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Animating the Inanimate: Andean Huacas and the Concept of Camay
J. McKim Malville and Michael Zawaski


Running water was understood in the Inca world as a vitalizing life force, known by the Quechua verb, camay. Huacas and other forms of sacred architecture were animated by the circulation of running water and the pouring of libations. Most of the major astronomical sites of the Inca were associated with natural or offertory water. An impressive instance of camay is found at Saihuite where the elaborately carved principal stone is threaded with channels for liquid offerings. In the cosmology described in the Huachari manuscript, life is born from the hydraulic embrace of feminine earth by masculine water. An example of camay is Camac, the constellation of the celestial llama. The dark constellation with the two eyes of alpha and beta Centauri was understood to bring water to the heavens after drinking from the ocean and then rising to the sky. Upon descending to the earth, this constellation camays the world. Other examples of camay are found at Machu Picchu, Pisac, Ollaytambo, Llactapata, and the hydraulic marvel of Tipon. The tradition of camay is alive today among Andean shamans, intended to promote healing by bringing people into balance with the unity of the world. The shaman camays by blowing a thin mist of cane alcohol across a candle flame creating a ball of fire.