Written by Nicolas Goronflot
Description and general information on the Andean cross
The shape is that of a square, stepped cross with 12 points. The symbol is a reference to the Southern Cross, although its shape also evokes the plan of a pyramid with a circular center and staircases on the sides.
A symbol found in the Andes, from Ecuador to Peru and Argentina
Chacanas can be found throughout the Andes, from Ecuador to Argentina, in various architectural, petrographic, textile, ceramic and sculptural works in Paracas, in the department of Ica, in Chavín in northern Peru, and in Tiahuanaco, in present-day Bolivia. They have also been found in Ecuador, Argentina and Chile.
The first Andean cross dates back 5,000 years
In fact, a pre-Inca temple in northern Peru, in the Ventarrón archaeological complex (Pomalca district, Lambayeque province), has the oldest form of chacana identified to date. The age of this temple has not yet been precisely determined, but it is thought to date from between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago.
The chacana is a cosmological symbol with a complex meaning.
The chacana is not simply a geometric pattern, but represents the very close links between heaven and earth.
Let us recall in passing a legend recounting the origin of the Andean world:
“On the shores of Lake Titicaca, a long time ago, a bearded man with a stick appeared.
He reached the island of the same name on the lake and commanded the Sun to appear, and the stars and Moon to rise.
The Moon (Paxi) and the Sun (Inti) loved each other and fertilized the Earth (Pacha): in other words, Mother Earth is the daughter and product of the love of the Moon and the Sun.
Names like Pachacamac and Pachamama also derive from this.
The bearded man then modelled men and women in clay. These couples were created to be the ancestors of each Andean tribe.
The Creator gave each of these couples a language, seeds, customs and traditions.
Finally, he breathed life into them and told them to go underground to reappear in their respective territories. And so they sprang from caves, springs, etc.”.
History of the Chacana
The Chacana or Andean cross is a very ancient symbol, present throughout the Andes from pre-Inca times to the Inca civilization, and recognized today as an emblem of the Andes.
Representation of Andean cosmology
The Chacana embodies the mythology and traditional mysticism of the peoples of the Andean highlands. Its true significance dates back thousands of years, and is the very essence of the beliefs that underpin Andean cosmology.
Chacana or Andean cross symbol
An Andean symbol
The Chacana symbol is found throughout the Andes.
Its presence can be seen in handicrafts, traditional clothing and goldsmithing, but it can also be found in the architectural designs of numerous civil and religious buildings (temples, ancient religious monuments), as well as in everyday representations of living things.
Understanding the world
Chacana embodies an exhaustive understanding of the world around us, with clear principles linked to the perception and representation of Time and Space.
Its understanding and respect enable the Andean populations who follow it to reach the highest levels of consciousness and coherence with their cosmovision.
Symbol of the three Chacana steps
The “three steps” of the Chacana refer to many sacred concepts based on the number “three” in the Andes
The 3 worlds:
- The Upper World (Hanach Pacha) includes the stars, celestial beings and gods.
- The Middle World (Kay Pacha) represents the world of human life
- The Lower World (Uqhu Pacha) represents the subterranean, unconscious world and death.
The 3 archetypes or sacred animal spirits:
- The Condor – our ability to communicate with the heavens and spirits
- The Puma – our ability to conquer our fears
- The Serpent – our ability to heal ourselves
The 3 Inca principles:
They are designed to help Inca mankind maintain peace, balance and harmony in the :
- Llankay – To work on body and physical mastery.
- Munay – Unconditional love.
- Yachay – Wisdom and understanding beyond the intellect.
The four branches of the Chacana
The Chacana’s 4 branches are linked to the number “four”. They represent :
- The four cardinal directions
- The four elements (earth, water, air and fire)
- The four seasons of Nature
- The Chacana represents our connection to Heaven and Earth
The Chacana also represents the Southern Cross, one of the most visible and emblematic constellations in the southern sky.
In Quechua, the word chakay means “to cross” or “bridge”.
The hole in the center of the Chacana symbolizes our unity with the universe and our link with the world in heaven and earth. This hole is the axis mundi or cosmic axis, axis of the world or pillar of the world.
This symbol is found across cultures, and is a form of exchange point in life’s ongoing journeys, enabling open, fluid communication between the three worlds.
The Chacana, symbol of Inca culture
The Chacana is a recurring symbol in the cultures of ancient Peru, as well as in the territories that gradually joined the Inca Empire as it expanded into Ecuador in the 15th century.
You’ll find it in many of the country’s handicrafts.
Follow in the footsteps of the peoples of the Andes on this trip to Peru and Ecuador
Other meanings of the Andean cross
The vertical axis delimits the concepts of man-woman and male-female;
the horizontal axis up and down
According to Andean cosmogony, each step represents a world. A world is a “pasha”, with its dimensions of space and time.
The division of the world is materialized in the image of four regions, associated in two primordial matrices via the two Hanan spaces and two Urin.
The Chincha and Colla groups made up the Hanan half, while the Anti and Cunti groups made up the Urin half.
These four poles were associated with the cardinal points, giving a certain identity to each of these zones.
The four regions came together in a single unit encompassing the entire empire: the Tahuantinsuyu, whose center was the city of Cuzco, (the “navel” of the world).
Each level of the Andean Cross symbolizes a world, an animal or a value.
Here are a few examples of the symbols worn by the Chacana.
A polymorphous cross that serves a multitude of purposes. Its sacred geometry makes it :
- a meditation frame
- a sky chart
- a harvest/seed almanac for farmers
- a road map for travellers
- a calculation base for architectural principles
- or a magnificent creative medium for contemporary artists
Discover the history of Chacana during your trip to Ecuador with our local tourism agency, experts in the field for 10 years. To find out more about Chacana, discover our tours in the footsteps of the Inca and pre-Inca civilizations.