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    Land of winds > Traditions > Festival | Issue 20 (Jul.-Aug. 2014)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Jatun Puncha and Armay Chisi in Imbabura

Jatun Puncha and Armay Chisi en Imbabura

The June solstice is regarded as a "beginning of cycle" within the agricultural and astronomical calendar used by the indigenous peoples of the Andes (this is the reason why, on many occasions, it is labelled as "Andean New Year"). It is also maize harvesting time, one of the most significant crops for many original peoples in the region. In many parts of the Cordillera –especially in those that were under the influence of the ancient Tawantinsuyu or "Inca Empire"– this date was and is still celebrated during the Inti Raymi (literally, "the sun's festival"). The festival, in the strict sense, is not a legacy from the Incas; it is a pre-Incan tradition, which can be found not only in the rest of the Americas, but also in other parts of the world.

In the province of Imbabura (northern portion of the Ecuadorian Andes) it is known as Jatun Puncha (in Kichwa or Ecuadorian Quechua, "big day" or "main day"), a term that is also used to designate the central day of other festivities. Until recently, the festival was mostly known as "San Juan"; however, in the mid-70s nativist cultural movements recovered the name of Inti Raymi, and shortly after, began to use the term Jatun Puncha as a way of telling Imbabura's cultural expression from the ones celebrated in the rest of the Sierra.

The festival –organized in a manner that is unique to each community– usually begins on the night of the 24 June and lasts until the first of July, though in some places celebrations take place between June 21 and 26. The main purpose is to thank Taita Inti ("Father Sun") and Pachamama ("Mother Earth") for the gifts they bestow (which today do not only have to be with crops and stock as in the old days), while, at the same time, strengthening family and community bonds by eating, drinking, dancing and singing together, and hosting several cultural events to be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Since the beginning of a cycle means the end of another, the festival also has a connotation of ending, cleaning, removing the old stuff and hoping for something new, both at individual and community level.

On the night of the festival's eve, relatives, friends and neighbours visit each other to the music of the gaitas, kachus, churus, harmonicas, guitars and melodicas. According to tradition, after the ayllu (extended family) members have visited each other, they gather in a meeting place of the village to dance and drink together. Next morning, the "Captain" brings together the musicians and they swing along the streets to the beat of their instruments. As they walk towards the main square (in the case of Cotacachi, towards the Parque de la Matriz), other men began to come out of their houses and join the parade. The songs in Kichwa, shouts, stomp and dancing in concentric circles are accompanied by plenty of drink. The so called "taking of the main square" is the core of the celebrations held during the Jatun Puncha. Dancers move forward, stop, spin around and move forward again to the music of the shell trumpets, carrying a whip in their hands and wearing a hard (to protect themselves against stone impact) magician-like hat decorated with symbols that represent the death. If groups advance in an orderly fashion, each takes up its place in one of the corners of the square. Otherwise, there are collisions between different groups, which, sometimes, can become violent (although in the old times participants were only permitted to use their hands, today they can be armed with sticks, bladed weapons and even fire guns), Individuals, families and/or communities with unresolved issues usually tend to go for direct confrontation with each other, and the "taking of the main square" often turns into bickering and score-settling.

The Armay Chisi or Armay Tuta (literally, "bath night") is a ceremony that takes place in a special venue in the community's natural landscape (such as a waterfall, lake, stream or river) where it is believed that the sinchik, the region's "owner" or protective spirit lives. While for the people of Peguche this place is their mythic phakcha or waterfall, for the people of Cotacachi it is located on the banks of the rivers Yanayaku and Yurakyaku, and the people of Ibarra join together on the shores of their beautiful lake. Community members walk to the place singing to the music and half-naked bathe themselves; a bath that is regarded as being invigorating, energizing and purifying. This ritual takes place on June 22 or 24, depending on the community, and can be accompanied by others, such as a rooster's sacrifice or lashes with nettles and eucalyptus sticks.

Article. "Jatun Puncha en Cotacachi", by Edgar Rodríguez Cruz. In América Latina en movimiento [es].
Article. "La fiesta del Inti Raymi se inicia en Imbabura con danza y folklore", by Carlos Armas. In El Universo [es].
Book. "La fiesta religiosa indígena en Ecuador", by Lucie de Vries and Segundo F. de la Torre. In GoogleBooks [es].

Picture 01. Inti Raymi in San Juan Poyo (2010).
Picture 02. "Toma de la Plaza" 01.
Picture 03. "Toma de la Plaza" 02.
Picture 04. "Toma de la Plaza" 03.
Picture 05. Mask in the Inti Raymi.
Picture 06. Masks in the Inti Raymi (Imbabura).
Picture 07. Flute players during the Inti Raymi 01.
Picture 08. Flute players during the Inti Raymi 02.
Picture 09. Musicians.

Video 01. "Toma de la Plaza" (Cotacachi) 01.
Video 02. "Toma de la Plaza" (Cotacachi) 02.
Video 03. "Toma de la Plaza" (Cotacachi) 03.
Video 04. "Toma de la Plaza" (Cotacachi) 04.
Video 05. Inti Raymi in Cotacachi (documentary short).
Video 06. Inti Raymi in Cotacachi 2014 (Agencia ANDES).
Video 07. "Toma de la Plaza" (Cotacachi) – Documentary piece.
Video 08. "Hatun Puncha in Cotacachi" (documentary short).

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