Simón Bolívar was one of the most powerful leaders in world history, and this 16th-century Inca quero represents a momentous time in the life of this legendary figure. It was one of a pair that was used by José Domingo Choquehuanca y Béjar — a descendant of the Royal Inca line — to toast Bolívar for his successful triumph over the Spanish monarchy in South America. The important event not only signaled a new alliance but also an end to South America’s tribal past and a beginning of the world of Latinos.
Simón Bolívar and the Wars of Independence
The remarkable history that this quero represents began in April of 1775, when the first volleys of the 50-year Wars of Independence were exchanged on the commons of Lexington, Massachusetts. The wars raged until April of 1825, when, under the leadership of Simón Bolívar, the Spanish were defeated on the plains of Tumusla, Alto Peru.
The United States was instrumental in this decades-long struggle. The country’s example and support was essential to similar liberation efforts in neighboring countries throughout the Americas. In 1822, the United States became the first nation to recognize the independence of Gran Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Mexico. Furthermore, the Monroe Doctrine, which was delivered by President James Monroe in December 1823, warned European nations that the United States would not tolerate further colonization efforts in the Western Hemisphere.
This support was crucial to the final success of Simón Bolívar and the liberation of six future South American countries. Bolívar and his forces were victorious in Venezuela in 1819, followed by Panama in 1821, Colombia in 1822 and Ecuador in 1823. Under the umbrella of President Monroe’s doctrine, Bolívar achieved decisive victory in Peru in 1824, while Alto Peru, soon to be Bolivia, was finally conquered in April 1825. The 50-year American Wars of Independence were over.
Following his successes, Bolívar became known as El Libertador, or “The Liberator,” and he was named president of Gran Colombia (present-day Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador), Peru and Bolivia. He was at the very peak of his power, presiding over a vast territory that stretched from the Argentine border to the Caribbean Sea.
In May of 1825, Bolívar embarked on a tour of his new nations, riding south along the coast. In August of that same year, he arrived in Pucara, Peru, where the story of our quero truly begins.
José Domingo Choquehuanca y Béjar was a descendant of the royal Inca line through both his mother and his father. He followed the course of Peru’s liberation closely and was prepared for the day when Bolivar arrived in Pucara as President of the new Republic. He and his sister had traveled there with an entourage of 100 people plus enough provisions to hold a proper Inca feast. During this feast, he made a toast that encapsulated the importance of this moment in world history. In his role as the Royal Inca, he also committed the indigenous empire to embrace the democratic Republic.
During his toast, Choquehuanca proclaimed, “After three centuries of suffering, god had compassion for America, and he created you. Therefore, you are the man of divine providence. Nothing that has been done until now compares to what you have done... With the passing of time your glory shall be exalted like the boundless shade of the setting sun.”
Choquehuanca followed his toast with the presentation of twin queros.
The Inca Quero
Queros were both utilitarian and symbolic objects in Inca households. A handful of highly decorative wooden examples were made through the early colonial period, most of which are now held in museum collections around the world. Always made in pairs and usually from the same block of wood, there is a uniformity in their style and decoration that suggests a few centralized areas of production. Most colonial examples such as this follow the traditional Inca tumbler-shaped design.
These paired drinking vessels were used as a means of witnessing the alliances and agreements forged between rulers. The toast was followed with an exchange of queros between participants, confirming their intention to abide by the terms of the toast with the quero as witness to the event. Our quero, which descended through the line of Choquehuanca, would thus have been the vessel used by Bolívar during their historic toast.
The quero dates to the mid-16th century and was likely crafted in Cuzco or Vilcabamba. The unique three-dimensional design is a work of art worthy of its historical importance, featuring icons of both royalty and battle. Four jaguars fill the lower register; they serve as plinths for the men on their shoulders in a reference to Tawantinsuyu, the indigenous name of the Inca Empire, which means the four corners of the universe. The use of the jaguar also references the supports of the wooden throne of the Sapa Inca, the Inca emperor, indicating the vessel has a royal lineage.
Three centuries later, in the village of Pucara, Bolívar and Choquehuanca toasted with this quero and its twin, each filled with sacred aqha. The one used by Choquehuanca was given to Bolívar as a keepsake, while the one used by Bolívar — the present quero — was fortunately treasured by Choquehuanca and handed down within the Choquehuanca family until it was sold to an American collector in the 1960s.
Very rarely does an object of such historical significance and prestige become available for acquisition. As important as any Simon Bolivar object in any museum, this fascinating quero is not only exquisite in design and execution but is also of monumental historical importance.
This quero is recorded and photographed on page 265 of Historia del Peru, Volume 3, by Jorge Basarde and Jose Manuel Valaga.
6 1/4” wide x 7 1/8” deep x 6 1/2” high
Likely created for Sapa Inca Túpac Amaru, circa 1540-1570
thence by descent
Jose Domingo Choquehuanca y Bejar (1789-1858)
thence by descent
Private collection, United States, circa 1960
M.S. Rau, New Orleans, 2013