was born in Q’ollpak’ucho, “sandy corner” in his native Qechua language, around January 15, 1944.
The oldest son of Domingo Quispe Perez and Luisa Flores Mendoza, and the grandson of Reymundo Quispe Quispe, Don Mariano comes from a long lineage of pampamisayoc paqos, or earth-keeper priests. As a Q’ero, his life story is inseparably connected to his place of birth; therefore, it is impossible to tell his story without an understanding of both his people and where he comes from.
Named for the sacred cup used by the ancient priests of the Tawantinsuyu empire, known to modern history as the Inca, the Q’ero call themselves “Children of the Sun.” Until very recently most Q’ero lived high up in the Andes Mountains. His ancestral home at Q’ollpak’ucho was located at 15,500 feet above sea level, according to Don Mariano, “to be closer to the Star Relatives and to God.”
Like many indigenous people of North and South America, the Q’ero have passed down an oral history across time immemorial that they originate in the stars. The Pleiades, whom they call their Star Relatives, are of great significance to them.
Don Mariano’s two younger sisters, Melchora Quispe Flores and Felipa Quispe Flores were bound to the home traditions like the other women in the community, the women of Q’eros are consummate weavers, their tapestries depicting their culture’s stories within their intricate patterns. Their cloths serve many practical purposes, as well as serving an important storytelling role in a culture with no written language. One of the highlights of Don Mariano’s trips to the U.S. are the beautiful textiles he brings from the weavers in his village. Selling these to students provides much needed income for the community.
Growing up, Q’ollpak’ucho was comprised of five other families living together in conditions hostile to human habitation. The village’s evening temperatures average zero degrees year-round. As such, Q’ero communities are completely dependent on each other and on nature. Cultivating both deeply communal values and a divine relationship with *Pachamama is interwoven into all aspects of their lives.
“All in all,” Don Mariano says, “it was a simple, poor and happy life.” Don Mariano’s recollections of his youth are filled with great memories of a loving family. He describes his father Domingo as an engaged father and a great farmer who provided for his family by growing many varieties of potatoes, the only thing that grows in the glacial environment of his home. It was his father who taught him the paqokuna tradition, just as Domingo’s father had taught him. Don Mariano apprenticed with his father from the age of five until the age of 30 when he was formally named a paqo.
He has fond memories of his first trip to the Sacred Valley with his father, around the age of five years old. It was a long, arduous, yet adventurous walk. In those days, it took over 3 days to descend to the lower altitude where they could exchange potatoes for corn, legumes and other foods considered tropical to highland residents. The sense of wonderment and adventure that he felt as a small child is still very much a part of his personality, and one that brings so much happiness to others.