Feb 14

Inti Raymi

Sacsayhuamán, Peru

Christopher Columbus’ landing in the so-called New World during October of 1492 would irreversibly change the course of history.  Unfortunately, for many of the indigenous populations of the Americas, the future was bleak.  Once thriving empires would be crippled by foreign diseases and conquerors, and the native way of life was greatly altered by missionaries whose good intentions often led them to condemn preexisting traditions.

One of the most notable victims of the influx of European influence throughout Central and South America was the Inca.  A wealthy and powerful civilization, the Inca Empire quickly became the target of conquistadors seeking New-World riches.  As the Inca eventually fell under foreign rule, they were forced to abandon much of their traditional culture.  This was especially true of those practices related to their polytheistic religion, which worshiped the sun as a supreme power.  The practice of some of the most important Inca festivals in honor of the sun god (who was referred to as Inti) were entirely stopped by the middle of the sixteenth century.

One such festival, however, has undergone a relatively recent revival.  Beginning in 1944, Peruvians began elaborate reenactments of Inti Raymi (the Festival of the Sun).  Performers in traditional Inca clothing carry out the historic festival for growing numbers of tourists, exhibiting the most important aspects of what was originally a nine day celebration over a much shorter period of time.  Held annually on the winter solstice, the recreation of Inti Raymi brings historical accounts of the most important Inca festival to life, offering a window into the distant past.



Inti Raymi served a variety of purposes for the Inca.  It was a time of relaxation and jubilation for an industrious people, allowing them to enjoy the fruits of their labors.  The festival was also an important religious time, when animals were sacrificed to gain the favor of the sun god and ensure a successful harvest.  Perhaps most important for modern performers, however, is the symbolic nature of many of the festival’s elements.  Dances and other public displays conveyed the story of the Inca’s rise to power and a variety of other native legends.  Early records have preserved these tales, allowing re-enactors to accurately convey Inca history and culture.


The site of these reenactments also offers an important look at the Inca.  Sacsayhuamán, an imposing fortress built from massive stones, is a testament to the resources and capabilities of the once powerful empire.  Boulders were cut to size and then hauled (by hundreds of men with lengths of rope) to the hilltop where the fortress was to be constructed.  Workers then precisely carved the stones to fit into place.  The structure provides an appropriate backdrop to modern renditions of Inti Raymi, juxtaposing the cultural and physical remnants of the Inca Empire.


The annual performance of Inti Raymi has become popular for its historical accuracy.  However, lesser-known versions of the festival may be more closely linked to the original.  In difficult-to-reach areas of the Andes mountains, Inca traditions were often preserved.  Even when missionaries reached the most remote communities and converted them, many held to their roots.  Inti Raymi and other native celebrations were often tied to religious holidays, but the customs were largely unaltered and remain so today.

Nov 13


Chumbivilcas Province, Peru

With the arrival of each new year, people of almost every nationality around the globe make resolutions to improve their lives.  Amid the celebrations, there is a common desire to leave the troubles of the past year behind.  One region of Peru has combined the joyous celebration that typically precedes the new year with the concept of communal betterment.  In a unique tradition known as Takanakuy, a growing number of Peruvians in the Chumbivilcas area prepare for the arrival of the new year by settling old arguments with neighbors, friends, and family.  As part of the annual celebration, the name of which translates to “when the blood is boiling,” quarreling parties clear the air over any disputes with physical fights, often ending in a knockout.

Peruvian drunk fights Takanakuy16 Peruvian drunk fights   Takanakuy


While trying to make peace through violent brawls may seem like a counterproductive notion, the Peruvians who take part in Takanakuy would disagree.  The fights are not primarily about violence, and certainly not about vengeance; instead, they are an honorable way to settle disputes, putting a definite end to petty arguments and preventing them from escalating.  Furthermore, the spirit of Takanakuy, which takes place on Christmas Day, is far more about community and solidarity than conflict.

There are many non-violent components of Takanakuy, including traditional dress that celebrates regional history.  Ski masks are so common in the Peruvian provinces that are located in the Andes Mountains, including Chumbivilcas, that those belonging to each region have developed unique designs and color schemes designating their place of origin.  Masks in the Chumbivilcas style (red, green, yellow and white), an easily recognized sign of pride, are a frequent sight at Takanakuy.  Elaborate costumes emulate historical periods, with popular outfits fashioned after Andean horsemen and colonial slave drivers.


Music at Takanakuy also holds important ties to the past.  Although the tradition has spread to urban areas, Takanakuy belongs primarily to the indigenous people of the Chumbivilcas region, who live under their own law without government interference.  Their preferred style of music, known as Huaylia, originated in the sixteenth century as part of a revolutionary movement; its lyrics emphasize the common Chumbivilcas ideals of freedom and independence, a spirit reflected by Takanakuy itself.

The fights themselves, which draw hundreds of spectators to a small region of the Andes, are not entirely unstructured.  The crowds are called together and process to a designated area, where those wishing to settle an argument may challenge an opponent by calling out his or her full name.  During the match, several officials keep the spectators in line with whips while another observes the fight.  Most fights end in a knockout, but all, by requirement, end with a handshake or hug.


While violence is an unorthodox way of making peace, it has worked for generations of Takanakuy participants.  Shared tradition, pride, and honor serve to unify the natives of the Chumbivilcas province.  With such a strong focus on community, Takanakuy allows those involved to see past petty conflicts and focus on repairing relationships.  And if all else fails, the days of heavy drinking before and after Takanakuy are often enough to build camaraderie.


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