Giving Food to the Earth
By Walter Coraza Morveli (translated by David Knowlton)
A kiss in the most sublime way of showing trust, respect and – above all – love. And this is how the people of the Andes show the Pachamama their commitment, respect, and love they feel for her. Many highland communities and those who live in the shadow of memory still practice the “much’ay” which is the kiss that is given to the earth to thank her for everything they have obtained. This symbolic act is carried out during a special ceremony of thanks to the Pachamama, or when they visit a community other than their own. Although this act is not practiced much in the city of Cuzco or in communities nearby, we can say it is one of the forms of showing respect to the Pachamama.
The word Pachamama means Earth Mother. But this is not simply the union of two words, it goes far beyond, from this world to encompass the entire cosmos. It is a very profound word for the people of the Andes. She is the classic mother from whom is born all people, animals, plants, and even minerals. When we die we return to her. Through the power of fertility that she possesses, she produces our food plants, she watches over us, and she feeds us. That is why in the times of the Incas, and even much earlier, the Pachamama was considered an important deity.
In the Andean world the Pachamama is represented by the Andean Cross, also known as pata pata and in other cultures by the jamp’atu—toad—perhaps because this is a sign of the rain that is very important for the cultivation of food crops.
According to the agricultural calendar the month of August is the month of the Pachamama y with this begins a new year. That is why it is chosen by the Andean priests as the time to make ceremonies and offerings to the earth, very erroneously called the “payment” to the earth. This is an error because the action that is carried out is not a payment, but an offering, which is composed of a mixture of food, animal, and mineral products from the world around us. And it includes the representation of water which is vital for people. All of this complex is also known as a “desapacho” or a “sending”. Once prepared it is wrapped in gift paper as a symbol of a gift or offering.
August first which marks the beginning of this new year is received with all the joy that characterizes the people of the Andes. In many places this ceremony is only carried out on a particular day of the week, since it cannot be done just any day of the week. In the city people who still remember this commitment scatter yellow confetti throughout the home or business as a sign of respect. They also incense the house with palo santo (a perfumed wood), etc. And throughout the month they will perform the appropriate offerings.
As we have seen, the Pachamama has a profound significance for us, and the people of the Andes over years have not lost the essence of their traditions or interaction with her. But in the city, the generations of the future are forgetting the meaning of the Pachamama and to have respect for her in the face of modernism, and globalization.
That is why the city government of Cuzco, with several cultural organizations, carry out a ceremony of offering to the Pachamama every moth with the motive of remembering and giving value to this ancient tradition. At the same time they hope to advance the great significance that the Pachamama has for human beings. This ceremony has no economic purpose, unlike many others.
Every first Friday of the month the ceremony is carried out on the esplanade by what was one of the most important temples known from Inca times, called the Qorikancha. Around 6:30 pm we can witness the entrance of musicians that with their drums, panpipes, and flutes give a beginning to the ceremony.
After the musicians, the different ayllus enter. These are the different institutions, or cultural organizations that are in charge of the ceremony. We can also appreciate the Andean priests who are prepared to offer the expected offering. Both locals and foreigners are invited to participate, but because of the spiritual character of the event, photographs are not allowed. After all a memory is a better souvenir than a photo which with time will disappear.
The pututus, musical conch shells, call out and with them one can raise their spirit to the infite and know that for about an hour and a half they can go to reincounter the mountains, the heavens, the stars, and above all the Pachamama. Others will feel the return of time and in it will know and understand our unforgettable past.
With the permission of the most important Apus (the mountain Gods) that surround us, such as Ausangate and Salkantay, the ceremony fully begins. Later we will see the sacred fire started in order to burn the offering, while the Andean priest prepares the entire offering with all the required elements gatehred together with the k’intu (three coca leaves together). We can also see how the “much’ay” is placed in practice while around the priest one can observe the different ayllus singing hymns.
The scene that we live is very special, with the smoke of incense and all the people gathered around look as if they were from the same family. Even though they may not know one another.
But we can feel how the Pachamama embraces us and invites us to be one on encountering her.
While people chew the sacred coca leaves, which are a means by which we are all united in kay pacha (the world in which we live) with the hanaq pacha (the world where the Gods live), during the ceremony. The offering is now ready and it is placed to burn in the fire. At that time all the people have k’intus in order to thank the Pachamama and ask her blessings for themselves and for their families. Each goes forward to give the priest their k’intu and these are burned in the flames. Many people also hug the priests as a symbol of friendship and then retreat carrying within their hearts and minds the love that emanates from the fire with the actions of their arms.
Once the burning is finished, one can breathe an ambiance of peace and happiness with all. We hear musicians begin playing again and the priests formally close the ceremony by designating the ayllu that will be responsible the Friday of the next month to carry out the ceremony. And then they say good bye to the guests with hugs and joy.
With these acts we can know that the Pachamama is a force that invites use through time to remember her and respect her, as well as fell inexpressible emotions when we are in contact with her. To remember her is to remember a great past filled with vitality and energy that even today draws us.
Thanks to Fidelus Coraza M. we offer here some photos of payments (meals) given to the earth in the mountains to obtain her good will and to show devotion and respect.
Filed under: Customs
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