Cup, colonial period Inca culture, 18th century
Some traditions withstand the test of time – through generations, cultural changes, and even centuries of progress and modernization. Yet, these same outside influences often result in new ideas and approaches that supplant old ways and customs.
This Inca qero (ritual drinking cup) represents such conflicting responses to cultural change. Inca artisans created wooden drinking vessels like this one after the Spanish conquest of Inca territory – current day Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Inca and other Andean cultures drank chicha, a beer made from maize, from qeros. The Inca always produced qeros in pairs, to represent the dual nature of the cosmos – specifically the male-female dichotomy of Pachamama (Mother Earth) and Apu (Father Mountain). During social and religious ceremonies, Incas situated the pair of cups symbolically with the “male” cup on the right and the “female” cup on the left. Families considered qeros an important connection to their religion and also as valued heirlooms that linked the present day with ancestors and history. Although produced in various materials including wood and metal, the qero’s basic shape remained consistent throughout the Andes.
Prior to Spanish arrival and influence, the Inca did not create pictorial, narrative artworks. The Inca worldview held the human body sacred, so artists did not create portraits nor scenes of human activity. Instead, they used geometric designs on textiles, ceramics, and architectural structures. Sixteenth-century European artists, on the other hand, painted and sculpted dramatic images of the human figure in motion.
As the Spanish and Inca navigated the uneasy transition of colonization, native artists simultaneously embraced European artistic practices while maintaining traditional Inca aesthetics. This qero maintains its centuries-old form with abstracted geometric designs but incorporates a narrative scene: seven Inca men dressed in customary feathered regalia meeting two men in colonial Spanish apparel. A similar blending of styles characterizes
paintings, architecture, sculpture, and dress during the several hundred years following Spanish arrival in the New World.
—Samantha Kelly, curator of education
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Change is hard. How many times have we all struggled with changing leadership, learning new things, and adapting to new people and customs? Human nature often wants things to remain the same, clinging tightly to familiar things that something new threatens to replace. At the same time, we know that change offers opportunities to grow, dream, succeed, and reimagine the things we hold true.
Peruvians still serve chicha beer in large qero-shaped vessels, only now they are mass manufactured in glass. Click here and here to see some examples.
What is the hardest change you have made in your life? How did you balance your past with your future? Click here for some advice on how to deal with major life changes.