The last Incas

Q’ero people are widely known as the last living direct descendants of the Incas. There’s about 3000 Q’eros today.

Quechua, the spoken language of the Q’ero people, is the most widely spoken language of indigenous people throughout the Americas, with a total of roughly 4.4 million speakers in Peru alone.

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.

Across Andes, they have the reputation of being the keepers of ancient Inca wisdom.

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 at a festival in the town of Paucartambo, about 120 km away.

During the 1970s and 1980s, only a few people had the privilege to get to know the people of Q’ero. During that period, there was a long oral tradition and they used technologies developed hundreds of years ago. 

The people of Q’ero lived practically isolated and were self-sufficient regarding all their needs. For example, they had their own traditional medicine, practiced by healers; sophisticated fabrics based on their own wool production; food cultivation covering various ecological floors.

Q'ero live live in the Cusco region of Peru, a day's journy from the region's capital city, in tiny remote villages that stay cold all year long.

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.

In these harsh and remote highlands, little has changed about daily life for five hundred years.

They often live in one-room houses not larger than 20 m², made of clay and natural stone with roofs of hard grass.

Artisan work with alpaca wool is the main source of income; the ground being too infertile to make a profit from growing crops, let alone produce enough variety in vegetables for a healthy diet. Their main source of sustenance consists of potatoes, alpaca, and the regionally popular coca tea.

Their traditional clothing is hand - woven and purple - pink clothing, which complements the traditional headdress. Mostly a hat or woolen warm hats that protect them from mountain winds and cold.

Food is cooked indoors on little fires with no chimney, filling the hut with smoke. Since villages lie above the timberline, firewood must be carried many hours on one’s back from the cloud forest below. They boil potatoes for a thin soup or roast potatoes directly on coal with dried llama dung to supplement the precious wood fuel. A cluster of roasted potatoes is served on a woven cloth. The family sits on the ground, peels the small potatoes in their hands, and eats them plain.

Q’ero families depend on llamas, alpacas, and sheep for fiber for clothing and, rarely, meat for the family. Every day the children help parents shepherd their small herds across steep and rocky mountainsides to forage for grasses. Llamas are especially revered for their services carrying loads of potatoes on their backs. In the last decade, severe winter conditions have killed many alpacas.

Organized religion is not a part of Q'ero society. The Q'ero say they live in balance and respect for all living things, through ayni (reciprocity, mutualism). The Q'ero practice ayni with individuals, their family, neighbors and community. It is based on the idea of always giving and knowing that in the end you yourself will receive. Ayni is also practiced with the spirit word and this puts one into right relationship and harmony with all living things, including nature, the environment and the spirit world. 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.

Though they do not follow a specific religion, they are highly spiritual, worshipping Pachamama (Mother Earth) and los Apus (mountain spirits) above all. Before drinking, Q’ero can be seen pouring the first sip onto the ground as an offering to Pachamama.