There are many theories about customs, religious rituals and the end of the Chachapoya culture after taking up arms over the Inca culture that subdued them at the end of the 15th century.
The meaning of Chachapoya -culture that was established in today’s department of Amazonas in northwestern Peru- comes from the native word ‘sachapuyos’ that means ‘men of the clouds’, because of the dense mist that covers the hill of Puma Urco, next to the capital Chachapoya.
What is certain is that the Chachapoya culture held a great grudge against the Inca Empire after subduing them and making them adopt part of their customs. At the time of the confrontations with the Inca invader there were many attempts to intimidate them thanks to the arts of their sorcerers and their funerary rituals, although undoubtedly the most mysterious is the sarcophagi of Karajia.
The Mystery of the Cloud Warriors of Peru
In these sarcophagi, located about 30 km from the capital Chachapoya in the valley of Utcubamba, are the bodies of several prominent settlers of this Amazon culture. These sarcophagi discovered in 1928 are made of cream-colored straw and clay about 6 feet tall.
Although looters have tried to look for riches inside these sarcophagi, we are fortunate to be able to observe them in a magnificent state of conservation. In addition to their cream colour, these funerary objects have red drawings, a rectangular shape on the jaw and several of them have a grim human skull on their heads.
According to recent studies, these purunmachus (as the Chachapoya called the sarcophagi) date back to 1470 AD. Many of the travel agencies in the area organize Chachapoya tours to get to know these enigmatic sarcophagi of Karajia.
In some nearby settlements such as the archeological sites of Pukatambo and Chanqui, we can find the sarcophagi of Ayacachi, very similar to those of Karajia, which would show us the antiquity of these funerary rituals of the Chachapoya culture.
These sarcophagi were built around the mummified body that would be in a fetal position or squatting, wrapped in cotton blankets and with ceramic offerings that would go with them on their journey to the afterlife.
As some remains of objects brought by the Spaniards in the 16th century prove, it is possible that they lived with them during the struggle against the Inca Empire before its final disappearance.
Today the visitor can discover more about the history of the Chachapoya culture and these purunmachus by visiting the Leimebamba Museum which is located a few kilometers from the city of Chachapoya and the fortress of Kuelap.