Skip to main content

Note 1: A political drink

Something that really caught my attention is that each person who participates plays a different role. First, there are those who work tirelessly, and second, there are those who help, although their pace is nowhere near that of the former. The most important role for me is the third one, that of the animator, the person who turns a cold and exhaustive work into a social activity full of fun and revelry using an ancestral element of vital importance in the socio-political development of Andean societies: chicha.
In the same way that wine was for the Romans – be it normal, jora, molle or fruit wine – chicha has been elevated to the category of ‘political drink’ due to its great importance in the administration of Andean population centers for more than 1500 years.

After dinner we drink chicha, a flat beer made of fermented corn traditional across the Andes. As a well-known ritual for thanking Pachamama and the spirits, they spill some of the chicha on the floor, sometimes facing and thanking specific Apus around them. Although I’m not religious I follow their example. I feel like I want to perform in a manner that makes my hosts feel like I’m one of them. Even as I know this is not possible, I can’t help but perform my best all overt actions related to the ritual as I understood them.

Although not very evident, the important role played by chicha in a traditional way can be traced back to the Wari Empire (600-1000 AD), where both specialized buildings for its elaboration have been found (Cerro Baúl stands out) and vessels associated with its ritual consumption.

This culture would have used chicha in political environments to make agreements and alliances. Some of them during elite festivals. Consumption included the use of certain ceramic vessels whose designs evoked supernatural entities. These vessels are known as qirus and were the pillars on which the Wari ideology materialized.

The decorations of the qirus were of great importance, since the expert ceramists of the Wari centers elaborated a special set of qirus for each event or for each political agreement of importance, with a particular decoration where a symbolic evocation of the act to be carried out was included. These traditions were also rooted in the imperial relations with the local environments they administered.

The Wari custom of drinking to negotiate, agree and celebrate political and social issues involved the participation of at least two individuals; a fact that would later be reflected in the emerging Inka culture (1000-1535 AD), where archaeological remains show a large number of pairs of qirus with the same size, shape and decoration. The phenomenon of qirus games has been interpreted as a symbolism related to an Inka, or Wari, tradition, for whom chicha had to be shared, whether with humans, ancestors, apus or other gods; but that, as is the case today, chicha is never drunk by only one person. As in my experience in Marisa Quillahuaman’s chacra.

The cultural setting differed completely from the way we usually share our meals, which influenced our behaviour, the way we performed. I conformed my performance to the cultural setting of Kacllaraccay, as they conformed to the setting of a high-end restaurant. It is interesting how two spaces that are relatively close to each other can provoke completely different performances.

Chicha is a vehicular drink, undoubtedly historically essential in the complexity of Andean societies.
The practice of traditions like this one allows an outsider like me to bond with people in an Andean community and even feel part of it, for that moment. And as an archaeologist, it offers the possibility to demonstrate that archaeology and gastronomy are not far apart but very close.

Marc Cárdenas
Mater team author

Archaeologist and Gastronomist Marc Cárdenas was born in Barcelona. He is an archaeologist and gastronomist with a focus on the study of food as a structuring element of social and cultural events. He has worked on research projects with the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and the CSIC-IMF research center. He studied cooking at the Basque Culinary Center, where he worked at Restaurant Compartir and Hispania Brussels. His interests are linked to transmit, from an alternative didactic, the importance of food and its environment. With Mater Iniciativa he carried out a bibliographic review of Moray from an archaeological point of view.

Leave a Reply

Close Menu


We aim to integrate by creating an expandable network that is based on a deep understanding of food, nature, cultures, and the environment.

Av. Pedro de Osma 301,
Barranco, Lima. Perú.

P: (+51 1) 242-8515