Embracing the sun and letting go of the darkness: My experience with an Inca winter solstice ritual

The Healthy Living Initiative, the project I am working with this summer, is very committed to recovering and preserving the cultural wealth of the Loja region. This immense cultural wealth includes a rich variety of indigenous ancestral heritage; so when Healthy Living heard about the winter solstice celebration that was about to take place on Thursday, June 21st, we knew it was important to send some team members to take part in it. Amongst those team members was ME!!! 🙂

I first got word about the winter solstice celebration from Don Rodrigo, a cultural leader in the community who has been very involved in revitalizing ancestral tradition and celebrating the natural and cultural wealth of the region. The solstice celebration was also the culmination of Wyakunto . Wyakunto was a seven day walk across the Loja province honoring the natural and cultural diversity of the province and the traditions of somewhat forgotten native peoples, who are a strongly present in our blood but have been erased from our memories by centuries of Spanish colonial legacy. The name Wyakunto comes from the Wyankuntos, an indigenous tribe that inhabited the region (including Ecuador, Peru and part of Bolivia) before the Inca Empire conquered their lands.

In spite of being named after a previous tribe, Inca heritage was also a significant aspect of Wyakunto. In fact, the winter solstice was a prominent Inca celebration, which is still held in parts of the region that have strong indigenous background, for instance in Machu Pichu-Peru. Unfortunately winter solstice is seen by many as a gimmick to attract tourists and its significance gets lost in the touristic mayhem. Lucky for us, there are still people who want to perform these celebrations in the same spirit the Incas and other tribes did. The point of winter solstice is spiritual regeneration and showing respect and gratitude to Inti (the sun god), Pacha Mama (mother earth), and the Apus (mountain spirits who guide and protect us and provide the land with rain). The people who attended the ceremony I was at were more than committed to standing by those principles and respecting the sacred nature of this ceremony, some of them actually gave me a few scolding stares when I was taking pictures like a good old gringa (a term used in Latin America to call a clueless foreigner).

The ceremony started at around 5:30 in the morning as we all gathered around the statue of The Inca, the town’s greatest homage to its past. The first steps are to give thanks for what is good in your life, so we all went around in a circle giving thanks to Inti and Pacha Mama, as I am a Christian I apologized in case it was being disrespectful and thanked God for allowing me to meet such amazing group of people, they seemed OK with it and one of them comforted me by saying “we may call it by different names, and may seek different paths to it, but in the end we all seek and will find the same thing, peace and spiritual fulfillment”. We moved to a hill facing the Ahuaca, one of the province’s most legendary mountains, and proceeded with the second step. The second step is to let go of those negative things that fill you with bad energy and create a burden that keeps you from moving forward. As we did this we opened our arms toward the sun and closed our eyes. When we opened our eyes we embraced each other and exchanged good wishes for the new year (it was funny how some parts of the ceremony reminded me of either church or Colombian new year celebrations. On the other hand it was also very telling about how despite being so different, in the end we’re all human and have way more  in common than we think).

The feeling was AMAZING!


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