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Friday, 29 September, 2000, 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK
Inca concern over 'gay' flag
Peru's Machu Picchu site
Cuzco's ancient Inca fortress of Machu Picchu
By the BBC's Nada Grkinic

The world's gay community and the ancient South American Inca people have a common source of pride - the rainbow flag.

The flags are virtually identical - the Inca one has an additional blue stripe - which has led to growing confusion among tourists visiting Cuzco, one of Peru's most popular tourism destinations and sacred capital of the Inca empire.

Each year, tens of thousands of trekkers walk the Inca Trail that takes them high into the Andes Mountains before ending up at the ruins of Machu Picchu, an ancient Inca fortress.
Cuzco flag
Ancient Inca flag causing confusion

In Cuzco the flag can be seen flying from homes, bars, shops and other public buildings.

But such is the residents' concern over their flag being mistaken as a tribute to gay pride, that the city's authorities have started talks with anthropologists, historians and artists to come up with a new design.

Gay rainbow flag
A huge rainbow flag held aloft by gays and lesbians
Gift from the Gods

According to historians, the Incas regarded the rainbow as a gift from the sun-god. Some argue that the rainbow was in fact the banner of the Inca empire which, at its height in the 16th century, spanned from southern Colombia to southern Chile.

Indeed, the famous Coricancha Temple in Cuzco has a room honouring the god of the rainbows.

The department of Cuzco officially adopted the multicoloured banner in 1978, but it had previously been used as the flag of the Tawantinsuyo - the name used by the Incas for their native land.

In the same year, Gilbert Barker, an artist from San Francisco, designed the first rainbow flag in response to a local activist's call for a gay community symbol. It has since become a symbol for gays and lesbians across the globe.

Millennium madness

Noticias Latin America, a London-based monthly covering news from the region, said that one of the strangest incidents involving the flag took place in Cuzco on New Year's Eve.

At the strike of midnight, a group of gay tourists, unaware of the local flag's real meaning, ripped away those flying from the stage on which Cuzco's mayor was standing and hiked up to Machu Picchu.
A member of Dykes on Bikes rides along Fifth Avenue
Gay colours fly freely

Thinking that the ceremony was an unabashed welcome to the year 2000, the tourists duly stuck the flags in the ground to let them billow freely.

Pot of gold

On other occasions, visitors have refused to have their photo taken with the Cuzco flag as the backdrop and have fled the city.

Bar and shop owners have seen their businesses badly hit - some heterosexuals think that establishments flying the rainbow flag cater only for homosexuals.

Meanwhile, other shop owners are making huge profits by selling multicoloured souvenirs to unsuspecting tourists and taking pride in Cuzco's appeal as a "gay city".

And until a new design is approved by the city's authorities, Incas and gays will continue to fly the same flag.

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See also:

11 May 00 | Americas
Inca Trail restricted
01 Jan 00 | Americas
Ancient Inca celebrations in Peru
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