May 19, 2015

Preparing Objects for "The Great Inka Road": A Decorative Llama Neck Collar

We have been llama-mad lately in the museum’s conservation lab, as we prepare for the upcoming exhibition The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire. Just as the network that became the Great Inka Road passed through many time periods and many different Andean cultures, the exhibition will present a cross-section of life all along the road, before, during, and after the Inka Empire, with a focus on the empire's engineering accomplishments.

In preparing objects for the exhibition, the conservation team learned about life in the Andes, including just how important llamas were and are in Andean culture. During the Inka Empire llama caravans were essential for moving goods on the road between relatively isolated communities, and llamas still play this important role in Andean life today. Llamas provide wool for clothing and other warm, beautiful textiles and are a valued source of food. Because of their important place in Andean society, llamas are also highly revered in religious ceremonies. Figures of llamas were made of stone, shell, gold, and silver in past times. Llamas are still often depicted in fine, colorful weavings, and llamas themselves are adorned to take part in festivals and other special occasions.

Enter the llama neck collar, or pectoral. 

In the Andes, decorative chest ornaments are one way people adorn llamas in caravans or for ceremonies, and this particular collar is a fairly typical example. The materials used—sheep’s wool, recycled machine-woven wool and cotton cloth, and polyester-cotton sewing thread—indicate that this collar likely was made in the mid-20th century.

When the collar came into the conservation lab, it was a little worse for wear. Exposure to moths and poor storage before the collar entered the museum's collection brought damage to some areas, giving the collar an unkempt appearance. Some yarns in the collar’s fringe were literally hanging by a thread! With careful attention and patience, I realigned the collar’s disorganized fringe and strengthened weak yarns with fine silk thread. I also reinforced fragile, moth-damaged areas by stitching them to cotton support patches. 

Swatches of material for patching and supporting the llama collar are kept with reference photographs. This provides an accurate record for future conservators of the treatment and materials used. Photo by Claudia Lima, NMAI.

The overall result is subtle, yet very satisfying. The conservation treatment allows the collar to be handled carefully without worrying about pieces simply dropping off. The treatment also restores some dignity to the collar: Now our eyes are first drawn to its vibrant embroidery rather than to areas of damage. I spent a total of 67 hours working on this piece, and every second was worth it.

Llama collar before treatment, front Llama collar before treatment, back

Llama collar after treatment, front Llama collar after treatment, back













Embroidered llama pectoral. Mid-20th c., Peru. NMAI 24/5505. Top, left to right: The front and back of the decorative collar before conservation. Bottom: The front and back of the collar after the fringe has been aligned and strengthened and other worn areas have been stabilized. Photos by Kate Blair, NMAI. 

The llama neck collar is just one of many textiles I have had the privilege of working on for The Great Inka Road. Many of the pieces are archaeological and hundreds of years old. Seeing their complexity and fineness leaves me in awe of the great skill of the weavers who made them.

The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire opens June 26, 2015, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. Follow the hashtag #InkaRoad on social media to learn more about the exhibition.

—Kate Blair

Kate Blair is an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Textile Conservation at the National Museum of the American Indian.

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August 07, 2014

Meet Native America: Antonio Quinde, Anthropologist and Member of the Cañari Community of Quilloac, Ecuador

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. 

Antonio Quinde was the first president of ECUANARI, the Confederation of Kichwa Peoples of Ecuador, and rector of the Instituto Superior Tecnológico Pedagógico Intercultural Bilingüe Quilloac (Institute for Intercultural and Bilingual Technology and Teaching, Quilloac). Judy Blankenship recorded this interview—the blog's first with a South American leader—on June 15, 2014, in Cañar, Ecuador, and translated and edited it for the museum. The photographs are also by Judy and are used with permission.—Dennis Zotigh 

Please introduce yourself and tell us where you're from. 

My name is José Antonio Quinde Buscán, and I am an anthropologist of the Andean culture. My community is Quilloac, in the Province of Cañar. It's in southern Ecuador at an altitude of 10,100 feet in the Andes Mountains.

image from
Antonio Quinde in his village, Quilloac, in the mountains of Cañar Province, Ecuador.

What is a significant point in history from your community that you would like to share? 

Quilloac is an ancient indigenous community with an interesting history. When the Inkas invaded our territory in 1463, we maintained the rights to our land. But with the Spanish conquest that soon followed, in 1534, the conquistadors appropriated our land and established the largest hacienda in the region—450,000 hectares [more than one million acres]. This led to two kinds of communities: those that belonged to the hacienda, where everyone was required to work the land as peons, and those that were “free” and not part of the hacienda. 

The problem with the free villages, such as Quilloac, was that the colonial Spanish government forced our people to work on roads, bridges, and mines. But when the Cañaris left their homes, they often did not return because they died of hunger, snakebites, landslides, and diseases such as malaria. For this reason, many free communities handed over their land in return for the protection of the hacienda owner. That is how Quilloac lost our territory and Pachamama [Earth Mother].

Five hundred years later, in 1964, we began to recover our land through the agrarian reform laws of Ecuador. The government bought the hacienda and divided it into parcels of land for the members of Quilloac and other communities. We had to buy the land back, but in that way we reclaimed our Pachamama.

How is your government set up?  

Traditionally, Cañaris were governed by the ayllu, based on the extended families of the village or a particular area. The head of the ayllu was the oldest member of the village, the one who best knew the history, problems, and healing traditions. This was a part of all Andean cultures in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. 

Today, each Cañari community has a governing body elected by a general assembly that includes all who live there. In Quilloac, for example, we are about 600 families, so we are divided into five sectors, and each sector elects a president, vice president, treasurer, and so on. These elected authorities meet every two weeks, the community of each sector meets every three months, and all the communities come together in a general assembly every two years.

Is there still a functional, traditional entity of leadership, in addition to your modern government system?  

The most traditional aspect of our government is community rule, based on our Andean culture. Through this structure we organize mingas—communal work days—but it also serves to reinforce unity, solidarity, reciprocity, and identity. No one is every alone in our Cañari communities. 

What responsibilities do you have as a community leader 

As a leader, I have always struggled for the rights, education, identity, and respect that we Cañaris deserve as an indigenous nation of Ecuador. I’m concerned for our history, our customs, traditions, and legends, because the Cañari culture should be recognized on the national level, and by all of Latin America. We have significant archeological sites, some recognized by UNESCO. Narrío, for example, is an ancient burial site on the outskirts of Cañar that goes back 5,000 years. Fragments of Native life that date to 10,000 years ago have been found in the cave Chobshi. The most famous site in Ecuador is Ingapirca, a religious center for both Cañaris and Inkas. 

  image from Quinde working in the library at his home. 

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

Many elders have influenced me, such as my parents and grandparents and others in the community who have taught me the best way to live. I only regret that we have not researched our history before. But living on the hacienda prevented us from knowing our history and our traditions. The Spanish conquistadores tried to do away with our religion and our language.

Is your language still spoken on your lands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers? 

We Cañaris have two languages—three, really. Of our original Cañari language, we have left only a few place names and surnames. Almost 60 percent of us speak Kichwa, the language of the Inkas, and a few Cañari words remain in use, such as the words for dog and water. It’s very important to maintain our Kichwa language while researching our original language. In this sense, we have demanded that the Ecuadorian government provide bilingual education [Kichwa–Spanish] especially in Cañar. Kichwa is a “complete” language, with a vocabulary of scientific names in mathematics, biology, chemistry, and philosophy.  Mathematics is especially important to the Cañaris, who use a taptana [a small wooden board with circular openings for stones or markers ] to add and multiply. In Ecuador, only the Cañaris use the taptana.

What annual events does your community observe?

We celebrate four important fiestas every year. Kapak Raymi, in December around the time of the winter solstice, traditionally marked the transition of children to adolescence. This fiesta also honors the sun and the coming rainy season. In the spring, Pawkar Raymi celebrates the planting of our crops. Inti Raymi falls in June at the time of the summer solstice and honors the harvest. Killa Raymi, in September, is the fiesta of the moon and honors the women, or mamacunas, in our culture. We consider the moon as feminine and the sun as masculine. From the hacienda days the Catholic Church incorporated or replaced indigenous traditions with their own religious holidays. Kapak Raymi was replaced by Christmas, Pawkar Raymi by Carnival or the beginning of Lent, and Inti Raymi is around the same time as Corpus Christi.

How does the Cañari community deal with the government of Ecuador?

We Cañaris don’t have much of a relationship with our central government because of a long history of marginalization of indigenous people, not just in Ecuador but in all of Latin America. When the Spanish invaded they tried to finish off the Native people, to liquidate us, and this colonization continues today by the imposition of traditions and customs that are foreign to us. So we don’t have good relations with, or the support of, our government. For example, the new constitution does not include the right to a bilingual Spanish–Kichwa education.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your community?

I tell young people they should not abandon the seven ancestral principals to live by: reciprocity, unity, solidarity, equality, dignity, identity, and complementarity, and they should apply them to today’s reality. They must demonstrate, to our country and to the world, who we are as Cañaris. 

Thank you.

Judy Blankenship is a documentary photographer and writer who has worked and lived in Cañar during two Fulbright research periods and various projects with Cañari educators for the National Museum of the American Indian. Her most recent collaboration is the bilingual Kichwa–English book The Cañar Nation and  Its Cultural Expressions, published in 2013 by the museum. Judy and her husband, Michael, now live six months of every year in Cañar.

To read other interviews in the series Meet Native America, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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September 05, 2013

Inka Road Research 2013

The Inka Road crosses the mountainside below Machu Qolqa, a storage point. Urubamba Province, Cusco Department, Peru. 

Dr. Ramiro Matos (Quechua), senior curator for Latin America at the National Museum of the American Indian, has been working for five years on the project Qhapaq Ñan: The Inka Road. In July he and a very small team of museum staff traveled across Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, completing the research needed to present the Inka Road in a major exhibition scheduled to open at the museum in Washington, D.C., in June 2015, and via a symposium and other online events open to a worldwide audience.

The Inka Road is an engineering and distribution marvel. The road system spans more than 24,000 miles, greater than the distance between Florida and Washington State. The Inka used the road to move natural resources from one area to another, transport armies, see to the needs of their citizens, and develop new and sophisticated methods for administering their empire. The forthcoming exhibition will showcase the museum’s stunning collection of objects as it explains the origins of the Inka Empire, details the four expansion areas of the empire (called suyus), and highlights why the road is still relevant today.

Qorichancha, the Inka Temple of the Sun. Cusco.

Archaeologists from throughout Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia—the six countries that today comprise the region covered by the Inka Road—are key partners in the project. This summer, Dr. Matos and project team spent two weeks in Cusco, Peru, working with consultants on ethnohistoric data for a 3-D model of the Inka capital that will serve as the centerpoint of the exhibit. They then journeyed to Lima for a series of meetings with museum professionals, government agencies, and government representatives. Onward they went to Ecuador, to work with partners in both Cuenca and Quito, and from there to Pasto, Colombia. The research is now close to complete, and the production work is about to begin. 

A young Quechua girl posing with her baby llama, or cria. Cusco.

In addition to research, the team began scouting for production for photography, video, and 3-D modeling, which will occur next summer if funding permits. Team members have been gathering information for potential cultural arts programs, as well as for the museum shop. They have also been purchasing objects to create “discovery boxes” in the museum’s two imagiNATIONS Activity Centers (open in DC, forthcoming in NY). These boxes will feature hands-on objects that children can explore to learn more about the communities that today live along the Inka Road.  

Please join us in Washington, D.C., on November 14 for a symposium on the engineering principals of the Inka Road. This program will bring together ten of the project’s consultants to discuss the wide range of innovations achieved by the Inka, from the hydrology of Machu Picchu to the model reconstruction of Cusco. The symposium also will be webcast.

Stay tuned for updates about this blockbuster exhibition. In the meantime, here are a few more photographs to give you a sense of what we saw during the research trip.


Cusco was the capital and center of the Inka Empire and remains central to the Quechua people, descendants of the Inka. Archaeological evidence of the Inka abounds in Cusco, and Quechua can be heard throughout the city.



It's astounding how Inka stonework still stands and is being used today. Clockwise from upper left: Pavement of an Inka road. Inka walls—yes, those carvings represent serpents. An Inka doorway, now the entrance to a hotel.

Inti Raymi

The festival Inti Raymi occurs every June around the time of the solstice and marks both traditional and modern governing authority. In the festival, the Inka takes his place in the center of Cusco, and delegations from the four suyus pay him homage. Part of the ceremony takes place at the Plaza de Armas, where the current mayor of Cusco is presented with symbolic control of the city from the Inka. Part of the ceremony takes place at Saqsaywaman, the ceremonial sight at the northwest end of the city; Saqsaywaman serves as the head of the puma, the symbolic shape of Cusco.


Inti Raymi. Upper: The Inka arriving in the Plaza de Armas, Cusco. Lower: The Antisuyu dance at Saqsaywaman.

Beyond the capital 

Each of the suyus brought different economic and cultural resources to the empire. For example, sites near the coast were important for spondylus shell, which was used as currency as well as in jewelry. Northern sites are famous for the engineering of rope bridges.


Traveling north in Chinchasuyu. Upper: The Inka Road winds up a hillside. Lower: The foundation of a chaski wasi, one of the houses where messenger runners were stationed. 


At Pachacámac, near Lima, el templo del Sol (the Temple of the Sun). Sections of the temple are original, others are being restored. Detail: Some of the temple's red paint survives; the use of adobe makes construction here very different from the methods and materials seen in Cusco. 



P1000657a P1000658a
In southern Ecuador the road meets the Rio Jubones. Imagine a cable rope bridge here; you would cross underneath the bridge, perhaps in a basket. Concrete abutments anchored the bridge in recent times. You can also see the Inka Road along the hills on each side of the river.

All photos were taken in July 2013 by Amy van Allen, NMAI.


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March 08, 2012

Andean Journal: Chawaytiri Energy

Potato planting in Chawaytiri
Potato planting in Chawaytiri, 2010. Chawaytirinos sustain a traditional agricultural practice depicted in the early chronicle of Guaman Poma, 1613.

Jose Barreiro (Taíno), assistant director for research and head of the NMAI’s Office of Latin America, offers this dispatch on his recent fieldwork in Chawaytiri, Peru. Barreiro is collaborating with the people of the community on Chawaytiri on the Road, part of the museum's research and exhibition project on the Qapaq Ñan (Inka Road).

Back Sunday afternoon from Peru, after a long delay in Lima. The oil truck pumped too much oil into the plane, and so I was bogged down by excess petroleum and missed my next connection. I got a kick out of that—dogged by over-abundant oil, even as the world supply dwindles.

I spent a few days this time in Chawaytiri, a strong Quechua community on the Antisuyo Road between Cusco and Paucartambo. I was first in Chawaytiri, and captured by its people, in 2008 while passing through studying the Inka Road for an upcoming exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian. The Inka Road—the Qhapac Ñan—runs through the Chawaytiri community for several kilometers and then out for hundreds kilometers in a northeasterly direction, linking Cusco to Antisuyu, one of the quarters of the Inka Tawantinsuyu, "the four-part empire."

Chawaytiri has a strong leadership, largely under the system of warmi–qari, the woman–man kuraq authority and foundational duality of the Andean Native (originario) communities. The kuraq families of Chawaytiri have become our relations and coöperants over the past four years. The traditional bases Chawaytirinos retain resonated with me that first time—their strong practice of cultivating potatoes and many companion plants, their rational use of water; their sense of long-term sustainability, their food self-sufficiency; their appreciation and spiritual "payment" ceremonies to Pachamama, to the mountain apus; the continuity of their wachu, the traditional village government of the kinship-based community called ayllu.

Two years later, we produced a documentary by and with the community, one that the elders' group is using as a sort of manifesto or message to their generations. This trip we reviewed and critiqued our four-year production. I had a chance to show a PowerPoint of themes for our Qhapac Ñan exhibition, and the kuraq requested a group review of their inspired documentary Chawaytiri Strengthens: Message to the World. This kind of encounter is integral to our museum methodology, to check our thinking and production against the intelligence of the indigenous community.

Harvesting Lucio's garden
Barreiro picking habas (lima beans) in Lucio Illa's field. A community leader, Lucio grows a very nice garden of potatoes, quinoa, and habas.

The Chawatiri elders as always bid us welcome with speeches and song, lots of food, and serious discussions. They are a people of the llama, master herders and weavers of uniquely Andean textiles. The elder kuraqs drive an agenda of respect for Andean traditional skills and a way of life. They keep and guard patrimonial sites in their community, such as at Llamayoq Qaqa, at the base of the Apu Muruwiksa, where pictographs are estimated to be 5,000 years of age. The kuraqs also collectively keep up their stretch of the Inka Road, and Llama Tinkay, the Andean ceremony toasting the llama and other domestic animals, is active.

Lagoons at Paro, Peru
Excursion to the lakes at Paro. These beautiful lakes are kilometers long, clean, bountiful, and in the hands of a Native community.

During our meeting the kuraq group announced the decision that they would institutionalize the Llama Tinkay Ceremony and Feast Days to be an annual public event, where Chawaytiri would host the twelve other communities of the Pisaq valleys. "We want to continue with our agriculture, our own foods," said don Lucio. The ceremony in August 2011, the first community-hosted Llama Tinkay in half a generation, had been a success. There had been many suggestions for expanding the event to develop an agricultural fair.

"We have a fine community, and can host people with our culture, with our dances and feasts," said Lucio. The documentary—the "giving ourselves to get known"—all goes to build "a good marketplace for our people," reiterated Ermogenes Baca, another kuraq. Like so many traditional American Indian community leaders, the Chawaytiri elders seek to improve their capacity in the marketplace, but also continually point out the value of the independent sustenance provided by healthy local agricultural life. One subject was the price of transportation: Rather than transport their own goods, they sought to bring people, including international tourists still flocking to the region of the Inkas' origin, to Chawaytiri's own community market.

In Lima, on the way out of the country, we broached the subject of oil depletion, which clearly signals an age of global energy scarcity, with Leonardo Alcaywaman (Quechua), dean of engineering at Ricardo Palma University. Science holds many promises, but salvaging land for local, regionally consumable agricultural production is a premium strategy for all societies. Dr. Alcaywaman likes to point out the long-term principles of Inka civil and social engineering. Of that old Andean tradition, consciousness of long-term inhabitation, the Chawaytiri elders are clearly keen observers.

Watching the community documentary "Chawaytiri Strengthens"
The children's showing of the documentary Chawaytiri Strengthens: Message to the Future, February 27, 2012.

It was great to be in Chawaytiri again. The community had good questions and new suggestions for the museum's exhibition and documentary. They reiterated that the exhibition needs to show how "grand"  their ancestor Inka were and that they, the people, still remember them. We had some great laughs watching the documentary as people who appeared in it kidded each other. For the children, it was a powerful experience to see their own parents seriously and interestingly representing themselves in a medium that usually depicts silly entertainment, cheap violence, and confusing sexuality. 

—Jose Barreiro

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I appreciate that these ethnic groups help each other in their agricultural activities and they were able to preserve their natural resources. Thanks.

Those days are still upon us we just have to be as caring as the ethnic groups are.

July 18, 2011

Peru: Andahuaylas

Road to Huancaray
The road to the Huancaray district, in the province of Andahuaylas, Peru.

To follow the museum's research in the Andes, and staff members' experiences along the Inka Road, see the ongoing blog Qhapaq ñan: The Road of the Inka.

The road to Andahuaylas is long. Eight hours to be exact. It takes us across the plateau west of Cusco before winding its way down past Limatambo—an ancient tambo, or way station—to the milder temperatures of the Apurimac River Valley. Bougainvillea and orange trees flank a tributary of the river as snow-covered mountains soar above us. The paved road gives way to gravel as we pass Abancay, and we climb slowly, treacherously, out of yet another temperate valley, the landscape yielding abruptly to golden puna—Andean montane grasslands—and a patchwork of fields before descending slightly into the narrow valley of Andahuaylas.

This is the land of the Chankas, a people thought to have defeated the Wari around AD 1000. Their own defeat 500 years later by the young Inka Yupanqui, also known as Pachakutec, was followed by the methodological expansion of the Inka Empire. Here we meet Lic. Enmanuel Gomez Choque, archaeologist and director of the Casa de Cultura, and Danielle Kurin, a PhD student in archaeology. In their studies of Chanka tombs in the area, they have come across several roads which they would like to show us.

“There are at least three roads that go to Ayacucho,” Enmanual tells us. “One goes through Talavera to cross the Pampas River at a bridge called Incachaca. A second travels through Huancaray and San Antonio de Cachi, and a third goes through Sondor.”

The paved road to Huaccoto beside an unpaved path

The ingañan, paved with stones, leads east to Andahuaylas and northwest to Ayacucho. 

Near a rocky outcropping called Huaccoto, a paved section deviates from the lower route with evidence of worked stone and drainage systems. A woman we talk to in passing confirms that this road, the ingañan, continues to Andahuaylas to the east and Ayacucho to the northwest, going through San Antonio de Cachi. The road’s importance is probably related to a salt mine that has been exploited for thousands of years. Workers chop blocks of “black salt” and carry them from the depths of the mine, their backs protected by sheepskins. The chunks are then sold, broken into smaller pieces, and submerged in water. The sediment that forms is collected and used in cooking. Alternatively, a small block can be placed in the cooking pot and removed when the desired flavor is reached. But caution: a salty soup does not win the cook any favors!

Entrance to the salt mine

A miner caaries blocks of salt from the mine, his back padded with sheepskin and cloth

A chunk of rock salt.





Top: The entrance to the salt mine; left: a miner carrying blocks of salt on his back; Above: a chunk of "black salt."

Learning of the ingañan’s link to salt, I wonder about the significance of the other two roads. By speaking to people along the way and using the information early chroniclers left behind, we can ascertain the functions of some of these roads, but in truth, we will probably never know all. The network is too enormous.

—Megan Son


Ramiro Matos and colleagues on the ingañan near Huaccoto The aim was to see sections of one of the four main roads that began in Cusco. This is the main road to the northwest, called the Chinchaysuyu road. This road ends in Pasto, Colombia. Interviews with people still using the Inka road confirm that the local people know about the road and where it leads. We also learned that this portion of the road goes through important resource centers. There is research to be done to understand about the use and importance of the other road branches. The road is not known locally as the Qhapaq ñan (Royal road), rather as the hatun ñan (main road), ingañan (Inka road), and chaski ñan (pedestrian road).

—Ramiro Matos

Ramiro Matos (left) and colleagues on the ingañan near Huaccoto.


All photographs are by Megan Son unless otherwise credited.

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