Inti Raymi – a solstice celebration
While cultures in the northern half of the world celebrate their longest day in the year (mid-summer), cultures in our country partake of a grand festival “to bring the sun back to latitude zero”, that is, to the equator. As the sun “moves” to its northernmost journey (or the Tropic of Cancer – latitude 23 degrees), our natives attempt to “tie it up” to bring it back south. This action of “tying up” is known as the Inti Watana that takes place during the Inti Raymi Festival, widely observed among the Andean countries.
The indigenous communities divide the year in four, that is, the two equinoxes and the two solstices. Equinoxes celebrate all that is feminine and solstices all that is masculine, which make up the dualism of life: day and night, sun and moon, hot and cold, weak and strong, etc. We all share this dualism within ourselves – and during these festivities we learn to recognize and appreciate complementary opposites through nature and music, and to see them reflected in our own bodies and minds.
The most important celebrity during the Inti Raymi is the Aya Huma, a spirit that keeps the party up and going all night long. He is the “elemental energy” of the festival and when he dances, everyone must follow! Legend tells of a man that participated in every important cultural event in the community until his wife passed away. One day, he saw a group of men approaching his house dancing in a circle without touching the ground. The floor began to tremble as they came closer. He could see them wearing a mask with a face in the front and back, each representing the two parallel worlds on this earth, the kaypacha as we know it where we live, and the chayshupacha where the spirits live. He thus decided to make a mask to wear it during this major masculine festival in the year, the Inti Raymi, becoming therefore the main driving force of the celebration. Nowadays, the man that dresses like the Aya Huma must truly connect with the forces of nature to be able to feel the energy that flows from the chayshupacha, otherwise the people will not follow him. The concept of this character is much more than just folklore, given that his presence is particularly important in the village of Cayambe, as well as Otavalo and Peguche, in the provinces of Pichincha and Imbabura, respectively.
Other important characters are the Takik or musicians that play the guitar, charango, flute, violin and drums, among other instruments. The Tushuk or dancers, guided by the Aya Huma and following folkloric rhythms, imitate the movement of a serpent, that is, a helix forming circles, which represents wisdom. The purpose is to blend in with nature through music and movement as they emulate the sounds of the wind.
To start the festivities, people gather in the evening to dance, play music and present offerings to Mother Earth. In Otavalo, people flock to the Peguche Waterfall late at night to bathe in its waters and cleanse their bodies and spirits; this ritual is called Armay Tuta. Once they are clean and re-energized, they can then continue to dance in a circle, stomping their feet hard on the ground to bring up the female energy from the earth. The Raymi lasts one to two weeks!
With the Spanish conquest and the introduction of Christianity, the indigenous festivals were at first prohibited, only to later merge and create the religious syncretism that now exists and characterizes our culture. Such is the case of the Inti Raymi that coincides with the festivities of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which take place at the end of June and are one of the best Ecuadorian cultural manifestations in southern Cuenca.
It is important to acknowledge our cultural roots to give them the importance they deserve. Furthermore, our cultural identity is the combination of all of these beliefs and traditions that have lived through the centuries, adopting and adapting to endure the passing of time.