Pucara and the cult of the Peruvian roof ornament

Almost immediately after crossing the border between Bolivia and Peru I began noticing a range of mysterious ornaments adorning the tops of houses. Some had obvious religious significance, others were less easy to interpret. Either way, I’d never seen this in Bolivia before.

Roof ornament with cows, flag, chicken and cross, Peru

I’d been puzzling over this for two weeks, but it wasn’t until we stopped in the small town of Pucara en route to Puno that light was finally shed on the conundrum. Pucara is the home to a local history museum and while not particularly well maintained the exhibits are interesting and, it turns out, Pucara is the centre of production of the ceramic cow roof decorations.

Known as Torito de Pucara, they are placed on the roof for good luck, fertility (of crops and livestock) and to bring prosperity. They are typically given as presents for extra luck and pretty much every building you see in southern Peru has one of the decorations on its roof.

Roof ornament with cows, large jars and cross, Peru
Roof ornament with coke bottles, Peru

The tradition is one that pre-dates the Spanish. In Inca times the obvious difference in decoration would have been llamas replacing cows and an absence of Christian symbolism (it’s unlikely they would have had coke bottles either, but you never know). Today, they retain the same meaning but have been ‘Christianised’ and largely contain Christian symbolism alongside centuries old symbolism of traditional beliefs – for instance the sun and moon.

As befits the church in the home of the ceramic cow, the church in Pucara is uniquely decorated with statues of ceramic cows that mimic the ones seen on the rooftops of southern Peru. There is some irony in this as the original meaning of the decorations was to honour Pachamama, the Inca earth goddess.

Church, Pucara, Peru
Ceramic cow at the church in Pucara, Peru

As with so much to do with religion and belief in this part of the world, it is another example of the fusing of traditional and Catholic beliefs that is very common in Bolivia. It is difficult to tell whether there is just a veneer of Catholicism and people continue to believe the old traditions or whether the two religions are truly entwined in a way that makes it difficult to differentiate between them.

Ceramic cows on a rooftop, Peru
Roof ornament, Peru
Roof ornament, Peru

21 thoughts on “Pucara and the cult of the Peruvian roof ornament

  1. Most of your double bull ornaments also have two water vessels, so the coke bottles fit that element! I shot a couple of these when in Ollantaytambo about 5 years ago and one of them had bottles; now it makes sense. Thanks. One day I will get to posting my Peruvian photos. (Found your blog from a link on ‘the changing palette.’)

    1. I hadn’t thought of it in that light, although I think the water vessels might well have contained chicha. Did you try it when you were there?

  2. Really enjoyed this post. Hope you don’t mind my recommending it on my blog this week for the Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top. Your photos are superb. Cheers.

    1. Thank you, that’s really appreciated. Now that I’m based in the Netherlands there may be a few tulips making an appearance some time soon!

      1. You will have read that I’m a tulipolic so look forward to seeing them on your blog 🙂

  3. Really enjoyable post. I love Peru and think of it as a second home. Great topic, the coke bit cracked me up.

    1. Thanks. It is a funny combo of beliefs, not surprising coke is there though.

  4. Very interesting post.

    1. Thanks Indira, it is a very interesting part of the world, so much history and culture. Best, Paul

  5. Interesting post, thank for sheading some lite on this subject. I knew they had somthing to do with luck but it is always nice to have specifics. Hope you dont mind, I reblogged this to ‘A Gringo’s Life in Cusco’

    1. Thanks Mongo, appreciate the re-blog. Their history is really interesting, another fusion of religions. It’s funny that you don’t see them in Bolivia at all given the shared history/culture. Best wishes, Paul

  6. Reblogged this on A Gringos life in Cusco and commented:
    An interesting post from ‘notesfromcamillidcountry’. I to have wondered about the roof ornamentation, now I know.

  7. Nice post on an intriguing topic. I look forward to seeing them next year. Great photos too!

    1. Thanks Ardun, the whole culture of that region is fascinating, I hope you have a great trip there. I just had a look at your site, there’s some really beautiful photography. Will do a bit more exploring.

    2. I love the lucky bulls as my ancestry I design my bulls with Andean themes. I invite to see you the bulls!

      1. The bulls are wonderful reminders that Peru’s ancient culture is still alive in the 21st century…lovely things.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close