This morning, early, Cuzco sprouted yellow confetti. It seems to be everywhere, a trail of yellow around the edge of houses and buildings. It is the Day of the Pachamama, the Lady of the Earth or Earth Mother, a time when people bless their houses and businesses by making the festive offering of yellow. Others will make an entire “payment” (pago) to the earth in a ritual meal that they burn so she can enjoy its smoke and be fed.
At this time of year the earth is brown. Winter is at its most intense. At night it is very cold and in the day the sun bakes the earth intensely, drying most vegetation. The wind blows and the earth seems stressed and strained by extremes.
In rural Cuzco people perform rituals to care for the earth and help it through this difficult time so that in a couple of months it will sprout again in green and give people fresh food.
This custom of feeding the earth through ritual and through offerings has its own form in the city. There people do not have fields on the whole, but they do claim houses and businesses. As a result they feed them with symbols of wealth and abundance–yellow flowers and confetti, as well as sweets, so that life and growth will fill them and keep them producing for people.
In preparation, people cleaned their houses and businesses well. Yesterday, or before, they went to the market and bought yellow confetti and yellow flowers, incense (especially palo santo –holy stick– burserea graveolens ),and wine or chicha.
Then, they will bless the house with what is called a sahumerio. They light the palo santo and watch it burn, before blowing it out and letting an intense, perfumed, smoke rise. They carry the smoking stick throughout their house or business to smudge it, to let the smoke heal it and bless it.
Smudging with incense is not only used for houses and businesses on this day, it has many other purposes. It can be used to bless cars, such as they do at the very important pilgrimage shrine of the Lord of Huanca, outside of Cuzco. At the even more important shrine of Qoyllurriti, people buy miniatures as desires for the upcoming year. As part of the hope they will grow into a full sized version of themselves, a miniature house into a full sized house, a small car into a running, regular vehicle, people pay an Andean priest to smudge them with incense as well.
Incense is not only used to bless houses, businesses, and cars, but also people. For example, if babies get sick and become listless or seemingly soulless people will also bless them with incense as a means of bringing them back into the world of their family and friends.
Smudging, as a result, fits into a long and ancient tradition of cleansing and bringing vitality.
There is more. The yellow confetti and the petals of the yellow flowers will be carefully placed in the corners of each room of a house, as well as along the edges. The same thing is done in businesses. The yellow suggests abundance and growth.
Then people will take a bottle of sweet wine, generally called oporto, or port wine, or a tall glass of chicha, and sprinkle it as well in the corners and along the edges of the home.
This combines sprinkling of wine and the casting of confetti and petals is called a ch’alla and is something of importance.
When people undergo rituals that move them from one status to another confetti and often petals are placed on their heads until they cascade downward. Petals are thrown on the most sacred figure of Cuzco, the Lord of Temblors when he makes his grand procession through the city on the Monday of Holy Week, as they also are on other holy images.
In addition, flower petals and the sprinkling of alcohol forms part of ritual meals offered regularly to the earth and various holy places around Cuzco called huacas.
We should also notice that when people receive a glass of beer or chicha, before they drink it, they pour or sprinkle the first drops to the earth to share it with the Pachamama.
Today, the first of August, the people of Cuzco feed the earth as they also bless their homes and business through smudging and giving them yellow confetti, called mistura or mixtura, and sweet wine.
In Cuzco’s neighborhoods it is not uncommon to see groups of people gathered together and sharing coca leafs one with another today. As they choose leaves and form them into k’intus, bundles of three well selected leaves, they also blow on them in offering to the sacred mountains and other huacas of Cuzco, then they wet them in their mouths and lightly chew them before leaving the wad sit against their cheek or lip. K’intus of coca are also put together to give to the earth as part of an offering, a ritual meal called a pago, payment, but also a misawhich means both mass and table in reference to flat stone, an altar where it can be prepared.
Among the people is a Andean priest, head covered in a traditional cap or ch’ullu, chullu in Spanish). Coming from rural areas to the city, these men know which offering is most important and know the process of putting the elements together like building a future, piece by piece, in order to bring good fortune through feeding the earth at this harsh time.
Not only individual families make payments to the earth. Formal institutions, such as the Municipality of Cuzco, do so as well. This morning there was a payment made at the pampa of the Qoricancha, the flat, grassy land at the side of ancient temple of the Sun.
At noon, another pago will be carried out in the temple complex of Sacsayhuaman. Andean priests have come from symbolically important places, such as Q’ero, to make the offering properly and authentically given its increasing importance. Andean ways, such as pagos, have become part of the official municipal culture and are taken very seriously today.
In these formal events–as well as when offerings are made in the family home, or near the huacas, people on receiving the k’intu and placing it ont he offering quietly concentrate and wish for peace and well being, among other things. All the while in the public ceremonies, an official expresses a public prayer for well being.
As August opens, this month of stress, the people of Cuzco begin preparing a better future of lots of produce, good health, happy, growing families, and good business through smudging and making offerings of ritual food–confetti, flowers, wine, and even more formal bundles of carefully combined ingredients.
As the month reaches its midpoint, the fifteenth, many people watch the skies for signs of rain. Even though this is the heart of the dry season, this day is seen as an augury for the rest of the year. Called “Las Cabañuelas,” this is an ancient custom, though many scholars locate its origins in Spain where it is a custom of the Spanish peasantry.
Nevertheless, the custom finds new life in Cuzco in this month when the earth’s new year begins while the Pachamama is open and stretched from the dry and cold. If their sacrifices and payments have worked then during Cabañuelas they will see the effect and observe a good year. But if Cabañuelas is not a good augury, then they will batten down and take redressive action, including more offerings.
Though people in the city no longer practice agriculture, the Pachamama, like their houses and businesses, continues to be important to them. Today they do ritual to keep them living and producing.