Coniraya: The Inca Fertility God Who Dressed Like a Bum
If you thought the Greek gods had a monopoly on selfishness, rape, deception and other shady derring-do, you were wrong. Take, for instance, the Inca god Coniraya (also Cuniraya), who might have fit in quite well on Mount Olympus . Looking at a god like Coniraya we see a possible allegory, a possible morality tale and much which is problematic about the actions folks often tolerated from their deities just because they did not die and had some type of superpower. Often these factors were enough for folks to look the other way when gods felt the urge to be a little (or a lot) naughty.
We see a tragic figure in Coniraya, whose lack of self-awareness also brought great harm to others. Many ancient, anthropomorphized gods did not discern their own moral and emotional flaws, never became more humane, never tried to rise above whatever emotion might be driving them at the moment. They questioned no inner-drive that pushed them into action and often showed no self-restraint. Perhaps they were projections into the sky of a class that lived above the law, acted at whim and demanded to be worshipped. Perhaps the gods were, for a time, the wealthy and powerful of the ancient world writ large until the monotheistic religions said: “Enough is enough! A God had better start acting as if He/She is better than we are!”
Coniraya Seemed Cool, But Looked Like a Bum
According to some tales, Coniraya was a type of benevolent, human-centered creator god who could speak useful things into existence like canals, irrigation systems, and arable land. This god regularly dressed like a beggar as he wandered about, and sometimes played the role of itinerant teacher. One telling of his story, claimed that dressing like a beggar was the price he paid for his ability to shapeshift into any animal that he wanted to be.
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In other retellings of his tale, it seems that Coniraya dressed this way by choice. Perhaps he identified with the downtrodden in human society. Accounts relate that he was often ridiculed and abused for his appearance by those who did not recognize him to be a god, but there do not seem to be stories of Coniraya punishing those who abused him or rewarding those who were kind to him despite his mode of dress. He, very simply, dressed like a beggar and one’s treatment of him provided no gain or loss.
Coniraya Sees the Beautiful, Pure Cavillaca and Rapes Her
We do not know all the details, but one fine day Coniraya espied Cavillaca and became obsessed with her due to her physical beauty and chaste nature. There was an attempted courtship, but Cavillaca was put off by the overall appearance of the benevolent creator god. Frankly, she was repulsed by the very look of him. Imagine Charlie Chaplin’s kind-hearted Tramp pursuing Virginia Cherrill’s now supercilious Flower Girl at the end of the movie City Lights .
While watching Cavillaca weaving under a tree, Coniraya changed into a Bird of Paradise, inserted his DNA (uh hem) into a piece of fruit, and dropped the fruit next to her. She innocently ate of the fruit and became pregnant. There is no need to mince words here or to brighten this picture, a rape of sorts is being described, albeit unknown by the victim, and this god to human rape is seen throughout the mythology of many cultures. The hunt would soon be on to find the identity of the father.
Illustration of Andean woman and child. ( KarimRocio / Adobe Stock)
Cavillaca’s Pragmatism, For the Sake of the Child
When the child was a year old, Cavillaca had had enough. All she wanted to know was who the father was so that her child could be brought up in a family unit. The trickery behind the pregnancy was trumped by the need to find the father, but, undoubtedly, she wished to know how the deed had been done as well. Indeed, disclosing the methodology would be essential to determine the father’s real identity.
Cavillaca convened a meeting of the Vilca, powerful male supernatural creatures who held various functions. The Vilca showed up, dressed to the nines, but none dared claim paternity as none had a way of explaining how the DNA had been transferred. There was but one who could do that, and he stood apart in his filthy, smelly rags, dust in his hair. When no spirit stepped forward, Cavillaca placed her child on the ground and trusted that he would crawl to the appropriate man. Naturally, he crawled to Coniraya who then explained everything, to everyone’s horror. It seems that even a benevolent creator god who smells invites contempt.
Coniraya Chasing Cavillaca and the Animal Kingdom
Grabbing the baby, Cavillaca took off. She did not know where she was going, but she knew she had to go. The last thing she was going to do was settle down with Coniraya, who repulsed her more than ever. In desperation, all she could do was buy time and flee. As well as shapeshift, Coniraya could communicate with creation. So he asked a vulture where Cavillaca was and got some useful information and blessed the vulture to ensure it would always have food to eat.
If Coniraya came across an animal who had negative information or no information, that creature got cursed, e.g. let’s say a snake couldn’t tell him anything, this would explain why the snake would have no arms or legs and live under the earth. So the animal kingdom became divided by whether or not it was able to help Coniraya find the woman he was chasing.
Coniraya, By Hook or by Crook, Fails
It turns out that Cavillaca had had enough of all of this nonsense and found a location where she intended to commit suicide with her child. As she entered the water to drown, she and her child were turned into stones, standing offshore to this day in the Pacific Ocean. Using his interrogation skills with the animal kingdom, Coniraya was soon near the place where Cavillaca had killed herself. But he discovered that the site was protected by two daughters of a god who were guarded by a deadly creature.
Coniraya was unable to seduce one of the daughters, who turned into a bird and flew away from Coniraya. Seeing nothing but a couple of rocks, he then got his revenge against the mother of the daughters. While she was tending all the fish in the world in one pond, Coniraya released the fish into most of the bodies of water in the world. To this day, perhaps, he wanders the world causing mayhem in his search for the woman who just could not stand the look and smell of him.
Both Cavillaca and her child turned into stone as they tried to escape Coniraya. These days these stones are located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Peru and are known as the Pachacàmac or Cavillaca islands. ( rjankovsky / Adobe Stock)
In Defense of Coniraya: Is it an Allegory?
So Coniraya is a fertility god. It is his job to make sure that things grow or are born. When a seed falls to the ground, it does not ask the Earth’s permission to germinate in it. When the alpha male and alpha female of a group of social mammals mate, there is little choice of partner involved there either. Fertility does not seem to mean personal choice, but is closer to raw opportunity.
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So, to some extent, what Coniraya does is nothing he had not overseen before in a state of nature. He dropped his seed and it was eagerly taken up by another. Perhaps the big crime of Coniraya, and the purpose of the story, is that he does not realize that humans have risen above his type of fertility and that love has become a part of what historically been a very basic and often random process. So Coniraya could be a symbol for an outmoded sexual drive that has no place in civilized society. Perhaps he represents what we were as animals and shows us one of the most significant ways we have changed.
Top image: Although a creator god, Coniraya dressed like a beggar. Source: fresnel6 / Adobe Stock
By Daniel Gauss
Salomon, F. & Urioste, G. L. 1991. The Huarochirí Manuscript: A Testament of Ancient and Colonial Andean Religion . Austin: University of Texas Press