The Inca, the Kogi, & Corn

The Inca, the Kogi, & Corn

with Luis Mejia

by Lora Spivey
Lora: Can you tell us about the contribution the Incan peoples made to our food supply?

Luis: My main knowledge is with the Inca and Kogi, as I have been living with them and feel that I’ve had many past lives in the Andes.

The most important crop for the Inca, as well as the Maya, was and still is maize — corn. This corn was used in ceremony, offered to the Apus — the mountain Gods — and planted during sacred rituals timed with the motions of the stars. We have even found corn carved in gold under tunnels in Peru, showing how the Inca worshipped this food. According to Galinat (1972), it’s been found that corn was used in ceremonies in Ayacucho four thousand years ago. The first mention of corn is found in the writings of Pedro Martir de Angleria in 1492.

The Spaniards said that the bread of the Inca was maize or corn. Actually, it also was their wine. They brewed their corn and made a drink known today as Azua or Chicha. It’s similar to beer. They have a purple and white Chicha, both quite powerful.

In the higher elevations of Peru, potatoes are now and have been a major food source. The Peruvians grow over four hundred varieties of potatoes, which provide a major source of vitamins, fiber, and nutrition.

Lora: It’s been said that the Inca and Maya “invented” many of our common foods.

Luis: If we look back in time, we see that the Inca cultivated many crops. Whether they invented them or discovered them I can’t say. I’ll list but a few: blackeye beans, chickpeas, lima beans, mung beans, split peas, purple corn, anise, pepper, garlic, onions, habas, ginger, and certain herbs like hucatay, cilantro, oregano, and basil.

Kiwicha was another very important grain that the Inca used. It was very high in protein, amino acids, minerals, calicium, magnesium, and fiber.

The Kogi have always planted a wide variety of foods — bananas, corn, yuca, namé, malanga, potato, sugar cane, onions, beans, guandul, tomotoes, avacados, papaya, mamey, mango, zapote, guanabana, pineapple, ahuyama. . . The wonderful thing about the lands where the Kogi live, high in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada , is that such a wide a variety of food is found and cultivated there.

There also are a vast number of fruits found near the coast. There are some fruits that are found only in these regions.

Lora: Can you speak to the indigenous South Americans’ understanding of the relationship between consciousness and food?

Luis: For the Inca, in the moment they planted their crops they were praying to the Gods.

The Kogi people keep this ancient understanding alive in their culture today. They have a special ceremony for planting. The man, with a bull, opens the ground. Then, behind him, the woman plants the seeds. Only women do this, as women represent the mother, and the seed is going to Mother Earth.

The Kogi feel that they live in the center, or heart, of the earth, and this center is Cheru, which also is the center of the Universe. The Kogi say that all their foods were created from woman except corn, which came from the body of a man.

Lora: Can you speak to their understanding that the plants themselves have consciousness?

Luis: It is true, plants do have consciousness. The Inca, Maya, and Kogi have always known that plants are alive and can feel our thoughts.

For example, the Kogi have a tremendous respect for trees. They believe that if you cut trees without permission you will start growing hair on your face, which is something that the Kogi don’t have. This absence of facial hair came as a big surprise to me. Then, when I saw a few men with stubble on their faces, I had to wonder. The vast majority, even old men in their fifties, have faces like children. Amazing!

They also cook and eat with great respect. The Mamos, the religious leaders among the Kogi, eat in complete silence, and you can feel that they are in tune with the Spirit of the food. It’s as if the food were talking to them and sharing secrets.

Lora: Can you speak of their understanding of plants as medicine and of their relationship with plants that alter consciousness?

Luis: In Peru, there lives the sacred cactus San Pedro, cousin to Grandfather Peyote. San Pedro is considered holy by the natives and is used in ceremony for expanding consciousness. They invoke the spirit of San Pedro and use this sacred plant to this day in healing ceremonies.

Knowing that consciousness affects everything, the preparation of San Pedro is a ritual unto itself. The brewing process takes between twelve and sixteen hours, and is done in a meditative state.

Ayahuasca is another very sacred substance in this region. Ayahuasca is prepared from three main vines. Once consumed, the spirit of these sacred plants transports the person into an altered state where healing and powerful visions take place. The feeling is described as a liquid energy flowing within the veins. It is a powerful purgative that helps eliminate the toxins of this modern world.

The Kogi stress that it is important to fast and prepare our minds and bodies for the new awareness coming in. It seems as though Ayahuasca creates a chemical change within the blood. These plants are not recommended for recreational use. We don’t want to use Ayahuasca simply to “get high.”

When the Ayahuasca ceremony is done in Peru, there is a whole process of preparing the brew, with chanting and singing. It is as if one’s Spirit is put into the brew, and the plant honors the person’s own truth.

The process of taking the drink is also very special and sacred. You show your respect of the plant and honor the truth of this Spirit.

I have had the experience of seeing many people use these plants without respect. The end result is always negative. When we understand the Spirit of the plants and the way they can help us and protect us, a whole new world opens up. In fact, we had two large San Pedro plants at the door of our home in Peru, which provide us with great protection.

Another very important plant — or leaf, actually — is the coca. This sacred tree has been used for ages and has been a major source of vitamins and minerals. Besides inducing clarity, chewing the leaves has a tremendous energy-producing effect. Also, it curtails the need for food.

The Kogi also say that chewing coca leaves helps them “talk with the Ancients,” and that without the sacred coca the Andes people would not be alive today. The Kogi use it constantly, and it is apparent that they worship this plant. They have a poporo, a container used to hold burnt sea shells which are crushed and then eaten in small quantities with the coca leaves to activate them.

In Peru, a black, tar-like substance is used to activate the leaves. There, coca is offered to the Apus and used in the “pagos,” or ceremonies.

Right now, the Colombian government is conducting a fumigation campaign to kill the coca plants. Little do they realize that by killing the sacred plants, they are killing their people. What the governments don’t seem to understand is that the sacred use of these plants is as distant to the use of chemical cocaine as the sacred use of tobacco rolled in corn husks in ceremonies is to the tobacco industry of today. It bears no resemblance.

When I lived with the Kogi, I saw how they greeted each other by placing coca leaves in each others bags. They can go without sleep for nine days in their confessions or rituals. All day and all night they are chewing coca and looking in the fire.

The Kogi tend their coca trees with much care, and even ask permission of the Mamos to plant it. Only women pick the leaves, and a whole cleansing process goes on. Then they cook the leaves in a pan over a fire, sort of like toasting them.

When living in Peru and chewing coca leaves every day I saw the clarity it brings and the sense of being connected to the Ancients.

What a feeling to offer three perfect leaves to Ausangate, the master Apu of Cusco, and feel the Spirit of this magical mountain smile upon the leaves and upon my own essence.

The Kogi say that the coca leaf helps to domesticate man, make him more civil. Just perhaps, we have become uncivilized and warlike because we lost the power of the coca leaves.

Lora: Thank you, Luis!

Luis E. Mejia is president and founder of Tribal Ink News (TIN), a non-profit Internet-based news agency for indigenous people and the environment ( Tribal Ink News is producing a TV program and public service announcement campaign for the environment and for indigenous peoples.

Luis gained international recognition as a leader in saving the Miami Circle, an ancient archeological site in downtown Miami, and was featured in national magazines, newspapers, and television, including CNN.

A true humanitarian and friend, he worked pro bono with Barbara Pyle and People Count TV ( for the World Summit in South Africa September 2002.

As a result of a near-death experience in 1986, Louis became a meditation teacher, sound healer, and Self-Managing Leadership consultant with the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University,
Luis is co-based in Bogota, Colombia, and Miami, Florida. He can be reached by phone at 786-268-2723, and by email at

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