Peru: Cápac Raymi, The Andean Christmas

Before the introduction of nativity festivities to Peru, the Incas would hold celebrations around the same dates of modern day Christmas festivities. The celebration Cápac Inti Raymi Killa [es], which coincided with the winter solstice, was “a religious festival in honour of the Sun and took place towards the end of December. Together, the Incas made animal sacrifices, drank chicha de jora, chewed coca and danced. This festivity corresponded to the first month of  the Incan calendar [es] and it was on this day that the ashes of the sacrifices were gathered and thrown to the rivers, in order to be taken out to the sea, to Viracocha, as an offering to their maker.

The Travel blog for Peru tells [es] a bit more about the story of Cápac Raymi:

En las celebraciones del Cápac Raymi se realizaba el “Warachikuy” una ceremonia de iniciación de los varones jóvenes del Tawantinsuyo y los sacerdotes ofrecían sacrificios de animales. Alonso Ramos Gavilán (1621), hace una referencia sobre el este culto pre colombino el cual se sucedía en la península de Copacabana (lago Titicaca), debemos recordar que toda esa área es considerada sagrada, como lugar de origen de los fundadores del Tawantinsuyo, Manco Cápac y Mama Ocllo.

It was during the celebrations of Cápac Raymi, that The “Warachikuy” occurred. The “Warachikuy” served as a religious ceremony for the initiation of young males from the Tawantinsuyo, when priests would offer animal sacrifices to the gods. Alonso Ramos Gavilán (1621), makes reference to this pre-colombian culture which has succeeded in surviving on the Copacabana peninsula (lake Titicaca). One must remember that all of this area is considered sacred; it is the place of origin of the founders of Tawantinsuyo, Manco Cápac y Mama Ocllo.
Cápac Inti Raymi

Cápac Inti Raymi

On this page, Qapaq Raymi examines [es] the reason for the significance of this ancestral festivity that is still celebrated nowadays in various Andean villages:

WARMI PACHA / KAPAK RAYMI – TIEMPO FEMENINO. […] Este tiempo es completamente femenino y hasta nuestros días es llamado como Warmi-Pascua, una pascua femenina. En este tiempo, los padres y madres de nuestras comunidades acostumbraban a seleccionar los destinos de los hijos e hijas de acuerdo a las destrezas y habilidades que habían demostrado en sus primeros años de vida, desde antes de su concepción hasta aproximadamente seis o siete años de edad. Era el tiempo del Mushuk-Wara, es decir los varones recibían su primer “pantalón”, porque hasta ese entonces eran vestidos con anaco, y las mujeres su primera “cinta” para el pelo, lo que indicaba el inicio de un nuevo ciclo en sus vidas. A partir de ese momento iniciarían a perfeccionarse en las habilidades y destrezas que hasta ese entonces habían demostrado tener mayor inclinación en sus juegos, imitaciones, gustos, comidas y otros.

WARMI PACHA / KAPAK RAYMI – FEMININE TIME. […] This time was completely feminine and today it is still known as Warmi-Pascua, a feminine Passover. During this time, fathers and mothers of our communities were accustomed to choosing the destinies of their boys and girls according to the abilities and skills that they had demonstrated during their first years of life, from before conception until approximately 6 or 7 years of age. It was the time of Mushuk-Wara, when the males would receive their first pair of pants (because until this stage all children wore only dresses) and the women in turn would receive their very first ribbon for their hair. These items served to indicate the beginning of a new chapter in their lives. In addition, both men and women would now begin to perfect their skills and abilities, that until now, had only been demonstrated at best within areas of play, imitation, their likes, meals etc.

Cápac Raymi is no longer celebrated as it once was in pre-colombian eras, greatly due to the process of cultural syncretism. In present day, there are elements in these festivities that are as much Incan as they are Christian and they take place around similar dates in various towns of the Peruvian Andes. For example, in the following video one can appreciate the parade for the festivities of Qhapaq Raymi in the village of Chavín, in the Ancash region, in 2008.

With regards to Christianity and the traditional part of Christmas, it has been centuries since Andean art has incorporated its own elements in artistic expressions. For example, such elements that can be seen in the painting Cuzco School (Escuela Cuzqueña). Today, it is through diverse works of craft that one is really able to appreciate this particular cultural fusion. A bit of it can be seen through these slides by Frida Bibi:

The music of the Andes must not be forgotten; with the traditional Christmas carols and their respective pairs, together with the instruments and rhythms of the Andes. The following video entitled, “La Siwar Situy” (“Luminous Sun”), identifies the sun, or as the Incas called it, Inti, as the main Incan deity. The video deals with the quechua cusqueño carol, interpreted by the Children and Adolescent Choir and Orchestra of the Qantu Cusco Cultural Association.

The following video is the cusqueño carol “Haku Wayqellay” (“Come brother”), as interpreted by The Polifónico Cusco Choir and the Aires Cusqueños Group, dated 1965.

The following video does not indicate the name of the quechua carol which it portrays, but shows images of the central Plaza in Cusco during a Christmas festivity. Year unknown.

The next video corresponds to a presentation by a group of students from Arequipa, interpreting a song in quechua:

The following is also a carol in quechua: “Llullu huahuacha”, although presented in a different musical style. The carol is interpreted by the association of Santa Cecilia of Chopccapampa, and performed by young boys and girls during a Catholic closing ceremony in Chuñupampa, Chopcca, Huancavelica, during December 2008.

In the mountains of the San Francisco de Querco Community, and also in the region of Huancavelica, researcher Claude Ferrier spent ten years investigating Christmas in the Andean villages. Ferrier maintains that although the Andean Christmas may assume different forms and expressions, it is celebrated with the same intensity and grandeur as in other parts of the world. In the blog, BOOKS – Libraries San Francisco, parts of the book that Ferrier published, “Christmas in the Andes,” are described [es] in detail. The blog also includes a video:

Para explicar la continuidad de la Navidad en los Andes el autor hace una relación entre la antigua celebración de la fiesta del Qhapaq Raymi prehispánico y la actual celebración de la Navidad en muchos pueblos andinos. Particularmente en la comunidad rural de Querco, la fiesta navideña comienza casi una semana antes del 25 de diciembre y se extiende hasta el día 27, a diferencia de su contraparte urbana y capitalina. El libro describe en detalle la fiesta, las comparsas y la música que impregnan de espíritu comunitario al distrito de Querco, haciendo hincapié en las técnicas utilizadas por el arpa andina y la coreografía del zapateo, protagonistas centrales de la Navidad en esta comunidad.

In order to explain the continuity of Christmas in the Andes, the author makes a link between the ancient celebration of the pre-colombian festival Qhapag Raymi and the present day celebration of Christmas in many andean villages. Specifically, in the rural community of Querco, the Christmas festivities begin almost a week before December 25th and continue until the 27th of the same month; contrary to its urban counterpart. The book describes in detail, the festival, the musical groups, and the music itself that is impregnated with all the community spirit from the Querco district, stressing upon the techniques used on the andean harp and the zapateo choreography, who afterall, are the main characters of Christmas in this community.

Finally, in Ayacucho, in the town of Laramate, Christmas is celebrated by dancing in a similar way to the famous danza de las tijeras (“dance of scissors”). This video is entitled: “Laramate Christmas- contrapunto de Atocata versus Patachana en el morro de chajtarumy”.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Guaman Poma De Ayala – El Primer Nueva Corónica Y Buen Gobierno (1615).

Related Post: Peru: Afro-Peruvian Christmas Music

Post originally published in Juan Arellano's personal blog, December 24th, 2011.

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