Sunday, July 1, 2012

Inti Raymi in Cotacachi

In most parts parts of Ecuador and South America Inti Raymi is a celebration of the solstice and a new growing season that traces it's roots to hundreds of years ago.  Wherever the Incas had their influence, you will see it celebrated even today.  In most cases the necessary 'sacrifices' to appease and please the Incan gods have been disbanded and no longer is there actual human or animal blood shed.

Not so much in Cotacachi.  Each year in Cotacachi the 'celebrants' have their own rendition of Inti Raymi.  Local legend has it that the current form of celebration in Cotacachi may go back several hundred years to a place in time where the Hatfields had bad blood with the McCoys.  In this case the Hatfields may have been located in La Calera (near Cotacachi) and the McCoys in Quiroga (also near Cotacachi).  The Hatfields stole a sacred bull from the  McCoys.  Then to add insult to injury, they ate it.  Relations have never been the same since.  Today, Cotacachi is the place where groups of indigenous converge to 're-enact' this fateful bull theft and ceremonial blood letting.  It just so happens to correlate to Inti Raymi, ostensibly that perhaps the bull theft took place during that celebration hundreds of years ago.

The 'party' starts around the day of Inti Raymi, the 24th of June, give or take a few days.  At first the participants seem to be in good cheer albeit with a little sense of future conflict with the other groups.  Most participants wear pointed hats that appear to be like a nail head.  Many of them also wear chaps.  The chaps apparently are worn to help protect their legs when they start kicking each other in their ceremonial fighting.

We have had a bird's eye view of the revelers as they have marched and stomped past our apartment on Diez de Agosto on their way back and forth from their demonstrations on the main square in Cotacachi.

When they arrive at the square the stomping march seems to become louder and fiercer.  The whistling by the participants keeps the rhythm in concert and adds to the element of a warlike group.  One by one each group stomps in cadence and on command starts to circle, typically at the corners of the square.  In the first days of Inti Raymi it is festive with many spectators seated in front of the church to watch the men of all ages parading, whistling cadence, and in general having a testosterone party.  

Rachel and I enjoyed the color and festivities also in the town square.  We had the perfect setup to watch from the doorway of a little pizzeria.  The owner's daughter captured our heart and Rachel soon had her arms around her.  The little ones here are gorgeous creatures with smiles that would melt cold steel.

A couple nights later at least two men died and several were hospitalized in the ceremonial fighting.  This is not unusual.  It is not the first time there have been fatalities.  Blood has to be spent.  There are parts of an indigenous culture we can only accept and hope some day to understand.  I'm sure the wars we wage don't make sense to them either.   Right now we just pray for the families of dead revelers.