Inca painted wooden beaker with feline
and rainbow

Peru, Late 17th-18th century

On this kero, or wooden beaker, a rainbow appears from the mouth of the cat as an extension of its whiskers.

In Andean culture powerful cats, especially the lowland jaguar, were associated with the legendary lost paradise city of Paititi. Andean people have always believed that  jaguars are the doors of Paititi and that when the right moment comes these doors will open, allowing the Andean people access and no one else.

Ancient and modern Andean mythology links felines and rain, seen here falling as white dots below the rainbow. The Inca (king) and Coya (queen, not visible), stand underneath the rainbow, while the ushnu is represented by the nest of white squares.

While the keros are objects of the colonial period, the scenes featured on them express many persistent native beliefs about symbols of legitimate native authority and nobility in the face of Spanish conquest.



From their capital, Cuzco, in Peru, the Inca controlled a huge empire reaching over 2,400 miles along the length of the Andes mountains. The supreme head of state was the king, considered a living god ruling by divine right.

Incas world culture

Inca ushnus

Object details


Inca colonial


Height: 18.5 cm



Room 24: Living and Dying


    C. McEwan, Ancient American Art in Detail (London, The British Museum Press, 2009)

    See this object in our Collection database online