A Peruvian recently told me, “We celebrate here when it’s your birthday and when it’s not your birthday!” Obviously, Peruvians like to celebrate everything. The month of June though, is especially important to Cusqueñans. June is full of daily celebrations, from groups of students dancing in colorful clothes through the Plaza de Armas to nightly parades and concerts. However, the celebrations climaxed last weekend; Friday was the festival for the winter solstice and Monday was the Inti Raymi.
On Friday, a huge parade began in the early evening and lasted until early morning. UBELONG, the program that has arranged my volunteer work, partners with Amauta Spanish School in Cuzco. Amauta had reserved a spot in the parade, so I had the opportunity to dress up and dance in the parade. The Peruvians loved watching all of us—probably because they got a kick out of foreigners wearing traditional clothes and attempting to dance the traditional dances. As we danced through the streets, they all wanted to take pictures with us. The celebration was video taped by many news stations, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to find a video online.
Also, Kukuli celebrated the solstice by having all of the children’s parents come to school to participate in relay races and enjoy a home-cooked chicken and potato meal. I loved meeting all of the parents and watching them have so much fun with their children. The parents and children participated in sack races, piggyback-ride races, puzzle competitions, and blindfolded pudding-eating competitions.
After the competitions, the teachers held meetings in their classrooms to inform the parents about what the kids have been learning. In the four-year-olds’ classroom, the teacher had her students sing a song called “Mi Cuerpo” (my body), a song that I taught the students. After the students sang and danced, the teacher had the parents perform this song. When the singing and dancing ended, the teacher took the time to formally introduce me to the parents and explain the work I’m doing in the classroom.
I thought that inviting the parents to school for fun and games was such a great way to promote a school community; I can only hope that if I work at a school in the U.S. one day, I’ll be able to hold a similar kind of event and foster the same community between students, teachers, and families.
Monday, June 24, was the Inti Raymi, which means “Festival of the Sun” in Quechua, one of the indigenous languages of the Incans that is still spoken today by many in the outskirts of Cuzco. On this day, it seemed as if the entire city gathered in the Plaza de Armas to watch a ceremony dedicated to the Inti (the Sun God) and then hike up to Saksaywaman for the main ceremony, which was originated by the Incas many years ago.
Saksaywaman consists of ruins of an ancient Incan fortress. Every stone that’s part of the ruins was placed with an unbelievable amount of preciseness by the Incas, who clearly did not have the construction tools that we have today. From what I’ve heard and read, researchers are still debating how the Incas were able to move and place stones weighing more than 100 tons. And not only were the Incas able to move the stones, they also built enormous buildings and walls with them without using any kind of mortar or cement. They were able to do this because they cut the rocks so precisely that they could fit together with not even enough space for a piece of paper to fit through.
At Saksaywaman last Monday, Peruvians and tourists were all crammed together on the hill trying to find the “perfect” spot to watch the ceremony. Many locals brought lunch with them as they wanted to arrive early to get good seats, while others bought ice-cream, sandwiches, and drinks being sold by vendors.
Since both of these holidays have passed, the Plaza de Armas has been much quieter. There has been no more dancing, but a golden Inca that was brought into the plaza for the recent ceremonies remains. Aside from the cathedral and beautiful mountains that can be seen from the plaza, this new Inca has added another photo opportunity for tourists who patiently wait in line to get a personal photo with the statue. With that said, in only a few more weeks the celebrations will begin again as Cuzco and the rest of Peru celebrate their Independence Days on July 28 and 29.