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Once upon a time... The Pukará bull

Helene Waechter

"Long, but very long time ago, a terrible drought stroke Pukará, a small village nested in the Andes, not far from the renowned Lake Titicaca. Wells were dry and people were suffering. The peasants decided to slay a bull in sacrifice to their god  Pachakamag, hoping this would bring them back the priceless liquid."

So here they were, on their procession dragging their resisting bull up the Pucará rock where the sacrifice would soon take place. But the bull, apparently guessing the fate awaiting it, resists and struggles; and after one ultimate ram with its mighty horns, drilled open a hole in the rock!..off which water miraculously spouted...a pure, abundant water source was born, which saved the village from oblivion and heightened the bull to the highest spot of ritual animals"

The Pucará culture

This exquisite legend has been orally transmitted for so many generations that nobody really knows its exact origin. Could it have come all the way from ancient times? Because on the high plateau of the Andes, it's in Pucará where we locate for the first time a settlement including a ritual centre in the second century A.D. The Pucará people thrived for some centuries, then abandoned the site near 380 A.D. Vestiges of their civilisation are found along the Peruvian coastline all the way to the north of Chile. They protected their settlements by stone walls which were true fortresses called pucará or pukará in quechua, an ancient Andean dialect. 

Between 1975 and 1980, archaeological excavations revealed a set of six trunctated pyramids, a sector of funerary sites, three sets of massive non-domestic constructions and a set of domestic ones with circular cells including enclosures and vast rubbish disposal deposit. These are accepted as sign of permanent and dense occupation. The enclosures may correspond to a different standard of living, which reaveals wide social divides among the population.

Site archeologique de PucaraDetails of the archaeological site of the Pucará
Image via pat l'expat

It has been determined that the Pucará used elaborated irrigation techniques to develop agriculture on the floodable lands of the Titicaca banks, growing potato and other tubers, as well as corn. They also organized the first breeding of llamas and alpacas, of which wool they used as commercial currency for bartering.

After a sudden still myterious decline, Pucará was permanently abandoned around 380 A.D. until its next occupation around 1250 after the conquest of the high Andean plateau by the Incas. 

The originality fo the Pucarà stems from their mastery of sculpting. This art is showcased with great finesse in the engravings of high and bas-reliefs on their stelae with geometric, animal or vegetal patterns. The monuments of the Pucarà culture surpass other contemporary constructions by their mastery of assembly of stones, which are cut and polished to a perfect fit. 

Their typical ceramic pottery works are readily identifiable by their large base and narrow neck, their brownish red body engraved with light incisions or plied with black, grey or yellow patterns. 

Pucará vase (source: Museo Litico de Pucarà)

We also find on these ancient potteries sketches of camelids (llamas and alpacas) and felines, though not yet any bulls, which were not part of the local fauna at that time. It's only with the arrival of the Spanish in the 15th century that bulls are introduced from Europe and it's quite probably from this time on that the traditional camelid imagery transitioned to a believably more noble fetiche, the bull. 

Therefore, the appellation Pucarà bull does not come from this fascinating ancient culture! Put more simply, from the 19th century on, the region population have started selling their products to the Pucarà train station, and the small crafted bulls, so representative of their culture, have since then become the Pucarà bulls!

Nevertheless, for centuries during carnivals and important events, the bull was used in the ceremony of the Señalaquy (pronounced senialagooee), a ritual consisting of uniting a bull  and a cow in order to compell the gods' grace for the fertility of the herds. During this ceremony, the bull would be cut at the torso and the ears, and the collected blood stirred in a mix of wine, alcohol and sacred coca and drunk by the sheperd. 

Nowadays, the same ritual is recalled in the Peruvian marriages where and the spouses receive as a gift, a pair of Pucará bulls which they will eagerly install on their roof as an amulet for protection, fertility and happiness in their home.

Image via Coltur Peru

The symbolism of the Pucará bull 

Traditional Pucará bulls are not very coloured. Use of clay confers them their natural light orange tone, and some ornaments are handpainted, generally in black and white. A traditional Pucará bull must also possess eight (8) specific characteristics: 

1.An orifice in the lower back, at the level of the sacrum, through which water or wine can be poured as a symbol of fertility of the cattle
2.A small handle at the base of the neck which signifies that sexual energy must proceed first from the mind, and more symbolically, that the creative energy must be controlled by the mind; it's a message for the newly wed who henceforth will also create life
3.The packsaddle usually carried by a load animal is handpainted as a symbol of protection, but also as a reminder of the responsibility everyone has to carry and translate daily through one's actions in order to contribute to the thriving of mankind.
4.The upper part of the neck features three transverse ridges arranged side to side towards the base of the head (the realm of the mind) representing the three levels of spiritual awakening: birth, death and sacrifice for mankind; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost; positive, negative and neutral energies. The ridge borders feature zigzagging patterns, which can also be interpreted as stairs or chains, inspired by ancient architecture  and cover the bull's shoulders and torso so as to symbolise the role of the thymus in the development of the heart's intuition. 

    5.The round and protruding eyes of the Pucará bull reminds us of developing both awareness of our environment (mindfulness) and of our interior self (introspection) 
    6.The tongue: your word must be impeccable, your speech must be adequate, your words must not hurt or convey lie, insult, anger or pride
    7.These styled ornaments are the representation of an ancient (and whether sadistic) method of cattle marking called Huallccuscka. The deep cuts inflicted to the animal's torso often took months to heal
    8.The same spiral ornaments found on the bulls are also found on the  ruins of the ancient Pucará people. it's the spiral of existence, in which we travel from the low tot he high spheres following our spiritual awakening throughout our lives.

    The Pucará bulls make up one beautiful part of Peruvian arts and crafts. Whether handmade or manufactured, modern ones are made out of diverse materials and display a wide array of vivaceous colours.  

    The symbolism attached to this cultural icon is at the same time an aesthetic and spiritual medium, and specific properties are attributed to the bulls according to their colour. What a great idea for a personalised gift!

    • The red Pucará bull brings love, passion and vitality to the couple
    • The yellow  Pucará bull represents energy, and the good luck that it will bestow on its owner 
    • The green  bull represents fertility and balance 
    • The black  or  purple  bulls represent nobility, wisdom, creativity and spirituality 
    • The cream colour bull represents optimism, family and couple well-being 
    • the blue bull warrants serenity, harmony, and loyalty in the couple

    Decorative Pucara bulls

    At Latitudes, we are proud to share with you the collection of small Pucará bulls made by masterful Peruvian craftswoman Maribel Posso Olivares. Inspired by the legend of the Torito de Pucará, this ceramic collection is handpainted with floral patterns and golden features, mixing both Spanish and Peruvian inspirations.

    "I believe in positive energy and good vibes", says Maribel. "I want more people to gift dreams with my designs. They are full of love and color, and are the result of teamwork and passion... Read more

    Peruvian arts and craftsDecorative Pucara bulls
    Discover our adorable little Pucará bulls!



    REYES APAZA, Freddy. - La simbologia totemica del torito de Pucara

    BOUCHARD. - Pucara Culture', Encyclopædia Universalis [en ligne]

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    • Dorothy Adams Gonzalez on

      Is there a catalog

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