incan universe is thought to have radiated out from this central point of the Inca kingdom.  This is where the “Sapa Inca” or ruler resided with his court.

The 4 cross arms depict the 4 cardinal directions (north, south, east, & west) and the 4 classical elements (earth, air, water, & fire).  They also represent the 4 rules Andean people live by: work, love, knowledge, and sharing.

Some depicitons of the Chakana have a triangle around the hole in its center.  The 2 bottom points at the base of the triangle represent duality, such as man:woman, good:evil, and dark:light.  The peak of the triangle represents balance.

The whole symbol also represents the 12 months of the celestial year.  Many buildings, temples, and religious sanctuaries have chakana iconography.

People of Andean culture, both past and present has a rich view of the universe and their place within it.

Hasta Luego!

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Chair of Social Science, Humanities,
& Foreign Languages

Liberal Arts & University Transfer
Craven Community College

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