Kulla Raymi & the equinox
On Sep 23rd, we witness the equinox, when the sun is directly over the Equator. From this day, the Sun starts moving southwards towards the Tropic of Capricorn. The word equinox means equal night, when day and night have the same duration all over the world. On the Equator, at noon the Sun is at the zenith, that is directly overhead, thus there is no shadow projected. We can better see this natural occurrence at the Quitsato Sundial north of Quito.
In September, we celebrate the Kulla (Koya or Qolla) Kaymi or Fertility Festival in the Andean countries, during which we thank Mother Earth for its life force. In Kechwa, koya can mean “south”, but it also can mean “princess”, depending on the pronunciation. The Koya was the Inca’s wife, so the festival can be said to have a royal history, honoring women and rendering them as princesses. After the land has rested in August, it is again prepared for the next planting season in September, particularly for corn. During the festivities, food offerings are made to honor Pachamama, making a hole in the ground and “feeding” her what she has given us throughout the year, e.g. potatoes, quinua, corn, vegetables and fruits.
The centerpiece of this celebration is the “chicha del yamor” (yamur tuktuy in kichwa) or fermented corn beer that is prepared with 7 different types of corn: popcorn, chulpi, morocho, jora, white corn, black corn and yellow corn. It has to be cooked for 12 hours and traditionally the women would sing and recite blessings while it boiled. Once the corn’s natural oils start to come out, you take the pot away from the fire and let it sit in oak casks to aquire the right taste. Unlike other chichas, aromatic herbs are not added to the drink. In Ecuador, this festival is primarily observed in the Imbabura province, especially in Otavalo.
It is no coincidence that the indigenous festivals happen around the equinoxes and solstices (read about the Inti Raymi). The apparent movement of the sun in relation to the Earth creates the seasons, therefore determining the agricultural calendar, which is kept to this day.