The Wiphala: what does this indigenous flag mean?

Brian OSullivan is an expert on the O’Higgins region, running OHiggins Tours. In a series of guest blogs, he writes about Chilean culture. Today in part four, O’Sullivan picks up on indigenous culture in Chile: the Wiphala symbol and the Aymara people.

The Wiphala is a square emblem representing native peoples off the Andes. In modern times the rainbow flag has been associated with the Tawantinsuyu and is displayed as a symbol of Inca heritage in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

The author with a Whiphala.

But its origins are from symbols and mural designs found in several civilizations of the Andes with thousands of years of history, and is thought to come from the Tiwanaku civilization, which was the great precursor to the Inca one.

It has been present in agricultural works, formal festivities, and ceremonies and later as a symbol of resistance against invaders for more than 1000 years. In addition, it is still raised today on all social occasions, civic ceremonies and community works.

Varieties of the Wiphala

It exists in several modern varieties, some of which represent the Inca Empire, (TawantinSuyu) and each of its former four regions (suyus). The suyu wiphalas are composed of a 7-by-7 square patchwork in seven colors, arranged diagonally.

The precise configuration depends on the particular suyu represented by the emblem. The color of the longest diagonal line (seven squares) determines which of the four suyus (regions) the flag represents: white for Qullasuyu (this region), yellow for Kuntisuyu, red for Chinchaysuyu, and green for Antisuyu. The Wiphala here on the right is the Qullasuyu one.

The Qullasuyu Wiphala is also used by the Aymara people, who were citizens of the Kollasuyu, which itself was named after the Kolla, an Aymara tribe. Bolivian President Evo Morales (himself an Aymara Indian) established the Qullasuyu wiphala as the nation’s dual flag along with the previous red, yellow, and green banner in the newly ratified constitution.

Colours and orders

There is much debate on what exactly the colours and their orders represent and sadly, we may never know for sure. However, here are some theories.

  • This design originates from dispersion of solar light, i.e. how the white rays of the sun refract into the seven different colors which we perceive to be the rainbow.
  • The white diagonal series represents the coming together of the different or opposite but complementary and harmonic sides, or the meeting of two spaces; Urinsaya (the upper space) and aransaya (the lower space). From this duality comes unity, like the chacha-warmi (literally husband-wife, i.e. marriage).
  • The various diagonal series of seven contrasting colors represent the meeting of the different peoples in the same territory, akin to the harmony of the seven musical notes. The union of seven equally-proportioned colors of the Wiphala is a symbol of unity and equality, representing harmony among the different peoples and the Wiphala is an expression of the Andean philosophy and cosmovision.
  • When four wiphalas are put together, in a two-by-two square formation, they form a giant stellar map and Chakana simultaneously, with the white part representing the constellation Pegasus and forming a portal through which a Shaman would contact the spirit world by going into a trance.
  • Likewise, when four are joined together as previously described, this flag is an expression of the cosmic calendar which constitutes an instrument of astronomic and mathematical measurement used by their ancestors to verify and record the movements of the earth in relation to Tata Inti(the sun) and phaxsi (the moon).

Today they are used by representatives of the Aymara community in Santiago for use during their rituals, indigenous rights campaigns and cultural events.

Read also:

Mapuche silver – symbols of indigenous culture

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