First Two Weeks and the Festival of Inti Raymi

One of my first big events was the festival of Inti Raymi held here in Cusco every June 24 on the Winter Solstice. What was great for me about the festival is that I learned that it reverses some of the negative effects of colonialism using a play book adapted from the Spanish, and it taught me about my own shortsightedness. 

Qurikancha. The large black foundation wall was once the outer wall of the Incan center. The walls also used to be plated with gold, which was shipped to Spain. 

Qurikancha. The large black foundation wall was once the outer wall of the Incan center. The walls also used to be plated with gold, which was shipped to Spain. 

The festival predates the arrival of the Spanish, but there is a healthy dose of Christianity in there as well. Colonialists were well known for taking native fixtures and changing them into Christian ones. For example, upon arrival in Cusco, the Spanish promptly destroyed the main religious center of the Incan Empire, called Inti Kancha, and built a church on the same spot, renaming it Qurikancha. By actively re-purposing large cultural fixtures, the Spanish both drew on the legitimacy the spot previously had and they redirected the culture in their direction. Peru is now a proudly Christian country with traditional Christian values, but Peruvians are very far from forgetting their pre-Christian forebearers. 

What is cool about this story is that the people of Cusco figured out how to play this game as well. For example, in the main church of Cusco, the massive depiction of the Last Supper shows Jesus sitting down to a meal of cuy, the most prominent ingenious dish. The streets here all have Quechua names. And the flag of the Incan empire flies from many of the Spanish colonial buildings in Cusco. 

The beginning of the parade. It lasted for more than 12 hours!

The beginning of the parade. It lasted for more than 12 hours!

But what got me thinking of writing this post was the festival of Inti Raymi, which was really more like a month-long festival. The festival is very much rooted in the pre-Spanish religion of the area. In the major moment of the festival, the golden Incan emperor receive his symbolic staff of rulership from someone dressed as a Spanish monk. There is a huge parade that goes through all of the big church squares, and the churches  even dress up for the event.

Inti Raymi celebrates the pre-Christian religion of Cusco, but it uses Chrisitian fixtures to do so. Maybe this occurs simply because the two traditions mixed and neither dominated the other. This would certainly be supported by the fact that Peru is a highly Christian country. But, all of Peru is religious, and not all of Peru celebrates a festival like this. This festival does not intend to counteract the religion of Christianity, but it does counteract the cultural standarization of the Spanish. It is a way of creating an identity that exists outside the identity brought to this area.

The Peruvian part of Inti Raymi. People build these hollow dirt mounds and light fires in them. Then they take off the top part of the mound to grill or they leave the mound intact and roast potatoes in them. The guys in the background are digging out the potatoes from an oven.

The Peruvian part of Inti Raymi. People build these hollow dirt mounds and light fires in them. Then they take off the top part of the mound to grill or they leave the mound intact and roast potatoes in them. The guys in the background are digging out the potatoes from an oven.

Identification seems to be a huge issue around here, and it is easy for those of us who come to this area to mistake a manufactured identity for an authentic one. The other thing I learned about Inti Raymi is that there are really two areas of celebration. One is a reenactment of the Incan religious ceremony, which is populated by tourists. The second is nearby, and really it is just a large carnival where all generations of families come out and cook in a large open space. This second part is almost exclusively Peruvian, and there are many more people there than at the first part.

Many "whole" things here seem to be really two parts put together - a native identity and a Christian identity, a festival with a touristy religious part and with an authentic family part. When I looked these things up, I only saw one part, but being here has reminded me of how shallow much of that travel information is. My first couple weeks have been good and challenging - more on that in the next post. I'm still surprised by how confident I was that I knew what would be happening while I am here. It's not that what I do is out of my contral, but there are many things I didn't see coming, like the fact that Inti Raymi has two parts and the part I learned about on the web was more for tourists anyway. I think next time, instead of relying too much on the Internet for help, I'll just decide to go to a place and see how it goes. More on how that works out to come as well.