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A masked woman leads a procession as part of the ceremony of Pawkar Raymi.

Andean Village comes alive with Pawkar Raymi, Equinox Celebration to honor Mother Earth

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On March 21, residents of three indigenous communities in Saraguro, a remote Andean municipality in Ecuador, celebrated the Pawkar Raymi (ceremony of blossoming) to honor the Pachamama (Mother Earth) for her bountiful provisions.  It is one of four major celebrations in the Andean calendar, each tied to a specific astronomical event. The Pawkar Raymi fiesta coincides with the March Equinox and the Christian celebration of Carnival, reflecting the fusion of Christianity with ancient customs and beliefs.

The municipality of Saraguro, Ecuador.

The municipality of Saraguro, Ecuador. Photo source: April Holloway / Ancient Origins

Pachamama, Fertility Goddess of the Andes

In Inca mythology, Pachamama is a fertility goddess who presides over the forces of nature – controlling earthquakes and overseeing the planting and harvesting of crops – and has the power to sustain all life on earth. She is the wife of Pacha Kamaq, ‘Creator of the World’, and their children are Inti, the sun god, and Killa, the moon goddess. She was revered by the indigenous people of the Andes for hundreds of years until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, who forced conversion to Roman Catholicism. Thus, Pachamama became fused with the figure of the Virgin Mary over time and the original tradition of honoring Pachamama was quelled. But all was not lost. In 2000, the peoples of Saraguro decided to revive their ancient traditions, bringing back the age-old celebration of Pawkar Raymi.

Besides Saraguro, Pawkar Raymi is celebrated in the indigenous communities of Peru and Bolivia.

A Quechuan shaman prepares an offering to Pachamama

A Quechuan shaman prepares an offering to Pachamama (Image by  Ingeniería Sin Fronteras Asociación para el Desa )

The Proud Traditions of Saraguro

The reestablishment of Pawkar Raymi is a reconnection by the people of Saraguro with their heritage. “The community was created more than 500 years ago when the Incas relocated thousands of residents of what today is Bolivia to the area, 90 miles south of Cuenca,” writes Cuenca High Life .

“Many of our traditions were lost in the process, as well as during Spanish colonization, and today we are recovering them,” says Carlos Cartuche, director of Intercultural Center in Saraguro.

Many of the residents of Saraguro claim direct Incan ancestry. Children are often named after Incan royals and most of the residents continue to speak Quechua, the language of the Inca, although Quechua had already spread across wide ranges of the central Andes long before the expansion of the Inca Empire.  Despite the widespread conversion to Roman Catholicism after the arrival of the Spanish, many also still participate in Inca ceremonies.

The traditional clothing of the Saraguro residents is also said to be linked to the Inca. Both men and women dress in black; the men wear knee-length trousers and black ponchos, while the women wear pleated skirts and a black shawl. The hair of men, women, and children is worn in a single, long plait, and is often topped with a black felt hat (although during Pawkar Raymi they wear a white hat).

“Many claim that the black dress is a sign of respect and mourning for the Incan prince Atahuallpa, betrayed and murdered by the Spanish, who ruled the area before the conquest,” reports Cuenca High Life. “Others, however, say it originated much later.”

Men and women of Saraguro in traditional clothing prepare floral arrangements outside the town cathedral.

Men and women of Saraguro in traditional clothing prepare floral arrangements outside the town cathedral. Photo source: April Holloway / Ancient Origins

Pawkar Raymi, a celebration of Pachamama

The ritual celebration of Pawkar Raymi involves the passing of responsibility for the protection of the land from one leader to another.

“The festivities began with a cold cleansing bath for the new leader at 4.00 a.m.,” said April Holloway of Ancient Origins, who attended this year’s celebration. “Considering it was a misty and chilly morning of 8 ̊C (46 F), this must have been quite a test of endurance.”

Celebrations continued with a parade through the town. “Musicians led the procession with drums, pipes, and accordions. They were followed by two horse-riders, four princesses, and a mass of men, women, and children dressed in traditional clothing,” reports April Holloway.  “Fire crackers rang loudly over the crowd of spectators that lined the streets, and a spectacular offering of fruits was laid out in the central square awaiting the arrival of the procession so the main ceremony could begin.”

A procession through the streets of Saraguro formed part of the Pawkar Raymi celebrations. 

A procession through the streets of Saraguro formed part of the Pawkar Raymi celebrations. Photo source: April Holloway / Ancient Origins

The four princesses stopped for a quick photo before the procession continued winding its way through the streets of Saraguro.

The four princesses stopped for a quick photo before the procession continued winding its way through the streets of Saraguro. Photo source: April Holloway / Ancient Origins

A fruit offering was laid out in the central square for the main ceremony in which Pachamama was thanked for the first fruits of the year.

A fruit offering was laid out in the central square for the main ceremony in which Pachamama was thanked for the first fruits of the year. Photo source: April Holloway / Ancient Origins

During the official and spiritual aspects of the ceremony, a new festival Queen, or  Pawkar Ñusta, was elected, and a priest led blessings to Pachamama, stopping once at each of the four cardinal directions to blow a large shell, which echoed throughout the town. The priest blessed bouquets of flowers by spraying water upon them with his mouth, before anointing the participants of the ceremony in the same way. The ritual ended with a symbolic presentation of fruit to the wife of the prioste (festival sponsor), followed by the tossing of fruit offerings to the spectators and a communal feast had by all.

The priest (far right) blew a horn and made a blessing to Pachamama at each of the four cardinal directions.

The priest (far right) blew a horn and made a blessing to Pachamama at each of the four cardinal directions. Photo source: April Holloway / Ancient Origins

The revival of the age-old ceremony of Pawkar Raymi has helped to strengthen the identity and cultural heritage of the people of Saraguro, as well as other communities throughout the Andes, bringing them back in touch with the ancient mythology of the Inca.

Children of Saraguro enjoy the festivities.

Children of Saraguro enjoy the festivities. Photo source: April Holloway / Ancient Origins

Featured image: A masked woman leads a procession as part of the ceremony of Pawkar Raymi. Photo source: April Holloway / Ancient Origins

References:

Pawkar Raymi - Celebrating Gifts from Mother Earth – Ecuador.com. Available from: http://www.ecuador.com/blog/pawkar-raymi-celebrating-gifts-from-mother-earth

The Saraguro people of southern Ecuador maintain their independence and strong ties to their Incan ancestors – by Eadon Chartres. Available from: http://cuencahighlife.com/the-saraguro-people-of-southern-ecuador-maintain-their-independence-and-strong-ties-to-their-incan-ancestors/

The Pawkar Raymi, an ancient Andean celebration that is conserved in indigenous communities in Ecuador – Andes.info. Available from: http://www.andes.info.ec/es/noticias/pawkar-raymi-antigua-celebracion-andina-conserva-comunidades-indigenas-ecuador.html

Saraguro Indians celebrated the Pawkar Raymi – Metro Ecuador. Available from: http://www.metroecuador.com.ec/66074-indigenas-de-saraguro-celebraron-el-pawkar-raymi-o-fiesta-de-florecimiento.html

By John Black

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