Last Inca Bridge Becomes Peruvian Conservation Priority

A regional order declared last week that the conservation, promotion, and cultural development of Q'eswachaka Bridge will become an official governmental priority. This hanging bridge spans the Apurímac River in Qehue, located about a day's ride from Cusco in the Canas Province. The mandated task will necessitate the protection of the bridge's basic material, the Q'oya Icchu grasses which grow along the Andean highlands and are dried into straw to construct the bridge. (The bridge's Quechua name derives from Q'eswa, twisted cord, and Chaka, bridge.)

Q'eswachaka is unique in that it is reconstructed each year according to a centuries' old ceremony inherited from the ancient Incas. More than a thousand townspeople from the communities of Winch"iri, Chaupibanda, Ccollana Quehue and Perqaro gather together in a tradition known as minka, wherein communal groups gather for public works in a festival atmosphere.

The use of such bridges was not abandoned with the arrival of the Spaniards because quicklime and stone bridges simply could not span the same distances from one hill to another, and were also less vulnerable to natural phenomena such as overflowing rivers and earthquakes.

The minka is composed of ritual activities which last four days, with the central day falling on the second Sunday of June. At dawn on the first day, an Andean priest begins an offering, while the straw is gathered and braided together by women under the supervision of a specialist known as a

Chakaruwak or someone versed in Incan engineering, known as a Mitmaq. On the second day the old bridge is dismantled, the stones which sustain the bridge are removed and four new cords are placed which will become the base of the bridge and will span a distance of 28 meters. The handrails and bottom of the bridge are completed on the third day. Finally, the fourth day is celebrated with dances and traditional food, as communal labor was considered a festival day by ancient Peruvians.

In 2009, the National Institute of Culture legally declared the bridge's renovation ritual as part of Peru's National Heritage. Q'eswachaka Bridge is not only important as an example of the technology deployed in the time of Tawantinsuyu, the Incan Empire, but also because its reconstruction permits the practice prehispanic traditions such as a social organization based on the division of labor, intercomunal cooperation for the common good, and Andean spiritual beliefs.

Inca World Team
Publication date: 27 Nov 2012
Sources: <a href="">Carla Colon</a>

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