Solanum Traditio , project.
With the collaboration of Lizet Díaz Machuca, Marco Chevarría, Ronald Romero, Tania Castro, Luis Justino Lizárraga, Daniel Huamán Masi.
  Cusco — Lima — Vienna, 2015 - 2016

Santisteban. Arte de performance en América Latina y Sudamérica. Arte de acción y performance en Latinoamérica, Sudamérica, Perú, Lima. Arte contemporáneo latinoamericano y peruano. Arte latinoamericano y peruano en espacio público.

Fig 1: Wari culture urn with representation of potato plants (56 x 80 cm.).

Photo by Daniel Antonio Giannoni Succar. In Bergh, Susan: Wari: Lords of the ancient Andes. 2012.



The potato is a native plant of the Andes of Peru. After being domesticated and improved by the inhabitants of the inter-Andean valleys, thousands of years before Christ, it became a symbol of life. This made it one of the phytomorphic motifs with the greatest presence in everyday and ceremonial objects among the Andean communities.


The use of the potato before the arrival of Europeans undoubtedly aroused interest from various fields of study. For example, this interest can be traced in old colonial chronicles where it is cited - even - with errors of naming and description, or in works of a scientific nature that address the issue of its infinite varieties, its geographical distribution or extraordinary domestication. The history of art and anthropology are not in the saga in this interest. In such studies, the analyzes focus on how the visual representation of the potato was or on  interpret the cultural use that was given to it.


Image and worldview:


Although its cultivation originated 7 or 8 thousand years ago, the visual representation of the potato can be traced in objects conceived approximately 1,500 years ago. It is the realistic representation of the potato in vessels from the Nazca (100 BC - 900 AD) and Moche (200 BC - 900 AD) cultures that reveal the original familiarity with the plant and, in turn, that special use that the Andean man gave it. On the subject, the Peruvian anthropologist, Luís Millones, explains: «[such objects] were executed not so much to satisfy their aesthetic needs, but for propitiatory purposes, to ensure a good harvest and to clearly express what type of product they needed to obtain from their deities ». In this sense, the author adds, such works are endowed with a ritual meaning associated with the uku pacha (world of the subsoil and of the dead).


Such a relationship between the potato and the supernatural world is recreated by the anthropologist himself, taking as an example a Moche sculptural vessel that today is exhibited in the National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History of Peru: «it seems that figures of humans and animals sprout from it , where the sculptor took advantage of the potato's eyes to bring out small secondary images, which can be interpreted as the birth of the beings of the “pacarinas” (caves or lagoons), key places for contact with the uku pacha ».


Another example of propitiatory use can be found in the Wari pieces (600-900 AD), where large vessels were "ritually" fragmented and then buried underground. This ceremonial practice, which the researcher Mary Glowaki describes as "a slaughter of the vessels", served to - symbolically - participate in an experience with a supernatural kingdom (supplicating the ancestors) and another with the real world, to achieve survival, in the face of a prolonged drought, for example. (See figure 1).


In the Empire of the Incas (1470 AD - 1533 AD), Millones explains, "if there was an anomalous specimen of potato it was a sign of blessing and it was kept in reverence because its presence guaranteed fertility." To emphasize the permanence of this function to this day, this social scientist refers that the small Inca sculptures of animal or plant form, called Illas (which were used for propitiatory purposes), are now used for the same purpose by Bolivian peasants, «to support the crop. For all that has been indicated, it can be seen that both the pre-Hispanic object and the approach to the current Andean man, undeniably, demonstrate the continuity of the relationship of the potato in the worldview of the Andean man.



Validity in myth and rite:


An emblematic myth of the Pope-supernatural world relationship is found in Ritos y Tradiciones de Huarochirí  (1600), a work that brings together myths and ritual practices collected by the extirpator of idolatries of Spanish origin, Francisco de Ávila. In the text we find the story of Huatiacuri (son of Paricaca), "personification of the potato" who feeds on potatoes roasted in the heated earth and despite his appearance  miserable "under the surface is capable of surprising." It is not for nothing that its name is directly associated with an ancient Andean culinary technique practiced to this day: Huatia.


In the viceregal period of Peru, the representation of the pope was acquiring different connotations and dissimilar supports, however its power for rituality - which survived the extirpations of idolatries - was maintained, mimetized with Catholic festivities, under  acts of sacred exchange between peasants and Pachamama (mother earth) where "payment" will allow the abundance of crops, according to the scholar Fernando Cabieses. In the world of the Andean farmer, it is thus taken for granted that "the ceremony is the food of the gods and that a correct celebration of the ritual is equivalent to the control of supernatural beings", as Johan Huizinga emphasizes in Homo Ludens.


Lizet Diaz.

Art Historian.


Cabieses, Fernando; Millones, Luís: The treasure potato of the Andes: from agriculture to culture. International Potato Center. Lima, 2000.

Glowaki, Mary: "Shattered ceramics and offerings." In Bergh, Susan: Wari: Lords of the ancient Andes. Cleveland Museum of Art and Thames and Hudson. New YorK, 2012.

Huizinga, Johan: Homo Ludens. Editorial Alliance. Madrid, 2012.

León, Elmo: 14,000 thousand years of food in Peru. USMP. Lima, 2013.

Taylor, Gerald: Rites and Traditions of Huarochirí. French Institute of Andean Studies.  Lima, 2011.

Towle Margaret: Pre-Columbian Ethnobotany. A reconstruction of the relationship between man and plants of the world in the prehistoric cultures of the Central Andes. Andine Publiching Company. Chicago, 1961.

Yacovleff, E. and Herrera, F. «The vegetal world of the ancient Peruvians». In Magazine of the National Museum. Volume 3, number 3. Lima, 1934.

Lizet Diaz

Emilio Santisteban , interdisciplinary performance artist. Peru.  Contact us .

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