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Ceque Lines: Pilgrimage in the Inca Empire

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Inca ceque lines and their organization along the city of Cuzco were not just trails or pathways; they were also spiritual journeys.

In 13th century South America, the Inca civilization ruled their empire (which they called Tahuantinsuyu) from highland of city of Cuzco. They divided the Cuzco Valley into four regions (suyus), and the city of Cuzco laid at the junction of four suyus (known as Chinchaysuyu in the NW, Antisuyu in the NE, Cuntisuyu in the SW, and Collasuyu in the SE). These four sections correspond to the four royal roads, as the paths were an essential part of royal governance of the Inca empire.

Organization of the Ceque System

The Inca partitioned the Cuzco region by 42 abstract lines (ceques), radiating from center of the city. The orientation of these ceques was determined by the locations of 328 huacas (objects that were viewed as sacred) that surrounded Cuzco. The Temple of the Sun (Templo del Sol or Qoricancha) was the center point from which these ceques radiated.

The first huaca shrine of a ceque is generally located within city of Cuzco near Qoricancha, while the last huaca is always situated outside of the city near the border of the Cuzco Valley. The huaca is either natural (water sources, standing stones, mountain passes and so on), or human-made (palaces, stone seats, tombs and the like).

The Chinchaysuyu, Antisuyu, and Collasuyu regions each contained nine ceques lines, while the Cuntisuyu is reported to have had 14 ceques (some scholars actually argue that it contains 15 ceques, as one of the lines subsequently branches off into two).

Bernabe Cobo's description of the ceque system repeatedly uses the terms collana, payan and cayan for enumeration, yet provides no definition of their meanings. The terms are found in various early colonial Quecha-Spanish vocabularies. Collana has been defined as "the best or most principal thing in whatever class". Arte y vocabularino en la lengua general del Peru defines collana and collanan as "excellent, first, or principal thing" and translates cayan as "spleen" and Paya (closest match to payan) as "grandmother". Tom Zuidema suggests cayan means "origin" or "base"

Purpose of the Ceque

The word ceque literally means "line" in the ancient Inca language Quecha, but it could also be understood as a pathway or a trail. It is primarily used as a type of religious pilgrimage, as one journeyed through them visiting and paying tribute to the huacas, in order of their appearance on the ceque line.

Specific individuals, whom Cristobal de Albornoz calls camayocs (specialists), while Cristobal de Molina calls them huacacamayocs (huaca specialists) and vilcacamayocs (sacred object specialists), helped co-ordinate shrine worship in the Cuzco region. They ensured that appropriate offerings were made to the huacas at the appropriate times. Prayers to the huacas began with a call to Ticci Viracocha, the Creator god, followed by an appeal to the specific huaca.

Ceque lines today

Many of Huacas were destroyed by the Spanish invasion of 16th century, as their worship was seen as idol worshipping. Pablo Joseph de Arrianga outlined 36 questions to identify huacas. He gave strict instructions on how the shrines should be recorded and then destroyed, and emphasized that all attendants and worshipers should be prosecuted. He ordered that a cross was to be built on the same spot as the destroyed huaca. Nonetheless, today huaca worshiping still plays a discreet but important role in lives of many of the area's rural inhabitants.