A god forsaken: the sacred bear inAndean iconography and cosmology
Susanna Paisley and Nicholas J. Saunders
Bears are all but invisible in Andean iconography, and consequently are considered unimportant inpre-Columbian cosmology. This assumption is re-examined in the context of present-day Andeanculture in which bears are highly salient characters in stories, ritual and performance. Indeed,Qoyllur Rit’i, the largest native pilgrimage in the Americas, has a bear as its main protagonist.Refuting a presumed colonial Spanish origin for bear imagery in contemporary Andean culture, apre-Columbian origin is proposed in El Lanzo ´n, the principal deity at the Formative Horizon’shighly inﬂuential cult centre of Chavı ´n de Huantar. Here, we present ethnographic, ethnohistoricand archaeological data to propose a signiﬁcant place for the bear in Andean cosmology.
Chavı ´n, Andes; iconography; cosmology; spectacled bear; bear cult; Moche; Qoyllur Rit’i.
The invisible bear
Veneration of the boreal species of bears is a striking and ancient feature of northernhemisphere cultures dubbed the ‘circumpolar bear cult’ (Black 1998; Hallowell 1926). Areview of the literature on Andean iconography and cosmology reveals an almost totalabsence of references to bears whereas the large felines are ubiquitous (e.g. KauﬀmanDoig 1980; Stone-Miller 1995). Given the ‘almost universal’ reverence for bears (Berreset al. 2004: 8), the absence of acknowledged bear cults in Mesoamerica and the Andesis notable: ‘the importance of the ... bear was lost in Mexico and the Andes, aremarkable fact considering that this loss occurred despite the bear’s having been amember of the fauna of these regions’ (Mundkur 1976: 448). A case in point is theMoche culture of northern Peru (
100–800). Fine-line drawings of ‘striking realismand visual complexity’ (Bourget and Jones 2008: xi) documented the natural andsymbolic worlds of the Moche, including the hunting or individual depiction of at least
Vol. 42(2): 245–260
Humans and Animals
2010 Taylor & Francis ISSN 0043-8243 print/1470-1375 onlineDOI: 10.1080/00438241003672880
D o w nl o ad ed B y : [ P ai sl e y , S u s a n n a][ U ni v e r si t y of K e n t] A t : 15 :29 14 M a y 2010