Travels with V

Peru & Ecuador

The Inca way to greet the Sun

Cusco part two

The day after the fiesta we rise far too early. And we’re off to see the biggest event of the year in Cusco, the Inti Raymi. It’s a bit of a confusion here, especially for us from the northern hemisphere. Inti Raymi is the winter solstice, when the Incas greeted the sun’s return. But we’re here in the middle of summer.

And besides it’s the wrong day, it should be June 21, but today is the 24th. Why? Once again it’s the Inca-ization at play. Already in the 1940:s the mayor of Cusco reintroduced the Inca holiday in the city calendar. June 24 had for centuries been the day for remembrance of a catholic saint. So the Mayor did as the Spaniards once did – stole that day. And now the parade for the saint is a matter for just a handful of worshippers.

“After a while fights break out”

But the Inti Raymi brings the whole city on its feet. A spectacular show in two different places draws huge crowds. And it all starts at Korikancha, the place where the old Inca temple of the sun was situated. Today only a wall and a big grassy field remains.

We are there two hours before it starts, to get good seats. A wise decision, after a while there are so few remaining chairs that fights break out. Policemen are quickly there to calm things down.

Suddenly the sound of drums and Indian flutes are heard from a huge band and down the slope on the other side dancers are swinging and running dressed in colorful costumes. Hundreds of dancers filling up the grassy field and dancing in rows, rings, marching, swinging to the ecstatic music from the flutes and the drums. Some blow conches, making a loud hollow sound, considered so dangerous by the Spanish rulers that it was forbidden.

The dancing continues for more than an hour, all beautifully choreographed. There are four kinds of costumes, each one referring to a part of the mighty Inca empire, the coastal area, the desert, the jungles and the mountains. In the Inca days warriors from the four corners had walked to Cusco to celebrate Inti Raymi.

For the finale of this first part of the show, the Inca, the King appears on the top of the wall, greeting the sun in quechua, the language of the Incas. We don’t understand a word of it. Probably the spectators in the old Inca Inti Raymi didn’t either, since the king was severely intoxicated by hallucinogenic drugs.

Here are some more pictures from the ceremonies:

As the first part of the Inti Raymi ends we are happy to move on and feel the sun warming our freezing bodies. 

In the next chapter we follow the dancers up in the high hills for the second part of the Inca ritual.

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