Inti Raymi: Reciprocity and Anti-Colonial Symbolism

Posted by Dusty Christensen – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU

Christensen – Ecuador – IntiRaymi

Inti Raymi festivities in the village of San Roque (Photo by Dustin Christensen)

For many indigenous residents of the Andes, the Inti Raymi festival is one of the most important celebrations of the year. Celebrating the summer solstice, this festival has its origins firmly rooted in pre-Colombian times. In Cotacachi, Ecuador, where I conducted my summer research, this was the most important festival of the year. Members of the 40 something indigenous communities surrounding Cotacachi dance house-to-house in the nights preceding the festival. Then, for several days, they gather and dance down to the town’s central plaza, where they dance, sing, play music, drink, and occasionally engage in violent confrontations with other communities.

For many, this act is about maintaining important ties with family, friends, and neighbors. When men dance house-to-house, they are provided with alcohol and food, while they in turn bring a lively party to every house in the village. This act reinforces reciprocal relationships within villages. What’s more, during the day when the dancers take over Cotacachi’s central plaza, the village’s women provide a communal table full of food for the dancers, which all are welcome to eat from — shy researchers included. But the festival is not only for sharing, dancing, singing, and maintaining community ties. For many Kichwa residents of Cotacachi, the act of taking the plaza is profoundly symbolic.

Of all the Kichwa residents interviewed during my research, the most common theme that came up was the anti-colonial nature of taking over the city’s square. Like most colonial towns, the town square in Cotacachi is where the church and town hall are. By dancing, yelling, and merrymaking in the authorities’ proverbial front yard, dressed as military officers, police, church leaders, and other authority figures, the Kichwa people are poking fun at the colonial hierarchy that always held them in a subaltern role. This, for all subjects interviewed during my research, was the most important part of participating in Cotocachi’s Inti Raymi festivities.

As for the violence, community leaders have begun to address the issue in a number of ways. The children from the indigenous communities now dance on the day before the adults take the plaza, and they are encouraged to enjoy the festivities without fighting, and obviously without alcohol. There are also public service announcements all around town, meant to encourage a more friendly atmosphere. There was, however, still violence this year, though many don’t seem to be all that worried about it, viewing it as isolated events in an otherwise successful and very important festival.

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