The Saywite Rock
You are at kilometer 818 of the inter Oceanic Highway (47 km from Abancay), at a considerable altitude (3.500 meters), where the air is cold and your breathing will be agitated with any physical activity you do. I’m not trying to sound cool when I assure that I’ve been at higher altitudes, at my almost seventy years of age. There is a trail to the Saywite Rock (also known as a monolith), located some meters away from the highway, and that ends a couple of kilometers downhill at the community of Concacha. A sing highway marks the place where to stop, so there’s no way you can miss it. The town has a school, a medical center, some modest modest stores and a community center. You are located in the district of Curahuasi, Abancay province, in the Apurimac Region, Ají peppers and corn as big as the ones from the Sacred Vallet are grown here. More recently, mushrooms are also frown, with a great demand from the market, whether they are fresh or dried.
There seems to be no kind of control; just a huge rock aside the highway, despite the enormous importance of this archaeological site. However, a few minutes later, the person in charge will suddenly appear to charge you the admission ticket: eleven soles per person. He surely lives around. The Saywite compound is made up of various sectors. You can see the staircases, fountains, the Ushnu and the rock. The ushnu is a ceremonial place where the Incas made their most important religious ceremonies. The complex has an extension area of 18 hectares. From this place you have an impressing view of the Curahuasi valley and the mountains surrounding it. The rock is the first thing you see: a perfectly carved monolith following the natural from to huge stone that represents, according to several theories, Peru’s three geographic regions: jungle, highlands, and the coast, with sculpted animal and plants species. It looks like a scale model. The monolith has been fenced in order to prevent its destruction, but has a disorienting appearance of exclusion and ugliness.
The rock has been studied by scientist, archaeologists and historians; among them George Squier, Heinrich Doering, Federico Kauffmann Doig, and Julio César Tello. This last one made a research study in 1942 during his expedition to the Urubamba Valley. But the work was never published and the original manuscript is at the Archaeological Museum of the San Marcos National University. The guardian at the site has his own explanation: the rock is a scale model of the three regions in the Inca Empire. It was used like a prediction tool, in order to forecast production in the regions. Water, blood or chicha (corn beer) were poured over the four “lakes” carved in the upper part of the rock. The region that contained the biggest amount of liquid would have better productive season.
One thing is to watch the rock at the distance, and another to take a closer look in order to discover all of its details. Look at each figure. In the jungle region you can see carved monkeys, bears, caimans and toads; in the coast you can figure out the crabs, an octopus, a pelican and a shrimp; in the highland region you can see lagoons, llamas and much more. Unfortunately many carvings on the giant rock-measuring four meters of diameter and two and a half meters high-are impossible to decipher because the were destroyed by men’s action. This happened during the Colonial period-the religious policy enforced to remove idols (extirpación de idolatrias) that destroyed this icon of Andean cosmogony-but also by sackers.
The importance of this carved rock triggered unusual events including its political destroyed it. The first, without doubt, were the Spanish who destroyed many of the carved figures in their campaign to banish Andean religion. In the seventies, General Juan Velasco Alvarado tried to bring the huge rock to Lima’s Plaza de Armas in order to put it where the fountain is located. Luckily, his wishes couldn’t be accomplished: the choppers that were sent were unable to pick up the weighty and massive boulder. Another tale involves Presint Fernando Belaunde who, during his government, ordered the construction of two replicas. One of them, the same size as the original one, can be seen in Avenida Camino Real, in San Isidro (Lima), located in one of the Golf Club corners. It works as a huge water fountain, presumably how it appeared to be used back ion the Inca days. There is no news about the second replica he ordered.
The Syawite complex extends over hillside, covering 18 hectares with six other interesting features that are part of a major compound surrounding the valley. Some meters below the ravine it is possible to observe a pair of rocks with similar size and partially sculpted in the same way as Saywite. They were probably failed attempts to carve the rock. One of them is said to be a solar clock or intihuatana.
It is also known that Saywite is more than just the rock and the remains that lay aside. This is an archaeological complex that is mostly buried, something that is not hard to imagine since it is possible to observe half uncovered walls and land elevations that are not natural, hinting instead it could be covered constructions. The worshipping of water-as some researchers such as Federico Kauffmann Doig suggests-makes more sense when you learn that there are springs or puquiales as they are locally known. Be reminded that water worshipping is vital in Andean cosmogony, and this rock is nothing else than a giant natural water fountain. Additionally, what seems at first sight to be andenes or crop terraces are in reality cisterns or fountains. This is why Saywite is considered a “symbolic fountain” or paccha that functions, through its 203 carved figures, as a register of a pre-Hispanic religious conception of vital themes, such as water and mythological creatures that favor fertility. Saywite is a lithic allegory made up of ideographic signs, highlighting four cats carved in each of the four cardinal points. You can also see pairs of anthropomorphic gods in the river sources, as well as ape a couple that presumably represents fertility. Our next destination is Curahuasi, located some minutes below, in the deep valley.