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Q\'eswachaka bridge: The inca tradition that resists the modernity in Cusco

08 April 2016

Every June for about 600 years, 1,000 peasants in southern Peru meet for three days to work on the renewal of the suspension bridge Q'eswachaka, declared intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO.

The Q'eswachaka bridge over the Apurimac River, in the region of Cusco, is woven entirely from plant fibers, according to Inca tradition, and is the only of its kind in the world.

The director of Intangible Heritage of the Ministry of Culture, Soledad Mujica, told Efe that until the early twentieth century many similar bridges to Q'eswachaka still in use, but then allowed to renew for building others with current materials.

"We could not have have the network of Inca roads (Qhapaq Ñan) we have had neither the social, cultural and economic joint that had the incanato if we had not had a road network and those who have vestiges" said Mujica.

For farmers in the four communities working in building the bridge, Q'eswachaka has a sacred character, so ask permission to the apus (deities) and Pachamama (Mother Earth) through a ritual ceremony, where a Andean priest prays in Quechua coca leaves and offers a llama fetus, colored corn, cotton, sugar, wine, cigars and bells.

The anthropologist Miguel Hernandez, responsible for preparing the report Q'eswachaka to Unesco, told Efe that there has never been an accident in the preparation of this bridge 28 meters long, where two weavers, called in Quechua chakaruwaq, sway through the air with no safety harness while providing intertwine the soguillas communities.

"Part of the rituals that they do is to go smoothly in the construction of the bridge," said Hernandez told Efe.

Another element that increases the risk of this work is that by that time the river flow has dropped, so there are a lot of rocks in the canyon.

The hard physical effort that involves the entire community, begins weeks before arming the bridge, when collected from the heights of a type called q'oya straw that will serve for the base and the railings of the structure.

"Men, women and children sit on the canals for chancarlas with stone, dip them in water and start knitting," Mujica said.

The soguillas leave marks on the skin of the weavers for their ruggedness, quality that guarantees both the resistance of the bridge, which, she says Mujica, can hold "to 15 llamas and a shepherd" according to the locals.

This activity is part of a tradition that has jealously passed from generation to generation and its meaning transcends the physical interconnection of peoples, and rather refers to their brotherhood and identity.

"Close to Q'eswachaka, for 30 years, a large bridge that is part of a road. Therefore it is very important Q'eswachaka, because it is not the only means of communication and yet still maintained," noted Hernández .

At a ceremony held Thursday at the Ministry of Culture the distinction of knowledge, knowledge and rituals associated with the annual renewal of Q'eswachaka, declared Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO on 5 December in Azerbaijan was celebrated.

Minister of Culture, Diana Alvarez-Calderon said this practice defies the rugged geography and contributing to community social cohesion.

"The suspension bridge Q'eswachaka is a creation of the Andean civilization so exquisite in their technical and functional in your organization, do not stop to astonish the world with its half millennium of life," said Alvarez Calderon.

Upon completion of the fabric of the bridge, all the people come together in a big party the next day with music and dances of the region.

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