Inti Raymi, A Celebration and a Struggle

The day dawns, sunny and bright in Cusco. Not a cloud can be found in the sky. The sun rules the day, though the morning is chilly. South America is suffering an outbreak of cold air. But the sun will prevail and the day will turn hot.

It is Inti Raymi, the Day of Cusco, and a celebration of the sun, or at least of the Incas honoring the sun. Throughout Peru it is also Day of the Rural Worker, and the feast of St. John when people light fires to bring warmth on what traditionally many would call “the coldest night of the year.” In the lowlands, they make juane, banana leaf wrapped packets of savory delight composed of chicken and rice.

The inca at in Inti Raymi (Walter Coraza Morveli)
The inca at in Inti Raymi (Walter Coraza Morveli)

In Cusco, today is a holiday. Traffic is light as performers make their way to the staging area for the pageant of Inti Raymi, what here they call an escenificación, a staging.

To the sound of Hollywood-style native drums, like any warpath beat the movies have done (strong tonic followed by three unstressed beats), the drama emphasizes the Inca’s receiving the morning sun and then his sacrifice to the mid-day sun, with lots of costumes and ponderous dances.

Though set decades ago as an attempt to recreate and update what was written by the much honored native sun of Cusco, the chronicler Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, as he described decades after he left the rituals he remembered in his immediately post-conquest city. Nevertheless, the staging is a product of its times, though constantly updated and changed as each mayor puts his mark on it.

Inti Raymi is the culmination of a major festival season that began with the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi, followed by the the Days of Cusco, two weeks of parades around three sides of the Plaza. Increasingly, the parades leave behind the Andean tradition of an entrance, i.e. dancing and marching over space on a ritual path through the city, to increasingly become a staged simulation of a feast. People dance on the three sides of the plaza where there are judges and especially in front of the cathedral where the television cameras can transmit their marching and dancing.

Two words characterize this: presente, as in FARTAC presente, the radical rural workers union notes itself present as part of the feast of Cusco. It claims to be part of the society and to have relevance to it. The other word is saludo, or salute. The FARTAC also sends greetings to the city and mutually constitutes itself with the city through the saludo.

In either case, the main theme these days is hierarchy, followed by spectacle. Mostly people stand around and await their turn to enter. They may practice their dances or marches, eat some food, or drink a beer, liquor, or some chicha. Waiting is their fate, until they arrive at the plaza where you can see the energy strike them and they prepare to break into march or dance.

Playing Quena in the Into Raymi (Walter Coraza Morveli)
Playing Quena in the Into Raymi (Walter Coraza Morveli)

The main focus is on the palco, the reviewing stand with the authorities and judges, as well as the television cameras. As a result, instead of standing along the streets and watching people pass by, your self in a mass of people constructing in this way the feeling and notion of a public sharing an experience, of either parading or watching, now most people spectate by turning on their televisions, if they do not simply ignore them.

Inti Raymi is a similar spectator performance. People in Cusco perform and they comment about the event and its changes. But they seldom spectate it unless by TV or video.

Instead they either ignore it and take the day for themselves, or they gather to make and eat huatia in a mass on the side of Saqsayhuaman, where the main performance takes place.

In this, they either emphasize the growing role of individualism in the formation of publics (and to take account of this the image of the Inca and the dances have even moved into the mall for marketing to persons so by shopping they can be part of the feast) or they emphasize family and horizontality as they make and eat huatia. They form a different body public to the side of the City’s main feast.

Indianist groups challenge Inti Raymi and the hierarchy of feasts in Cusco. They break the name Inti Raymi away from the marketed, codified, trade market, thing the elites would make it and try to return it to being a celebration of the sun and of Indian reality in a place where tourism and hispanized, market driven elites already claim it.

Starting the Procession, the Inca an His Sequito (Walter Coraza Morveli)
Starting the Procession, the Inca and His Sequito (Walter Coraza Morveli)

There is a struggle at the heart of Inti Raymi and it is not manifest on the stage. It is the struggle for representation and for forming a people in which Indians (to use a fought over word that is politically powerful) can claim a place and a significance.

That struggle is ongoing. For today, you can enjoy the pieces of Inti Raymi in the city, or go to Saqsayhuaman to pay to sit and watch. You can also go to the side, for free, and enjoy a huatia, potatoes and more cooked in the earth’s oven, in egalitarian style with your family and friends.

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