Miniature gold llama figurine
Peru, Inca, about AD 1500
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Andean peoples have a long tradition of beliefs relating to an ideal but invisible world that can be represented by miniature objects.
Miniature figurines wrought in hammered gold were deposited as offerings to accompany high-altitude human sacrifices made in the course of the Inca state ritual of capacocha, meaning royal sin or obligation. These events took place upon the death of an Inca king and were used to incorporate new territory into the rapidly expanding Inca empire.
The local lords of subject ethnic groups were required to select and send to the capital city, Cusco, unblemished children embodying the ideal of human perfection. Here the young children were ritually married and presented with sets of miniature human and llama figurines in gold, silver, copper and shell. These miniature figurines would be dressed in a full miniature set of woven textile clothing and feather headdresses.
The children, along with their offerings, were then returned to their original communities, where they were feted and honoured before being sacrificed to the mountain deities (apus) in high altitude burials.
Today, offerings of coca leaves and small carved stone amulets of animals known as illas are arranged on a special textile mesa (altar). These are safeguarded and blessed by offerings of alcohol in rituals designed to bring fertility to the llama herds and prosperity to the owners.
The practice of making offerings to the spirit powers and to ancestors living in the landscape has a long history in Andean cultures and is deeply embedded.
Human communities depend on a process of reciprocal exchange with other members of society for access to goods and crops from other altitudes. However, the notion of a reciprocal exchange is also extended to ancestral powers and to the pachamama (mother earth). Offerings encourage the flow of energies necessary to create, maintain and protect the goodwill of these powers and are deemed fundamental to the success of their crops and herds.