The Q'ero became more widely known due to the 1955 ethnological expedition of Dr. Oscar Nuñez del Prado of the San Antonio Abad National University in Cusco, after which the myth of the Inkarrí was published for the first time. Nuñez del Prado first met the Q'ero on a festival in the town of Paucartambo (about 120 km away).
Geography and history
The Q'ero live in one of the most remote places in the Peruvian Andes. Nevertheless, they were incorporated into the Yabar hacienda, located outside of Paucartambo. With the assistance of advocates from outside of the communities, the hacienda's owners were banished in 1963, and since then the whole area has belonged to the Q'ero. The ground is not very fertile, and the Q'ero live in modest dwellings. They often live in one-room houses not larger than 20 m², made of clay and natural stone with roofs of hard grass. The area stretches over several climates, with elevations from under 1800 m to over 4500 m. Depending on the climatic zone, maize (corn) and potatoes may be grown, while in high areas llamas are kept. Fields are plowed with a type of foot-plow (chaki taklla).
According to the 10-year census collected by the private U.S. Vanishing Cultures Foundation Inc, there are 6 major Q'ero villages, the home for 600 people and an average of 6000 llamas and alpacas. The villages' distance range between an hour hike to a full 3-day travel between them. The two villages Hatun Q'ero and Hapu Q'ero are located above 4000 m in elevation and about a day's march away from each other. The lower areas of the community are inhabited seasonally, only to till the fields; therefore the housing there consists of temporary huts made of clay and branches (chuklla).
Over the past ten years, dozens of Peruvian and international NGOs have engaged with the Q'ero in efforts to improve education, health, access to potable water and electricity and to preserve their cultural heritage. The success of these projects vary.
The Q'ero believe that they are descended from the Inca and consider themselves the last descendants. According to tradition, their ancestors defended themselves from invading Spanish conquistadores with the aid of local mountain deities (Apu) that devastated a Spanish Army near Wiraquchapampa.
The religion of the Q'ero is syncretic, consisting of a mixture of European Christianity with elements of the traditional religion of the Andes. Shamans of different levels (Altumisayuq, Pampamisayuq) still have a high reputation. They worship Mother Nature (Pachamama) as well as other mountain spirits, called "Apus", e.g. Ausangate (Apu Awsanqati), Salkantai (Apu Salkantai).
Until now there were two great ages in the myth of the Q'ero that replace each other by big turning points in history (Pachakutiy) while a new age is still approaching.
During the first age (Ñawpa Pacha), the time of the first men (Ñawpa Machu), only the moon existed (Killa). Within the first big turning point of history the sun (Inti aka Wayna Qhapaq, young sovereign) appeared and dried out the Ñawpa Machu. The king Inca (Inkarri) was the son of the sun and father of the Inca and therefore ancestor of the Q'eros. When Inkarri founded the city Qusqu (Cusco) by throwing a golden rod he also created Jesus Christ. The current age (Kay Pacha) was initiated by the arrival of the Spanish and the violent death of Inkarri who afterwards raptured to the sanctuary Paititi. The time of the Incas is often referred to as the Kay Pacha which is also the age of the sun (Inti). This age will end with another Pachakutiy when Inkarri returns converting everything into gold and silver (Taripay Pacha). The sun will burn the world with bad people while good people will ascend to heaven (Hanaq Pacha). The return of the Inkarri is espected soon; a testimony of his mounting is for example the banishing of the Hacendados which so it is said were very cruel.
There is no organized religion of the Q'ero. They say they live in balance and respect for all living things. The spirit of life around them is what they respect and honor. They understand the balance of nature, its power and beauty, otherwise they could not exist in such a harsh and difficult environment.
Only within the past few years has Christianity been introduced to the villages. The word Shaman does not exist in the medicine traditions of the Andes. The healers are called Paq'os. There are very few true medicine people still existing in the villages, the traditions are being lost due to the lack of interest among the youth. They respect and honor Mother Nature (Pachamama) as well as other mountain spirits, called "Apus", e.g. Ausangate (Apu Awsanqati), Salkantay (Apu Salkantai).
There are many myths of these people. They are simple farmers and magnificent weavers. Many of the stories being told are purely myths and fabrications exploiting these simple people, but others are complex mystifications of abstract reality explained in the form of fantastic stories that include secret codes about hidden sacred cities and riches that are passed on by generations orally in Quechua.
All age groups speak Quechua, specifically the Qusqu-Qullaw dialect, albeit with considerable influence from Spanish language in vocabulary and syntax. Spanish is taught in schools, so young Q'ero people are likely to speak Spanish, especially in Hapu Q'ero. Because travel to the villages has been so difficult and the living conditions are so harsh, it has been difficult to maintain education in the Q'ero villages. For schooling, the young people must travel to towns or cities at lower elevations to learn Spanish or be taught by family members who have already traveled and live there.
Q'ero has interesting forms of choral singing, when several people sing various songs, all often united by the same key and the common rhythm. Overall sound is of a drone polyphony. “The general Q’ero musical aesthetics allows different pitches, texts, and rhythms to sound at the same time. Though the Q’ero sometimes sing in perfect unison, their songs are structures to be sung individually. There is no sense of choral singing or harmony. A family, aullu, or community may be singing and playing the same songs at the point of starting and stopping. Yet the melodies sung at communal occasions have a sustained note at the end of a phrase, permitting the other singers to catch up and share this prolonged duration, which serves as a drone. When the new verse starts, the heterophony begins anew” .
- Thomas Müller and Helga Müller-Herbon, Die Kinder der Mitte. Die Q'ero-Indianer, Lamuv Verlag. Göttingen 1993. ISBN 3-88977-049-5
- Vanishing Cultures Foundation Inc. http://vanishingcultures.org/
- Factores que inciden en los procesos de conservación y cambio intergeneracional de la lengua quechua en dos comunidades q'iru, Cuzco, Perú (PDF)
- Cohen, John. 1998. “Q’ero.” In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Vol. 2, South America, Mexico, Central America, and Caribbean. Edited by Dale A. Olsen and Daniel E. Sheehy, pp. 225-231. New York: Garland Publishing
- Thomas Müller and Helga Müller-Herbon, Die Kinder der Mitte. Die Q'ero-Indianer, Lamuv Verlag. Göttingen 1993 (in German). ISBN 3-88977-049-5
- Americo Yabar, Orlando Vasquez and Antonio Vasquez, Qero. Auf den Spuren der Q'ero-Indianer in die Magische Welt der Anden, Taschenbuch, Vier Türme GmbH, 2000. ISBN 3-87868-503-3
- Denise A. Kinch, "A Walk Between Worlds,Truth is Beauty, the Q'ero", 2009, ISBN 978-1-4415-8817-3