Friday, September 18

Pre-Incan ruins or the most profitable joke ever?

Our second day in Puno with Sergio’s two brothers, we woke up too late to visit anything more than 20 minutes away. Thinking I could be of help, I pulled out my Lonely Planet to find another option, and there it was. It sounded great! 

“On a small promontory on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca, Chucuito, a small Aymara town, is one of the oldest in the altiplano region....Said to date pre-Columbian times, Inca Uyo is composed of dozens of large, mushroom-shaped phallic stones, most a few feet high, which locals claim were erected as part of fertility rituals....At the center of the ring, lording over the temple is the king phallus." 

Ha! Perfect! Close by! Historic! Pre-Columbian! Quaint! A "king phallus" included! What more could we want for a half day trip that would get us back in time for lunch with Sergio’s very anal-retentive aunt?

The combi (bus) dropped us off in front of a colonial church. With the two Brits we met on the combi, we went in. The paint had chipped away. The benches were dusty, as if no one had attended service there in quite some time. What little I know about the Catholic tradition frustrates me in moments like this.   I don’t understand the paintings, nor the little glass boxes with doll-like saints locked in them.

And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one because within a few minutes we were outta there. We walked down a few blocks to a beautiful mirador (lookout) where we could see over the farms to the south to the expansive lake east of Chucuito. We took enough pictures to supply National Geographic for a year, and the finally were on our way to the main event—the king phallus!

We arrived to discover that it costs 10 soles ($3.30) to enter the dinky courtyard the size of a city block. Luckily, Sergio convinced the Senora to let us in at the “Peruvian rate” of  two soles ($0.60).  Quite a charmer, that boyfriend of mine. 

On one side, there was a row of booths selling woven hats and trinkets to take home. In the middle, was the supposed main attraction. 

But the real attraction was Panchito, the baby alpaca, whom the site managers so cunningly relocated to this little courtyard. Sergio’s 23-year-old brother must have played with Panchito for 10 minutes. I had to give him a little hug too.

After little Panchito started to bore us, we entered the kingdom of the phallus. 

Sergio thought it was hilarious. Everyone laughed, took pictures and sat on the stones, which supposedly helps you to be fertile.

Sergio asked me if I wanted a picture. It occurred to me that the Incan sun god might be a little offended by my making light of this ancient homage to his greatness, so I declined.

The Brits laughed at that, and then proceeded to tell me how the whole temple was just a rouse, a tourist trap made to bring money into Chucuito.  They had read it in a guidebook. 

After we had our fun, we left to wait for the combi, where we met the man who cares for another Catholic church just off the plaza. He showed us around, even though the church was closed down, and then explained to us the “true” story about the phallus kingdom:

According to him, the garden was originally an old stone ruin, possibly pre-Incan. But before that could be documented, someone thought it would be really funny to adjust the stones just bit so they looked like penises. 

It was just a joke until some foreign anthropologist came along, and without consulting any locals, publicized his interpretation of the place as a pre-Incan/Incan fertility garden. This interpretation, while antagonizing at first, finally benefited the community of Chucuito. Peruvian and foreign tourists have come flocking to see this odd “ruin.” At $3.30, it’s been a good thing for the community.

But some are not too happy with this farce. For them, it ignores the centuries of ancient culture, from which some of them descended. It’s not right, they say.

I took my picture, and enjoyed the novelty of it all. It will be interesting to see if this little "ruin" will exist into the 22nd century, or if the rouse will be discovered.


When I read my Lonely Planet again, it did say:

"..some contend that they, or at least the manner in which they are displayed, are fake, a hoax perpetrated by locals to rustle up  tourist business. Spanish missionaries did everything in their power to destroy all symbols and structures they considered pagan, and it is highly unlikely that they would have constructed two churches nearby but left this temple intact." 

That'll teach me to read a little bit more carefully. 

1 comment:


    At the Inca ruins of Chucuito in Peru, South America, not far from Lake Titicaca, we see stone objects that appear to resemble mushroom stones but are referred to by tour guides as phallic stones.

    According to archaeologist Gordon F. Ekholm, in a letter to my father, Maya archaeologist Stephan F. de Borhegyi, that archaeologists Marion and Harry Tschopik found what they described as mushroom stones in the general fill at this Late Inca site on the shore of Lake Titicaca. One very interesting note about these ruins is that there is an Inca legend of White Men with beards who inhabited the shores of Lake Titicaca,… who built a great city, 2000 years before the time of the Incas. (Ekholm to Borhegyi, March 12, 1953, Borhegyi Archives, MPM)

    My study was inspired by a theory first proposed over fifty years ago by my father, the late Maya archaeologist Dr. Stephan F. de Borhegyi, that hallucinogenic mushroom rituals were a central aspect of Maya religion. He based this theory on his identification of a mushroom stone cult that came into existence in the Guatemala Highlands and Pacific coastal area around 1000 B.C. along with a trophy head cult associated with human sacrifice and the Mesoamerican ballgame. He supported this theory with a solid body of archaeological and historical evidence.

    Without doubt early man noticed the likeness of certain mushrooms to a human penis. This association could have led them to draw metaphors with fertility and birth. According to Mexican mythology, Quetzalcoatl created mankind and he did so from the blood he drew from his penis in the underworld. The photo of the tallest and most noticeable monument shown above appears to have a U-shaped cleft resembling the meatus of a penis. It could equally be Identified, however, as a well known Mesoamerican symbol of a portal or entrance into the underworld. I would argue that these stone statues actually represent mushrooms, some of which appear to have been ritually decapitated.

    Ethno-mycologist Robert Gordon Wasson writes…

    “If I were to postulate the nature of a mushroomic cult, it would be of an erotic or procreative character. Sahagun says that the narcotic mushroom incita a la lujuria,– excites lust. He described it in a dancing scene where it is eaten.” (Wasson to Borhegyi 3-27-1953)

    There is also plenty of evidence of a trophy head cult in the archaeological record of South America. According to Andean researcher Christina Conlee (Texas State University) large numbers of decapitated heads or so-called trophy heads have been found in archaeological excavations in the area of Peru. At the archaeological site of Tihaunaco not far from Lake Titicaca, several dozen decapitated bodies were found in a burial arranged in a geometric layout, buried along side drinking vessels(Soma?)suggesting the act of ritual sacrifice.