The Festival of Inti Raymi takes place toward the end of June each year in the Andean villages of Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador, where crowds gather to celebrate and show gratitude for the bounty of the earth with a variety of colorful traditional rituals. Inti Raymi, which means Festival of the Sun or the sun’s resurrection is celebrated in the villages of in Cotacachi, Otavalo, Ibarra and Antonio Ante in the Imbabura Province of Ecuador.
During Inti Raymi, members of the indigenous communities go to local springs, rivers and waterfalls to undergo ritual spiritual purification, which they believe results in a renewal of energy and a strengthening of their relationship with Mother Nature. In Otavalo, this ritual takes place at midnight in the nearby waterfall that is considered to be sacred.
As part of the celebrations, lively music accompanies dancers who are led by the Aya Uma – a mythological character believed to be the spirit of the mountain. A respected member of the community will play the part of the Aya Uma, by wearing a mask with two faces (representing day and night), and with twelve horns (representing the twelve months of the year). Stamping their feet to encourage Mother Earth to be rejuvenated for the new agricultural cycle, the dancers go around in circles which represents the two equinoxes and two solstices that take place annually. Musicians in the center of the circling dancers play music which represents the life-giving power of the sun, while the fruit carried by performers is an offering made to Mother Earth in gratitude for the harvest. A variety of mainly maize-based foods and beverages are prepared and enjoyed as part of Inti Raymi – a favorite being the corn fermented beverage, chicha.
Inti Raymi is also a celebration of reclaiming an indigenous identity which had been lost for a period of time. It opens an opportunity for indigenous Ecuadorians to stand together and be proud of their heritage, and proud of whom they are today. In Cotacachi this is celebrated by a march into the city’s central plaza, decorated with boldly striped flags representing unity, while respecting diversity. Following the march, music and dancing continue for hours in a joyous celebration of life.The next day the alteration was evident. An Indian blows a shell trumpet during the Inti Raymi ‘La toma de la Plaza’ (Taking of the square) is an ancient ritual kept by Andean indigenous communities.
From the early morning of the feast day, various groups of dancers from remote mountain villages dance in a slow trot towards the main square of Cotacachi. Reaching the plaza, Indians start to dance around. They pound in synchronized dance rhythm, shout loudly, whistle and wave whips, showing the strength and aggression. Dancers from either the upper communities (El Topo) or the lower communities (La Calera), joined in respective coalitions, seek to conquer and dominate the square and do not let their rivals enter. If not moderated by the police in time, the high tension between groups have ended up in violent clashes the last two years. Thanks to my friend Yaku, We got chance to join to Topos dancer groups. Early We went to the house of one of the community member. We found them getting ready for the celebration.
I was honored to participate with “Los topos” also known as “The pigeons” because they wear white. they get into every house to invite everybody, they dance in a circle and sing to get into a kind of collective psychosis. While we were waiting outside to the house I saw the group coming I could not avoid feel excited every step that they took my pulse and my heart quicken.
Participants are seen as warriors and as long as the Inti Raymi end, the different groups are seen as enemies whose aim is to conquer the square.
The attire of both groups is formed by a peculiar cardboard pointy hat which they painted a series of symbols some as extravagant as the Nazi swastika, the objective is to instill fear in their enemies.
They also wear animal skin zamarras, they carry as weapons hard roots of nettle in which they embedded whips leather or metal ready to attack, some of them even hide his face with masks or scarves.
I accompanied “Los topos” on their way to the square, and as evidence of the influence of the Catholic Church I observed when the group leader asked his God Inti and his God Christian “luck” in the hard day. Commanding the dance group is the “Chaki” or captain who indicates the path and checks that nobody pass to front or exit the group.
I felt the adrenaline close these warriors, it was like get ready to go to battle, was very impressive, shocking and scary feel all the energy that is transmitted and all the strength with which they are going down to the square.
Meanwhile dozens of people were waiting in the square, the police was part of the tense calm and I ran quickly to be part of the rostrum. I found somebody who was watching very attentive.
Suddenly the communities entered, tusuy or dancers dance in the four corners of the square the objetive is dance around the park three times they get “the taking of the square” in symbolic way.
the musicians are an important part of the group and they are protected in the center.
It was an extraordinary experience, in the group I found children, teenager, elderly, women. I asked a boy of about 7 or 8 years old: Why are you dancing? He said, “For my culture”. I can not end my post without sharing one of the most beautiful scenes of this culture tour.