Every year, on the second Thursday of June, members of four small communities in the Andes rebuild an Inca bridge called Queswachaca, as they and their ancestors have been doing for hundreds of years.
The bridge-building festival, which lasts four days and includes a number of other rituals, including a ceremony to pay homage to Pachamama, “mother earth,” has, in recent years, attracted the attention of both national and international tourists, eager to experience living history up close.
Erick Farfán, a tour guide based in Cusco, had the opportunity to see this Inca tradition a number of years ago, and will be going again this year as a guide. Here he shares his experiences during his first visit.
What were your expectations for going to see the reconstruction of the Queswachaca bridge?
My expectations were very high because I was seeking to understand more about our traditions, and I was anxious to see with my own eyes a festival like no other in the world, and I knew that I would finally find living culture and get in touch with my ancestors.
How does the community work in order to achieve this common goal?
There is a relationship between these communities and they work together in what is known as “ayni,” a Quechua word that describes the tradition of helping each other for the common good of everyone, since this bridge benefits all communities involved. How is an Inca bridge made by hand in the traditional methods?
style=’background-position: initial initial; background-repeat: initial initial; The bridge is woven by hand, like on a loom, using “ichu,” a type of straw from the Andes, and animal skin.
When you saw the final product, how did you feel?
The final product is something incredible. It was wonderful to be able to appreciate the skill and craftsmanship of the woven bridge, and seeing it brings you back in time. I was able to feel like I could understand the Incas better, and their systems of communication and cooperation.
Did you cross the bridge?
I went over it a couple of times. You have to have a lot of confidence in the work of the community members, but if you can muster up the courage and go over, you realize that the bridge is strong and that this really is a unique and wonderful experience.
What were the celebrations like after the reconstruction of the bridge was completed?
The celebrations really take place throughout the whole process. Sometimes, when those working on the bridge would take a break, they would perform rituals and make offerings and perform dances that observers could see. After finishing the bridge, everyone approaches. There are a few people of importance in the communities who inaugurate the bridge, and then after that, people drink and dance, as is the tradition in many festivals in the Andes.
Why should other people go observe this event?
style=’background-position: initial initial; background-repeat: initial initial; The festival of Queswachaca captures much of the experience of the Peruvian people. It is something completely unique that will put you in touch with the “apus” – the mountain spirits – that you will discover there. Everyone will find something special and something very personal during this festival.
For me, on a personal level, I know that sometimes we can feel so isolated from the world. This event has helped me to feel tied to our roots – not only as a Peruvian but also as a human – and helped to remind me that we don’t always need all of this globalization. What we do need, and what I discovered here, was contact with passion, with the simple things. It is important to be reminded that these communities still are able to work together for the common good. There is a real symbol here in the weaving; all the work of these hands is tying people together in a literal and figurative way. This “ayni” is really one of the best lessons we can learn from our ancestors.
An interview with Cusco-based tour guide Erick Farfán reveals the thrill of seeing an Inca bridge-building tradition up close.