The Inti Raymi is a ceremonial event celebrated in the South American Andean mountains that honours of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. It has Incan origins and is one of the most important celebrations for Kichwas from the Andes, remaining strong despite years and years of colonialism and assimilation.
The way of celebrating this day has changed throughout time but the spirit remains the same: giving back to Pachamama (Mother Earth). While it is an ancient tradition, it remains part of a modern indigenous identity and has sacred spiritual significance. It is about showing gratitude to Inti (the sun) and to the harvests of the year, which come from the fertile earth of Pachamama.
Otavalo Kichwas perform a series of events, beginning with a cleanse called the Armay Chishi. People gather around sacred places such as rivers, lakes, and waterfalls, where natural elements have strength. Kichwas bathe in the cold waters flowing from the Andes that arrive in the community during the night. In this way, their bodies and souls are cleansed to welcome a new natural cycle; a new sun. This act initiates a series of cosmic events that are a necessary precursor for the Inti Raymi celebration.
An important character in Inti Raymi celebrations is the Aya Huma, who is a spiritual leader that is often mistakenly associated with the devil due to the demonization of traditional Andean spirituality. The Aya Huma wears a mask with two faces, representing the dualities in the Andean world: day and night, past and future, north and south. Its hair represents a serpent, which symbolizes ancestral wisdom. This leader possesses the powers of the Pachamama and is responsible for the spiritual and cosmic order of indigenous peoples.
Music is a key component of the event, as it is spiritual and emanates power. The dance that accompanies it is the stomping of the feet while moving in a circle (both clockwise and counter clockwise) with the musicians in the middle. This rhythm is meant to keep Mother Earth alert, as she is very tired after giving us so much. The music and dance offers her strength and both are representative of a fighting ritual. Here blood and sweat is shed, a conscious act that gives back energy and life to Pachamama for her to be ready for the next cycle of growth.
An Inti Raymi event honouring these traditions and organized by Otavalo Kichwas will be held in Toronto on June 24th. It will run from 6 pm to 11 pm and will be held at 22 Wenderly Drive. All are invited and welcome.