What Is Inti Raymi?
(10/04/2012)In Bolivia, Inti Raymi is a combination of shamanic ceremony and all night party, in Ecuador it resembles a village fete and in Peru, Inti Raymi has become a spectacle of costume and dance. Despite its various manifestations, at the heart of Inti Raymi is a celebration of the relationship between the sun and earth and a centuries old ritual to mark the change in seasons.
Inti Raymi occurs on June 21-24 - the winter solstice, and the time when the sun is furthest from the earth. Fearing the lack of sun and ensuing famine, the ancient Incas gathered in Cuzco to honour the Sun God and plead for his return. Celebrants fasted for days before the event, refrained from physical pleasures and presented gifts to the Inca, who in return put on a lavish banquet of meat, corn bread, chicha and coca tea.
As the Inca Empire spread, so did Inti Raymi, merging with local beliefs of the Andean people. In modern times, Inti Raymi still has special significance for Andean people from Ecuador to Argentina.
Inti Raymi in Bolivia
Bolivia’s controversial president, Evo Morales, ignited a national debate in 2009 when he declared June 21st, Aymara New Year and winter solstice, a national holiday. Why the controversy? In a population of 10 million people, only 2 million recognise themselves as Aymara.
Although marked throughout Bolivia, the spiritual heart of Bolivia’s winter solstice is the pre-Inca site of Tiwanaku, on the high plains outside of La Paz. In this spectacular setting, people of all ages dance throughout the night to mark the winter solstice. At first light, Aymara shaman pour their offerings of alcohol on the ground and chant blessings to mother earth. A llama is sacrificed with blood splashing on those seeking luck - all to welcome the sun and the start of the next harvest season.
Inti Raymi in Ecuador
Throughout the Ecuadorian Andes, different indigenous communities have their own take on Inti Raymi, also known in Ecuador as San Pedro.
Many indigenous communities go to sacred springs, rivers and waterfalls to carry out a purification ritual. In the Andean belief system, this ritual allows for the recuperation of energy and revitalization of the relationship with mother earth.
One feature of Inti Raymi celebrations in Ecuador is the Aya Uma. This is a mythological character wearing a mask with two faces representing night and day. The Aya Uma is considered the spirit of the mountain, coming down to the villages to participate in the celebrations. Dancers go around in circles, representing the two equinoxes, stamping their feet to invite Pachamama (mother earth) to participate.
In mountain communities of Cayambe, Otovalo and Tunguragua, festivities can include sports competitions, running of the bulls and workshops about the environment, the whole thing lasting up to a month. Further south at Ingapirca, Ecuadors largest Inca site, Inti Raymi is marked by a sombre and ceremony bringing together Inca traditions and the local Canari culture. Dressed in white to represent peace, the Taita Roque Ochoa gives offerings to give thanks to mother earth, all followed by plenty of traditional dancing and eating.
Inti Raymi in Peru
Banished by the Spaniards in the 16th Century, Inti Raymi in Cusco is now undeniably back, in a multicolored event that takes over the whole city. Thousands of visitors flock to Cusco to see the spectacular show and tickets for reserved seats sell out well in advance.
Although a week-long festival with music and parades throughout the city, the big event is a staged spectacular of drama, music and dance. Starting at the Incan temple of Quoricancha, 500 specially selected actors dressed in elaborate costume re-enact the invocation of the sun led by the Sapa Inca. The action then continues through the streets of Cusco to the Inca fortress of Sacsayhaman. Different characters represent the Andean cosmos of life on earth and below. There is an elaborate stage act of the llama sacrifice and numerous set pieces and dramatic dances all culminating in stacks of straw being set on fire to ensure the fertility of the earth. After more dancing around the fire, the groups of actors finish with a parade through Cusco. This is a fantastic event, thoroughly well rehearsed and choreographed to be as similar to the original Incan ceremony as possible.
Where to go for Inti Raymi?
For authentic beliefs and a genuine celebration, head to Tiwanaku in Bolivia. For a more solemn ceremony Ingapirca in Ecuador is the place; and for a big lavish production, join the crowds in Cusco!
See more of James Brunkner´s Inti Raymi photos