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Pachamama: How to Placate Evil Spirits

Pachamama is known to the indigenous people of the Andes as the mother of earth or time. According to Inca mythology, Pachamama reigns as a fertility goddess over the planting and harvesting processes. The locals make regular offerings in the form of coca leaves, food or challa (spilling of chicha (corn beer) on the floor) to Pachamama for benevolence(1).

Pachamama I

Written by: Sabrina Autenrieth

During fieldwork in the Amazonian jungle, a local expert, Rómulo, who has been part of the team on the same site in Posic already, joined us for another season. He didn’t speak much, but he also didn’t need to. He could communicate in other ways. Rómulo was mostly responsible for machete-ing everything down that was in our way. A skill that we gringos mostly lacked, at least in the beginning. For the first few days, he mainly helped in the unit that I supervised.

During one of the coffee breaks, I took out my little cotton bag in which I kept parts of my Coca leaves stash and offered some to Rómulo. He looked at my stash suspiciously and declined my offer by waving his hand, indicating that he’s got his own stash. While we were having lunch at the close-by farm a few hours later, he proudly showed me his supply of coca leaves. It was a big plastic bag full of leaves. Possibly worth a three month supply of a passionate coca leaf aficionado. I understood, but was also astonished and curious about how many coca leaves this man must consume on a daily basis.

A few days later I fought my way through the thicket of the jungle to visit the other excavation unit. To my surprise I found a layer of dried, unchewed coca leaves on the ground. Wondering about this circumstance I enquired about the reason for the spillage of good coca leaves. My teammates told me that Rómulo is convinced that the whole excavation area is cursed. And that throwing around coca leaves helps to protect us against the evil spirits. Rómulo came prepared. And Rómulo will return as long as his coca supply doesn’t run out.

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