Witnessing Peru’s Enduring, if Altered, Snow Star Festival


At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with journey restrictions in place worldwide, we launched a brand new collection — The World Through a Lens — by which photojournalists assist transport you, nearly, to a few of our planet’s most stunning and intriguing locations. This week, Danielle Villasana shares a group of photos from southeastern Peru.


Stubbornly unfazed by warnings of “soroche,” or altitude illness, I swung my legs up onto a donkey and started to ascend the steep trails. After trekking for a number of dizzying hours alongside tons of of others, I approached a glacial basin. The scene started to unfold earlier than us: an immense valley flooded with so many pilgrims that it gave the impression to be coated in confetti, every tiny speck representing a huddled assortment of tents and folks.

The altitude illness started to overhaul each inch of my physique. Even my eyeballs ached. But, undeterred, I slowly navigated by the throngs of individuals making an attempt to absorb each sight and sound.

Each 12 months in late May or early June, 1000’s of pilgrims trek for hours on foot and horseback by Peru’s Andean highlands — slowly snaking their means up the mountainous terrain — for the non secular celebrations of Qoyllur Rit’i, held some 50 miles east of Cusco, as soon as the capital of the Incan empire.

Practiced yearly for tons of of years, the celebrations mark the beginning of the harvest season, when the Pleiades, a distinguished cluster of stars, return to the evening sky within the Southern Hemisphere. The syncretic pageant, which is on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, interweaves Indigenous and Incan customs with Catholic traditions introduced by Spanish colonizers, who sought to undermine Andean cosmology.

Celebrations were suspended this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the route to the valley completely blocked off. But when I attended in 2013, the crowds were remarkably dense.

The festival takes place in the Sinakara Valley, a glacial basin that sits around 16,000 feet above sea level. Celebrants swarm in colorful droves with costumes, enormous flags, instruments and provisions in tow.

The festivities begin with the arrival of a statue of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i, transported from the nearby town of Mahuayani, to the valley’s small chapel. For three days, from morning until night, amid the nonstop sounds of drums, flutes, whistles, accordions, cymbals and electric keyboards, the air is filled with billowing clouds of dust kicked up from twirling dancers; it settles on the sequins, neon scarves, ribbons, tassels and feathers that adorn people’s traditional costumes and attire.

Pilgrims here are divided into “nations,” which correspond to their place of origin. Most belong to the Quechua-speaking agricultural regions to the northwest, or to the Aymara-speaking regions to the southeast. The delegation from Paucartambo has been making the pilgrimage for longer than any other.

“It’s important to maintain this tradition, because we have a lot of faith,” said a young Paucartambo pilgrim dressed as an ukuku, a mythical half-man and half-bear creature. Costumed in red, white and black alpaca robes, the ukukus are responsible for ensuring the safety of the pilgrims; they act as intermediaries between the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i and the people.

Other participants include the ch’unchus, who wear headdresses and represent Indigenous communities from the Amazon; the qhapaq qollas, who wear knitted masks and represent inhabitants from the southern Altiplano region; and the machulas, who wear long coats over fake humpbacks and represent the mythological people to first populate the Andes.

Hundreds of ceremonies are held throughout the three-day festival. But the long-awaited main event is carried out by the ukukus in the early morning hours of the last day. Carrying towering crosses and candles, ukukus from each nation ascend the Qullqipunku mountain toward a nearby glacier, regarded as alive and sentient. (The snow-capped mountains circling the valley are also believed to be mountain gods, or Apus, that provide protection.)

According to oral traditions, the ukukus, after scaling the icy slopes, once partook in ritualistic battles that were eventually prohibited by the Catholic Church.

Another tradition was also recently put to rest, this time by Mother Nature.

Up until only a few years ago, ukukus would carve slabs of ice from the glacier, whose melted water is revered as medicinal. Pilgrims would eagerly await the ukukus, backs bent from the weight of the ice, who would place the blocks along the pathway to the temple, to be used as holy water. Sometimes the ice was even transported to Cusco’s main square where, as Qoyllur Rit’i draws to a close, Corpus Christi celebrations kick off with comparable religious zeal.

Many believed that carrying the ice was a penance for sins, and that fulfilling this ritual meant the Apus would offer blessings.

But because much of the glacier has melted, significantly reducing its size, the tradition of carrying chunks of sacred ice down the mountain has been banned.



Source link Nytimes.com

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