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The Ecuador festival of Inti Raymi is celebrated near the longest day of the year.

One day of the Inti Raymi festival in Cotacachi can turn dangerous and we recommend that visitors avoid Cotacachi on this day or at least stay away from the battle.  However the overall festival throughout the Andes is colorful and fun as is reported by Bonnie Keogh of our Ateam Ecuador.

By Bonnie Keough

Many of us know June 21st is the date of the summer solstice, the day when the northern hemisphere receives the most hours of sunlight.

However, in Ecuador, especially in the northern highlands, it is the time for Inti Raymi, the festival of the sun.  The festivities can go on for weeks; parades feature local musicians, dance groups, children’s groups  and other merrymakers.

If you are looking for peace and quiet, you might want to reschedule your visit.  Parties frequently last until dawn and the otherwise genteel folks celebrate with limitless energy.

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Inti Raymi is a celebration of thanks to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) , Inti  (God) and Sol (Father Sun) for the abundant harvest and prayers for another fruitful upcoming season.

Meals featuring the products of these local harvests are shared by families and friends.   Potatoes, beans, corn, mote, beans, cuy (guinea pig), chicken, pork and beef are some of the traditional foods.  Chicha, a fermented corn drink, is the the traditional beverage.

Food, music and dancing are key components of the festivities.  The idea is to stomp the ground while dancing to get the attention of Pacha Mama.

Tradition ties the Inti Raymi celebration to the Incas.  Indigenous cultures in Peru and Bolivia also maintain the custom.  However, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia all had thriving, prosperous indigenous cultures long before the Incas conquered the areas.

These were solar cultures, they knew life was possible only because of the sun, so I suspect the basis for the thanksgiving tradition was established prior to the Incas.

The pyramids at Cochasqui predate the Incas and support this theory.

The Peguche waterfalls are an important part of the celebration.  Locals walk to the falls to take part in a ritual cleansing to rid them of negativity for the coming year.

At midnight, the revelers strip and jump into the cool water, continuing a ritual that’s been going on for centuries.  Sorry, I don’t have any photos of that!

“Toma de la plaza” (taking of the plaza) is another ritual that’s been practiced as part of Inti Raymi.  Most villages celebrate  this as a symbolic gesture.

However, there have been young men killed when the violence got out of hand.

Otavalo, with it’s large indigenous population, is a focal point for the parades and celebrations.

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Colorful costumes, two sided masks and impromptu concerts are common sights during the weeks of celebration.  Ladies wear blouses embellished with bright embroidery, special hats made only for celebrations and skirts in colors of the rainbow.  A two sided mask is frequently worn, to be seen coming and going.

Otavalo mask

This hand crocheted mask for sale at Otavalo market can be purchased as a souvenir.

The men have a chance to show off their zamarros.  These are furry chaps made from goat, llama or alpaca hides.

Peggy modeling zamarros

Peggy Carper is a real estate broker in Cotacachi who often helps Ecuador Living subscribers.

No, Peggy doesn’t march in the parades wearing this outfit!

During our last import tour we visited the shop of the Cotacachi crafter who makes zamarros.  There aren’t too many artists left who have the skills to make these traditional garments.  He  makes children’s sizes as you can see in the photo as well as a variety of styles for adults.

zamarros

I particularly liked the embellishments he adds.  I think they would look great on purses, leather vests, totes, saddlebags, etc.

belts at zamarros shop

He also makes more practical items like these cowhide belts, wallets and luscious suede purses.

You don’t have to be a local or indigenous to join the festivities.  Ecuadorians are generous and all are invited.  Zamarros are optional!

Bonnie

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