Fortified by corn beer and a last meal of vegetables, a young Incan girl of noble family made the dizzying climb up Mount Ampato, where priests sacrificed her to Apu, the mountain god. Her body was recovered in 1995, preserved in remarkable condition after lying frozen for more than 500 years. Named for the anthropologist who discovered her, the mummy Juanita offers important clues to the Incan past. On the recent H2Passport trip to Peru, students visited the Catholic University’s Museum of Andean Sanctuaries in Arequipa in hopes of seeing the child sacrifice. The mummy was removed for conservation when we visited, but the objects she took with her — a small bag with coca leaves, tiny shoes, a colorful alpaca shawl, and figurines made of gold, silver and shell – were on display, and prompted Kaitlyn Akel’s meditation on her last moments …
The priest prods me awake. The sun is rising and in my sleepy haze, I stand and try to orient myself on the steep incline. We still have a way to go, and yet we are so high up.
That’s how I know that today is the day; we are far enough away so that by the time we reach the summit, I will be exhausted enough to successfully do my part, but we are also close enough to not make the gods impatient. I’m not nervous about participating, but I am more worried for if it goes wrong. I was chosen to do this, raised for this purpose, and to have it fall through would be detrimental to all of us, I think for some time.
On our trek there is not much to see apart from the volcanic dust, sharp stones, and the sun. The blessed sun. I am doing this not only for my people, but I am meant for him, Inti. For temperate seasons, a tall, fruitful crop, and a blessed empire. Small stones and dust roll off the mountainside as we walk until I can no longer see them.
I can’t allow myself to think about the small reluctance that I feel to fulfill my destiny, because my desire to give myself to the gods is stronger. I only know that reluctance is out of fear. It doesn’t matter what I think about what’s going to happen, only that I do it. It’s not about me, but instead Inti and my people. —
At last we reach the summit. The coca in my mouth has long lost its effects, so my mind is no longer sharp. It processes the world in a haze bathed in orange light of the sunset and dust motes. The apus surrounding us are a shadowy morado and the clouds far below us are a light gray, spaced out amongst the vestiges of our journey. I cannot see much of Pachamama anymore because we are so high up, but I know she is breathing, maintaining the life of this empire. My last true look of all I’ve known.
The priests motion me over to the red and white striped blanket and hand me a cup that smells strong, of chicha mixed with crushed coca. I lift it to my mouth and tip my head back, and the sunlight escaping the earth warms my neck as I drink. The mixture ignites my throat.
Once I’ve drained the cup, the priests look me over, adjusting anything on my person that isn’t placed correctly. I keep my eyes on the descending sun, expressionless as they wrap me in a shawl and place a crown on my head made of feathers. Images dance before me, and in my approaching intoxication, the light seems to physically bend over the surrounding apus. The priests clip the shawl in place with a silver piece and place a fine, soft cloth around the back of my head and indicate for me to sit on the blanket. I no longer register myself moving, but I bring my knees loosely to my chest, holding the items they have deposited in my lap: maize, beans, meat, coca leaves, as well as gold figurines and a spondyllus shell with a pearl in it. I have always loved these shells; they are more beautiful to me than the gold that adorns our empire.
The priests grab the corners of the blankets and bring them up above my knees and over my head, securing it with pins to my dress. I can barely register my existence, and it has become so difficult to breathe, but the warmth I feel is overwhelmingly pleasant. I can do this. I have no qualms anymore, because I am a child of the sun.
I look up at the sky and feel as though I am communing with it. I catch the light of a few stars before closing my eyes.
And then there was nothing.