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Chakana or Andean cross, millenary symbol of the Aboriginal Peoples

Chakana or Andean cross is a millenary symbol of the Aboriginal Peoples. If you had the opportunity to visit Cusco, you may have noticed the Chakana. A stepped cross that is made up of an equal-armed cross indicating the cardinal points of the compass and a superimposed square. You will find this symbol on different handicrafts, and clothes. But, are you aware of its meaning? Would you like to know more about this Andean symbol? Join us on this exciting discovery!

Chakana o Cruz Andina

Chakana or Andean cross

Chakana or Andean Cross:

The “Chakana” or Andean cross is a strong symbol of the old cultures of the Andes and is considered the most complete, holy, geometric design of the Incas. Traditionally, the Chakana represents the constellation of the Southern Cross which is to be seen in the southern hemisphere. According to the opinion of the old Andes population, this was the center of the Universe and was easy to find when they looked up in the sky at night. The Chakana has had, and still has, a considerable meaning to the Incas and it also represents many meanings in its design.


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Characteristics of the Chakana:

  • At the heart of the chakana is a circular hole. Surrounding this circle are four corners, ridged with three steps each.
  • Represents the Southern Cross constellation cross, as this was thought by the Incas to be the location of the center of the universe.
  • Each of the three steps of one corner is meant to represent one of the three worlds of the Inca belief system.
  • The geometry of the symbol has a high degree of symmetry which can reflect their astronomical observations.
  • It also indicates the four seasons of the year and the sowing and harvest time.

Chakana o Cruz andina

How long has the Chakana or Southern Cross been part of the Andean Culture?

According to history, this symbol was used for pre-inca cultures. The twelve-cornered design itself occasionally appears in pre-contact artifacts such as textiles and ceramics from different cultures such as the Wari, Ica, and Tiwanaku. Being Caral culture one of the first cultures on registering the existence of the Chakana.

This symbol was also found in old places and holy centers in the Andes, in Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and Chile. It is worth mentioning that these countries belonged to the original Qhapaq Ñan network of trails or Inca Trail.

Why does the Chakana have that geometrical shape?

Chakana is not a form found at random, but rather it is a geometrical shape resulting from astronomical observation. Ancient men “brought heaven to earth” and represented it with this symbol that contains opposing components that explain a vision of the universe, being thus represented the masculine and the feminine, the sky and the earth, the above and the below , energy and matter, time and space. The shape of the chakana encloses in its geometry the concept of Number Pi and the real number twenty-seven.

Other meanings of Chakana or Southern Cross:

Chakana also indicates the four seasons of the year and the sowing and harvesting times. Some Andean peoples celebrate May 3rd as Chakana’s day, because on this day, the Southern Cross assumes the astronomical form of a perfect cross and is a sign of harvest time. The southern cross was venerated by ancient inhabitants of Peru and, until today, the tradition of protecting the crops is maintained by marking the cultivated area with various Chakanas. This symbol has nothing to do with the Christian cross.

What is Andean astronomy?

Movements of the sun, moon, and stars were watched and interpreted by the Inca. The astronomical observations made in and near the former capital, Cusco influenced the way constructions were designed and built and the rituals that bound the society together.

Inhabitants of the Andean Culture used to give names to the shapes they saw in the night sky. Among these figures we can name the following:

  • Mach’acuay – the Snake
  • Hanp’atu –  the toad
  • Yutu – the partridge
  • Urcuchillay – the llama
  • Atoq – the fox

Values and Ethics

The Chakana also embodies essential values for Andean communities, such as reciprocity, harmony with nature, and communal living. It serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining balance between humans and the surrounding environment, respecting and protecting Mother Earth.



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Significance of Chakana Architecture and Art in the Andean Cross

The Andean Cross has left its mark on the architecture of Inca temples and sacred sites, like Machu Picchu, where its design can be observed in the arrangement of structures. In textile art, ceramics, and stone carving, it is used with intricate and symbolic details.

Traditions and Ceremonies

The Chakana continues to be used in Andean rituals and ceremonies, especially during significant events like Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun) and the Andean New Year. The cross symbolizes ancestral protection and wisdom, representing the pursuit of balance and harmony with the universe during these festivities.

Cultural and Responsible Tourism

The Chakana attracts travelers interested in the rich Andean culture from around the world. If you have the opportunity to visit this region, it’s crucial to be well-informed about its cultural meaning and values. Additionally, it’s essential to recognize that Andean communities attach deep religious and spiritual significance to this symbol, so showing respect and sensitivity towards its use and meaning is fundamental.

The Chakana or Andean Cross: A Sacred Symbol of the Andes The Chakana or Andean Cross is much more than a beautiful geometric design; it is a sacred symbol that has endured through time, carrying the essence of Andean worldview and its fundamental values. By learning and appreciating its meaning, we can connect with the deep cultural roots of the Andes and understand the importance of protecting and preserving its ancestral heritage.


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