In Peru, the phrase ‘party until the sun comes up’ takes on a whole new meaning in June as the festival of Inti Raymi shines a light on Inca culture
Inti Raymi Here comes the sun… festival – it’s time to party in Peru
Today, the term ‘sunworshipper’ tends to conjure images of lotion, deckchairs and Mediterranean sands. For the Inca, however, it was a part of life, finding its purest expression in the Inti Raymi festival, which honoured the god Inti (Quechuan for ‘sun’) in celebrations held every winter solstice in Cusco. By the mid-1500s, though, the Spanish had curtailed the festival (and later the entire empire), only for it to be resurrected 74 years ago. It’s been a fixture for Peru-bound travellers ever since.
Tell me more…
It was a big event, even by today’s standards, with more than 25,000 rulers, worshippers, noblemen and priests arriving for a nine-day celebration. Pilgrims fasted for the three days prior to the festival, which began in earnest with a parade of cloth-bound ancestral mummies from Qorikancha (Temple of the Sun) to Cusco’s Plaza de Armas – still the city’s main square today – and on to the fortress of Sacsayhuaman. Thereafter, it was a feast for the senses: coca leaves were burnt, dancers cavorted and people gulped down chicha de jora (maize beer). It was a nervous period for llamas, though, with over 200 sacrificed and their organs used to make predictions.
And the ‘new’ version?
Inti Raymi was outlawed by the Spanish after 1535, who deemed it a pagan rite, although clandestine versions continued. It was later revived as a condensed one-day event in 1944, knitting together historical accounts, archaeological finds and the modern rituals of indigenous communities (who perform as actors) to make for an authentic replica. On 24 June every year it traces the route from Cusco to Sacsayhuamán, complete with ‘Inca ruler’ carried on a golden throne. Visitors can follow the parade and gather on hills above the fortress, witnessing rituals and ‘sacrifices’. Sadly, the llamas don’t escape unscathed, but just a single animal is sacrificed these days.
Can I see it elsewhere?
Wherever the Quechuan people settled, Inti Raymi followed. In Bolivia, worshippers head to the pre-columbian site of Tiwanaku, on the plains outside La Paz, and in Ecuador they ‘purify’ themselves in the waters of the Andes – mountain communities, such as Otavalo, can celebrate for up to a month. It has even spread as far as San Francisco and Madrid. After all, you can’t keep a good party quiet.