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Inti Raymi: Pageant, Huatia, and Hints of Qoyllur Rit’i

Smoke flowed in a cloud over the grassy lands to the side of Saqsayhuaman from early in the morning and traffic was heavy. Long before the crowds arrived at the site of the ancient temple of Saqsayhuaman for the performance of the Inti Raymi pageant with its honoring the sun and sacrifice of a llama for Cusco, people were already on site.

Before noon the grassy grounds were covered with perhaps as many as thirty thousand people opening the earth and stacking clods in carefully constructed hive ovens which they would then fire up until very hot and then fill with potatoes and other tubers before collapsing it and letting them cook. Many others streamed in through out the day to make their own ovens and eat huatia, earth oven cooked food.

Today the scent of cooking potatoes and even grilling meat was particularly strong. People gathered precisely where the now growing sun strikes the city in the mornings. Today that morning i particularly significant since, instead of at the solstice, today is when a feast for the sun happens, both the pageant of Inti Raymi and the feast of huatia.

The grassy area was mobbed with people, each sitting in a family group or a group of friends, near an earth oven in process, or eating the results.

This was not unlike the esplanade of Qoyllur Rit’i where people play at having houses, cars, diplomas, or whatever they desire. Here they did not play, though, they lived their family and friends.

Qoyllur Rit’i fell at the beginning of Cuzco’s Jubilee Month, this year, and the huatia (as well as the pageant of Inti Raymi) closes it.

Inti Raymi in the Plaza Today (Walter Coraza Morveli)
Inti Raymi in the Plaza Today (Walter Coraza Morveli)

Inti Raymi, the pageant, began this morning at the Temple of the Sun in the city, at the supposed end of a tunnel connecting Saqsayhuaman with it. There the Inca and Queen appeared along with representatives of each of the four suyos, portions, of the Inca Empire, called Tawantinsuyo. It is as if the Inca came from the earth where many people say the Incas still live to visit their city and their descendants. When the Inca speaks in a stentorian voice in Quechua many people are moved. The force and power, the strength and glory of their ancestors is made visible for them.

From the Qoricancha, the pageant moves to the Plaza de Armas and from there in early afternoon to the esplanade of Saqsayhuaman. People talk about the time the clouds came in and covered the sky while Inti Raymi was going on. The day was cold and dark. When the inca lifted his large cup of chicha to the sky in offering, the clouds broke and a ray of sun illuminated the Inca and his beaker. It was a marvelous and magical moment sealing the pageant in people’s minds and the acceptance of Cusco and its people by the Sun.

People in the city mostly see the pageant on television and have family members or friends who perform in the pageant. It is very expensive to see the pageant’s main portion on Saqsayhuaman.

The pageant is very important and is the culmination, officially, of Cusco’s Jubilee Month. It is an ideological riven performance that fits in the ideal of Cusqueñismo, the idea that the city and its people are the children of the Incas. The cusqueñista project goes into the school and claims the city’s social organizations. On TV this morning as the pageant was slowly beginning the commentators wondered how they could communicate more strongly the meaning of Tawantinsuyo and the coming together of the fours suyos in the pageant to the city and especially to school children.

Yet there is a parallel feast, on the side of the official one. It is much more numerous and engaging, yet it is mostly uncommented and does not find its way at all onto official calendars.

This is the feast of huatia, obviously related to the solstice and the growing sun in terms of where it happens and in terms of what happens—the making of earth ovens and the sharing of a collective meal, each preparing their own and sitting in family, while doing it all together on the grassy slopes to the side of Saqsayhuaman.

Huatia Day in Sacsayhuaman (Walter Coraza Morveli)
Huatia Day in Sacsayhuaman (Walter Coraza Morveli)

This feast has lots of meaning but, unlike the pageant, its greatest meaning never needs to be spoken or written in the books of intellectuals and the curriculum of the schools. It simply is the preparing and eating of a meal together as a great city on the grassy area where the sun strikes and illuminates as it grows.

It is a winter feast, dependent on dry earth, dry fuel, and freshly harvested potatoes. Year after year people come here. Even as the daylight started growing short and many people were leaving, many others were arriving. The crowd grew throughout the day as people came, made their meal, and left.

Though no one says anything, it is an important part of the feast of the sun, pairing intriguingly with Qoyllur Rit’i where people also go for the rising sun and for the miraculous image of Christ on the rock at the foot of a gleaming glacier.

Cusco’s season of celebration and feat is now over. The next main celebration is Peruvian Independence day. This city and region, strongly governed by an urban elite with a cusqueñista ideology and practice shifts back to its day to day reality.

Ponchos get put away along with costumes, though people will talk of dancing, parading, eating chiriuchu, and huatia. The ideology goes back into the books and ordinary life reclaims its place in the valley of the Huatanay river.

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