Mama Sarpay: Part 2

Helen Pugh
4 min readDec 15, 2021

The Apurimac River

All water was in some way sacred to the Incas and, what is more, they were very reverential towards landscapes. A Spanish priest and chronicler called Bernabé Cobo remarked that “there was not a shrine, large or small, whether it be a stream, a spring, a hill, or any other place of veneration, for which attendants and caretakers were not designated.”

Two rivers were particularly sacred to the Incas — the Apurimac and the Urubamba. They run one either side of Cusco and both eventually flow into the mighty Amazon River. Nowadays, there’s a region in Peru called Apurimac after the majestic river that runs through it.

The Apurimac is a pretty cool river to be linked to. Its alternative name is Capac Mayu or mighty river. Noisy, gushing and fed by melting glaciers, the river is 430 miles long (which is almost the distance from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Penzance in Cornwall, practically the whole length of England!). Besides that, it has gorges twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and is one of the longest rivers in what we now call Peru. The water rushes through an array of landscapes- from craggy, desolate mountains that are perpetually covered in snow to lush cloud forests- and parts of the river are rated as class 5+ out of 6 for white-water rafting, with fierce rapids brushing against jagged rocks.

The Incas built a bridge over the river so they could access the west and called it Huaca Chaca, meaning huaca bridge. Stretching over two cliff edges between the river, the bridge was made of thick plaited straw. It is even still maintained to this day and I really mean to this day! It has to be maintained on a daily basis, because little by little the straw needs to be continuously replaced. It is the last of its kind in the world.

The river underneath the bridge was considered a powerful oracle, which is an object, person or place through which a god or goddess speaks. Indeed, the word Apurimac signifies oracle or divine talker and the Apurimac goddess was said to speak through the river. The tall mountains surrounding the river were also oracles, the highest of which was Salkantay at over 6000 metres above sea level. #Don’tLookDown!

The goddess spoke through Mama Sarpay, too. The priestess appointed to lead the worship of Apurimac and to be the goddess’ spokeswoman had to be a sister or close relative of the emperor seeing as how the oracle was extremely important. Emperors would ask the oracle to give them advice on…

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Helen Pugh

#History where #women take centre stage! Ebooks & paperbacks for kids + adults in English & español. She/her linktr.ee/helenpugh #SouthAmerica #somerset