For thousands of years, the Andean peoples of northwestern Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and northern Chile have offered food and drink to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) on August 1 to so that their crops will be bountiful and their livestock prolific during the coming year. This date marks the official beginning of both a new crop year and a new Andean year; winter is beginning to lose its grip, the first rains set in, and people are thinking spring thoughts. In fact, the whole month is considered to be a sensitive time when people are supposed to take special care of their health, in sync with a recently impregnated Pachamama.
On the last night of July, neighbors pick up any trash that might be lying around outdoors and burn it in a symbolic “spring” housecleaning. Early on August 1, they drink a cup of ruda (rue) tea on an empty stomach to ward off envy and illnesses, and burn resins and herbs to “cleanse” their homes with the smoke. Around midday comes the most important part of the festivity – the corpachada or earth-feeding ceremony. Each member of the community puts into a hole that was dug in the ground earlier that morning, items that they think will please Mother Earth, such as an ear of corn, a slice of squash or potato, and “vices” that include chicha, wine, coca leaves and cigarettes.
In some places the offerings related to crops are added to cooked food in a clay pot that was put into the hole previously, in others they are put directly onto the dirt. The hole is later covered by a stone slab or pile of stones. After the ceremony, everyone shares in a big lunch.
In Laguna Blanca in Catamarca’s Puna – where tourists have been allowed to attend the party only recently – the best sheep of the town’s herds is sacrificed at the edge of the hole. As a further gesture to tourism, people dressed up like the Pachamama and Coquena, the mythological protector of camelids, make an appearance.
In February, a corpachada is performed at the beginning of Carnival to thank the Pachamama for good crops.
August 1 is not a calendar holiday, but Pachamama Day is celebrated in innumerable homes and communities in several places as a religious event. Every family home has a place to perform the ritual. Although in some towns Mass is celebrated at the beginning of festivities, there is no confusion in people’s minds as to the identity of the figure venerated; the Pachamama symbolizes fecundity, not virginity.
In the northwestern provinces, Pachamama Day is celebrated by criollos as well as Indians. Nevertheless, the places where it is observed with the most unction are precisely the indigenous communities.
In Amaicha del Valle in Tucumán, the first week of the month is dedicated to festivities that include music and dancing, and ballad singing. In some places there is a tendency to extend them to the entire month of August with an eye to attracting tourists.
In Jujuy – where the Andean people’s Carnival first became famous in Argentina – August is presented as the “cultural month of the Pachamama” because two other popular festivals – the “Headband Bullfight” in Casabindo and the Jujuy Exodus in the provincial capital – take place a few weeks later.
In Salta, Pachamama Month honors are divided in a Solomonic way between two major Kolla communities in the province’s high-altitude Puna region: this year, celebrations were officially inaugurated in San Antonio de los Cobres on August 1, and will concluded on August 31 in Tolar Grande. On August 30, a caravan of vehicles will set out from the Plaza 9 de Julio main square of Salta City at 2pm, arriving in Tolar Grande at 9pm.
From 8am to noon on August 31, locals will show visitors the sights around town. After lunch, there will be a solemn ceremony atop Mount Altar Sagrado (4,000 meters above sea level) at 3pm, after which visitors will begin the return trip to the provincial capital.
In San Miguel de Tucumán, an urban Pachamama Day is staged in 9 de Julio Park every August 1 for city people who lack money to travel to the back country to participate in the traditional fiesta and, of course, for tourists who happen to be in town on that day. This year, the celebration called for peace and an end to illnesses, and asked people to respect nature.
Tourists can also participate in a corpachada in the Mataderos Fair in Buenos Aires.
Other worthwhile experiences at the same time of year: hikes and horseback rides around Purmamarca, and the Regional Folklore Museum in Humahuaca (Jujuy): the Pachamama Museum in Amaicha del Valle and the pre-Hispanic ruins of Quilmes (Tucumán); a 16-hour excursion in a very special Movitrack truck that begins and ends in Salta City, with stops in the Toro Canyon, San Antonio de los Cobres, the Salinas Grandes salt flats, and Purmamarca; Antofagasta de la Sierra in the Puna, Belén, and the remains of the Inca town of El Shinkal in Catamarca.
http://www.turismosalta.gov.ar/, http://www.turismo.jujuy.gov.ar/, http://www.tucumanturismo.gov.ar/, http://www.turismocatamarca.gov.ar/.
PHOTO CREDITS: The earth-feeding ceremony in Salta. Ministry of Tourism of Salta. The earth-feeding ceremony in Laguna Blanca. Iggy / Catamarca Tourism Secretariat. Tolar Grande. Ministry of Tourism of Salta.