Photo Story: Aymara New Year Celebrations
In the Southern Hemisphere, June 21st is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.
According to the Aymara culture, this day marks the end of the harvests and the beginning of a new agricultural cycle.
It is also known as the Aymara New Year, the day the Aymara communities gather to welcome the new sun and offer sacrifices to “Pachamama”, Mother Earth, in order to ensure a prolific year to come.
While travelling through Bolivia, we got invited by a community in Potosi; an immense chance to learn about the Aymara culture and take pictures of their traditional clothing and celebrations.
The day starts around 4 am on a hill overlooking the town of Potosi. As the bonfires are being set up, early bord families are already dancing and drinking Ponche, a typical drink made of a 96° alcohol beverage.
As the night goes on more families arrive. Groups form and more bonfires are made. Soon, the entire hill is covered with Aymara people; dancing, mingling and drinking, waiting for the sun to come up.
For once, the shy Bolivians invite us to dance with them, offer us Singani and coca leaves.
They surprisingly ask us to take pictures of them and seem happy to share this moment with us. In between two dances, we try to catch our breath… at 4,100 masl, it’s quite hard to jump and dance in a circle!
Near the little temple, a Llama has been brought up. It will be sacrificed to Pachamama at first light by the local priest.
The Aymara who come from generations of farmers believes that “Mother Earth” will provide them with abundance and growth.
It is, for this reason, they will offer the blood of the Llama before welcoming the new year with their arms outstretched, palm taking in the sun rays while making prayers.
Around 6 am, the sun finally comes out from behind the mountains. Simultaneously, the hands rise. Silence. Everyone is with Pachamama making wishes for the Aymara new year.
On this new day, the Llama’s throat is cut and its organs are taken outside of its body.
Ceremonies and prayers continue for a few hours by throwing alcohol, cigarettes, coca leaves and llama foetuses in fires…
The sun is now starting to rise high in the sky and the locals are still playing music and dancing. It is time for us to go back to the hostel and catch up some sleep.
Willkakuti (Aymara for Return of the Sun), Machaq Mara (Aymara New Year), Mara T’aqa, Jach’a Laymi or Pacha Kuti is an Aymara celebration in Bolivia, Chile and in the Southern Peru which commemorates the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.
It was declared a national holiday in Bolivia in 2009 by the government of Evo Morales, despite opposition from the Christian rightin Bolivia.
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