A Guide to the Culture and Traditions of the Andean Communities of Peru
Fiestas & Festivals > Qoyllur Rit'i (Ausangate)
(Vilcanota Mountain Range - Cusco, date varies but usually the Sunday before Corpus Christi)
Until about 20 years ago this festival was modest and belonged almost entirely to campensinos from the east of Cusco. But this festival is a cult on the rise, and today it seems that every town and village sends a troupe or two of dancers to the bleak valley at 4,600m where the festival is held.
Qoyllur Rit'i is a moveable festival in late May or early June. Its location is the Sinakara valley, close to the magnificent Mt. Ausangate, high above the village of Mawayani in the province of Quispicanchis.
Qoyllur Rit'i in Quechua means 'Snow Star'; a name reminiscent of the festival's pre-Columbian origins, and often said to be a pre-Inca fertility rite.
Today the festival is overlaid with Christian significance. Tradition has it that in the late 18th century Christ appeared before a child here after performing miracles amongst the devout locals. At the church, built high on the mountainside, pilgrims worship a rock featuring the image of the Messiah, singing hymns in Quechua and performing traditional dances.
The overwhelming first impression of this fiesta is that of chaos, discomfort and confusion. Literally thousands of dancers and hundreds of bands mill about the valley slopes, the air is filled with noise and smoke.
To reach the valley you must first walk 8 km from the highway. The cold is brutal, and by day the high altitude rays of the sun burn down ferociously.
The Lord of Qoyllur Rit'i, to many believers, is all powerful. Many people come to him for earthly blessings - trucks, houses, jobs - while others want success with college studies or luck in finding a suitable marriage partner. Some come hoping to be cured of an illness, since the glacier clad mountains that surround the valley are believed to be the seat of healing power.
Qoyllur Rit'i is one of the few Cusco festivals where drunkenness is frowned upon. Punishment for this offence is dealt out by members of a large band of dancers known as Ukukus, who dress in wool masks and shaggy tunics.
On the final night of the fiesta, hundreds of pilgrims climb up the icy glaciers to search for the Snow Star. They hack out blocks of ice and break off giant icicles from the numerous ice caves, which they then carry on their shoulders down to the church in a long procession at sunrise. Here the ice is blessed before being taken back to their communities, where the Holy water is considered sacred medicine to help the sick.
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