Qhapaq Ñan: The Inka Path of Wisdom

Javier Lajo, 2007


Those who cannot understand will die..

Those who can understand will live.

Manuscript from the Chilam Balam




Maria Luisa Rivara de Tuesta

Professor Emeritus of the Greater National University of San Marcos


                      The work before us constitutes a contribution to the study of pre-Hispanic thought whose creative character presents an authentic, genuine, and original source of reflection. It weighs in counter to the imposition of western culture achieved by the conquest and evangelization that has been transmitted from generation to generation as a sui-generis concept regarding the cosmos, the world, and humankind, and that still holds force in our native peoples.

                      The author, Javier Lajo, is of the Puquina people and member of the Pocsi community located in the heights of Arequipa. He was my student in the Problems of Peruvian and Latin American Thought class in the Philosophy Post-Graduate course of the Greater National University of San Marcos in Lima.

                      Motivated by his initiatives in class – as promoter of the Peruvian Indigenous Movement and organizer, among other events, of the First Congress of Peruvian Indigenous Peoples in November 1997 in Cuzco – I suggested that he write about the traditions of the Puquina people concentrating on their thought and ancestral wisdom. In this way, he would be contributing to the scholarly knowledge of this singular pre-Inka culture.

                      As a result of this challenge, it is now possible to present this important and meaningful study entitled: Qhapaq Ñan: The Inka Path to Wisdom, which unites the oral narration and emotion of paternal tradition with the knowledge acquired in the Masters of Philosophy. With regard to the interpretation of an expression of original thought authentically ours, Qhapaq Nan also informs us about a theory of the indigenous resistance beginning with fundamental contrasts with western philosophy. This theory is worth describing, expounding, and debating – justly, and in reason with its differences with the west – by studying the multiple thoughts and reflections postulated before the arrival of westerners on this southern part of the American continent.

                      The content of this work is made up of studies carried out by Javier Lajo, the first chapter entitled “Qhapaq Ñan: The Inka Path to Wisdom,” and the second “Qhapaq Kuna: Beyond Civilization.”

                      Dr. Mary Scholten de D’Ébneth in “The Route of Wiracocha,” a conference given in 1977, refers to the knowledge of math and astronomy in the ancient populations of South America, especially those of Peru. This knowledge is demonstrated, she maintains, in their Human Geography: the rigorously mathematical system of the distribution and location of important sites such as temples and other structures – even cities – also found in works of art such as textiles, sculptures, etc.

                      She also refers to the fact that Dr. Valcárcel in his article “On the Origin of Cuzco” spoke of the intimate relation between Cusco and Titicaca and of the Route of Wiracocha. But she had already found in her research on textiles, sculpture, and horizontal building plans a rare coincidence with respect to the relationships of measurements – that the length of a piece with respect to its width and height, always repeats from 7 to 8 derivations. Her research, therefore, centered on finding a common factor with actual measurements in the sizing of such varied objects.

                      What Dr. Scholten found was the equivalent of 3.34 units in our metric system. In other words, 3.34 cm was used as a unit of measurement on the small scale, such as in fabrics and sculptures; 3.34 m was used in buildings; and, up to 3.34 km was used in their Human Geography.  Mathematically, the formula is expressed as 3.34 X 10 and she adds that she was not surprised when, Mrs. Mary Reiche, after many years of research, discovered the existence of a unit of measurement used in some desert drawings in the plains of Nazca – one that coincided with the measurement Scholten had found.

                      Following accounts of Wiracocha made by annalists Juan de Betanzos and Cristóbal de Molina and examining the route of Wiracocha, we find after verifying the geographic positions that Cajamarca is located on precisely the extension of the same line connecting Tiahuanaco and Cusco and fits the same system of 7-to-8 relation and its derivations. Betaznos says that Wiracocha of Cajamarca: “Went onward to Puerto Viejo and entered the sea.”

                      For Dr. Scholten: the actual road, the Capac Ñan, follows a straight line from Tiahuanaco to Cajamarca. This line’s direction is the diagonal between the emissaries east-west and south-north.

                      She adds, finally, that diagonal in Quechua is ch’ekkalluwa while the word ch’ekka means truth. The diagonal, therefore, could have meant something like the way of truth for the inventors and executors of this great South American geodesic system. For which reason she concludes: I want to end with the question: Imataq ch’ekkari?

                      This long explanation was necessary for two reasons. The first is that Wiracocha is the entity that only as soon as he rectifies and perfects his creation does it acquire the most essential note, which is the power and command of all existence. The second reason is that Javier Lajo refers to Mary Scholten as the discoverer of a straight alignment of Inka and pre-Inka cities geographically located along the length of a diagonal that has a 45º angle to the north-south axis.

                      Beginning with this consideration, he postulates that “qhapaq ñan” means path or way of the just, of the fair, or of the nobles and saints, given that in the Puquina language, which is ancestor to Quechua and Aymara, Khapak means saint or noble (Aguilo F. 2000). To complement this hypothesis, Lajo emphasizes: with good reason the discoverer of the Qhapaq Ñan (Mary Scholten, 1980) asks “imataq ch’ekkari,” meaning: what is truth? In other words: Why is this diagonal the line or way of truth in our Andean culture? And here – he says – is the fundamental question of this text: Is the Qhapaq Ñan the “great road” that shows us the “path to wisdom” and understanding of the Andean culture in America? Is the Qhapaq Kuna the school of the Inka?

                      To respond to such important concerns, Lajo develops two chapters. We have now uncovered the principle grounding of the first chapter, first subheading entitled: “On the Trail of the Qhapaq … Following the Prints.” In trying to answer Dr. Scholten’s question, Lajo says: we can begin with the concept now recognized by many authors and researchers of our Andean culture that for the Andean person all things real or conceptual have their pair. This is the principal paradigm of the Andean man: that all things, including all of us, have been paired, meaning that the origin of our cosmos and cosmovision is not the unity of the west – rather a parity.

The second subheading brings us to “Complementary Duality” and El Yanantin, first law of Andean thought. (Yanantin yanantillan. Two things made compatible. Yanantin Ñawi. In a shared glance.)

                      The legend of Manco Capac and Mama Occllo rising together from Lake Titicaca as Pakarina (the birthplace of life) is representative of this concept of parity that still maintains a presence today on Amantaní Island in the circular plazas of Pachamama and the square plazas of Pachatata, which must have been used formerly as observatories. These plazas expressed the Andean cosmogonic dichotomy and served for astronomic observation, the making of calendars, and the conceptualization and control of time; they are always found in paired forms, complementing the two parts that make up the indigenous cosmovision.

                      Of the evolution and perfection of artifacts and their symbology, we find tracks all along the Qhapaq Ñan; for example: in their construction methods, architecture, and functional mechanic. The square and circular forms found side-by-side in temples and sacred places are proof of the complementality and proportionality that Lajo has attributed to the Qhapaq Kuna or Andean school.

                      The same square and circular forms are found in pre-Inka and Inka temples. In Cusco: the Hanan Qosqo temple, El Muyucmark, in Sacsayhuaman whose locks function in a complex system of reflective mirrors of the night sky, complements the Urin Qosqo or Koricancha Temple, whose symbolic form is a square fountain of black stone dominating the main patio. El Urin and El Hanan gave religious and political support to the two family systems (Panacas and Ayllus) and the Inkas Kuyas couples – governing “heads” in the Tahuantinsuyo confederation.

                      According to Lajo, the presence of squared and circulars pairs seen in the temples and sites of worship of ancient Peruvian archeological sites – aside from their practical astronomic use – help us to understand their relational symbolism. Together they make up the complex symbolic system of the square cross of Tiwanacu, which in its structural functionality represents the most important of the Andean mentality: to know how human parity or illawi functions. (Illawi is an allegory for the wisdom of the human pair and the parity of human-nature.) One of the common denominators relating the squared and circular is the diagonal of the square inscribed within the circle. This diagonal is both the line of proportionality between the sides of the square and at the same time the diameter of the circle, which is its only element of proportionality.

                      The third subheading of this first chapter is the “El Tinkuy: the Second Law of Andean Thought: the Proportional Square and Circle.”

                      Returning to Dr. Scholten’s question: What is truth? Lajo responds indicating the question’s double-meaning in ch’ekka as truth, and ch’ekalluwa as line of truth or diagonal. In this way, he suggests, we may have drawn Dr. Scholten a possible geometric answer taking account of our two symbols the square and the circle and following the Qhapaq Ñan diagonal route. The resulting square cross represents – in Lajo’s interpretation – proportionality and complementality between the circle and square, yanan-tinkuy of the primordial pair, the symbolic relation between Pachatata and Pachamama, and the Andean cross as the chacana that arises from yanan-tinkuy.

                      Lajo concludes articulating the following law: Truth is life as the product of this yanan-tinkuy of the two cosmos, which produces consciousness of existence.

                      The fourth subheading describes the interconnectedness, or the method of the Andean cosmovision as seen through lines and geometric drawings. La ch’ekkelluwa or great diagonal, is the line of truth or the line of life; el yanan-tinkuy or ch’ekkalluwa is the way of truth; and, the concept of the three pachas in Puquina: qato pacha (in Quechua ukhu pacha), qa pacha (in Quechua kay pacha), and hanigo pacha (in Quechua hanan pacha).

Finally, in the fifth subheading with the support of many arguments, Lajo draws a parallel between the angle of the great diagonal of the square cross, which is at 22º 30’ – similar to the angle of the Earth’s axis. He hypothesizes that the Inka used the qhapaq nan to study changes in the angle of the Earth’s axis by way of the “intiwatanas” (bindings of the sun).

It would result quite lengthy to continue analyzing the many reflections elaborated by Javier Lajo in response to Dr. Scholten based on the hypothesis that the Qhapaq Ñan, the Inka path so slow and arduous to physically traverse would be at the same time symbolic of the way to human wisdom, equally slow and arduous and more difficult to achieve in the course of human life.

The second chapter of the work I present, entitled “Qhapaq Kuna: The Andean School … Beyond Civilization” was transcribed from a conference and now revised as a reflective essay on western philosophy and the indigenous wisdom belonging to our native peoples, which is carried on by their descendents from generation to generation and still alive in our Aymara and Quechua populations.

It is, in summary, a contrast between the philosophic schools of the western culture and the indigenous wisdom that cultivates the intrinsic relations found in the cosmos, the world, nature, and humankind; a humankind that is a communal being, in search of its balance complementary with all existence.

From an essentially critical and philosophical perspective, this work shows the contrast between the individualism, subjectivism, and eurocentrism of western philosophy compared to indigenous thought, which is essentially communal and in singular and intimate connection with the cosmos, the world, nature, and the life of humankind.






* The Qhapaqñan text: the route Inka path of wisdom, refers to the road that unites cities located longitudinally along the length of the Andes mountains.

1.  Scholten de D’Ebneth F.R.A.I. “The Route of Wiracocha”.  Conference given at the ANEA held in honor of Dr. Luis E. Valcárcel upon being given the Award culture.  Lima, June of 1977, p.7.

2.  Valcárcel, Luis E. On the Origin of Cusco. In Magazine of the National Museum. Lima, 1939, Volume VIII, Nº 2, p. 190.

3.  Scholten. Conf. cit.p.7.

4.   Ibid.p.9.

5.  Betanzos, Juan. “Summary and Narration of the Incas”. In Peruvian Chronicles of Indigenous interest. Madrid, Ed. Atlas, 1969, p. 9-11 (BAE, Nº 209)

6.   Molina, Cristóbal de Rites and Fables of the Incas. Lima, Future Ed., 1959, pp. 9-17

7.   Betanzos, Ob. cit.p. 11 (anot. us).

8.   Scholten. Conf. cit.p.16.

9.   Loc. cit.

10.  And what is truth?. Loc. Cit.

11.  Rivara de Tuesta, Maria Luisa. God, World and Man in the _Inka culture. In spanish and translated to Quechua. History of Ideas Magazine Ecuador, House Ecuadorian Culture, center for Latin American studies of the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador, 1984-1995, Nºs. 5-6, p. 19.

12.   Lajo. Ob. cit.p.1.

13.   Ibid. p.3.

14.   Loc. cit.

15.   Ídolo Puquina de Ilave, P. Federico Aguiló, S. I. The Language of the Puquina people. Edit. Runacunapac Collection, 2000. Quito. p. 69. (see Drawing 17)