Centuries of fun in the fading Inca sun
On June 24, 1944, Faustino Espinoza Navarro, a Peruvian actor and writer, co-organized an elaborate historical reconstruction of a centuries-old Inca ceremony. Performed at Saksaywaman, an ancient fortress complex in the hills overlooking Cuzco, and starring hundreds of indigenous actors in traditional dress, the performance was unlike anything the city had seen in decades. Navarro based his script on the writings of Garilasco de la Vega, a 16th-century Spanish-Peruvian chronicler and direct descendant of Inca nobility, and wrote dialogue in Quechua, the ancestral dialect of the Andes. What’s important to note here is that Vega’s works and the public use of Quechua had been banned in Peru since the late 18th century, and the very rite Navarro was set to re-enact had been outlawed by the Catholic Church in 1535. Navarro’s reclamation of Inti Raymi, the Inca Festival of the Sun, was a watershed moment in Quechuan culture, flinging open the doors to the past for Peruvians and foreigners alike.
Saksaywaman in Cuzco, Peru. Photo by Sochunpang.
Held in conjunction with the Southern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice, when the Earth is at its farthest point from the sun, Inti Raymi festivities honour and appeases Inti, the Sun God, and prays for his return. After days of fasting, devotees would be treated to a massive feast courtesy of the Sapa Inca, the emperor, and a toast of chicha, a fermented beverage derived from corn. After the meal, a high priest would perform a ritual llama sacrifice to Pachamama in the hope that Inti would bless the kingdom with a bountiful harvest.
Today, Inti Raymi is South America’s second-largest festival (after Brazil’s Carnaval). Tourists and locals alike descend on Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas for a week’s worth of music, drama, dance, and other activities. The main draw remains the June 24 production, in which hundreds of local actors don lavish costumes representing Inca figures. Being chosen to portray Sapa Inca and his wife, Mama Occla, is the festival’s highest honour. And while the modern production is definitely more theatre than ceremony and the ritual sacrifices are no longer real, nobody – least of all the llamas – complains.
Photo by K Chong.
Photo by B Rao.
Photo by J.G.
Photo by B. Damon.
G Adventures runs a number of departures to Peru encompassing a wide range of dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you the Inca Trail as you’ve never seen it — check out our small group trips to Peru here.