Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nuevo Año Aymara--welcome to 5517

The Andean New Year, or Nuevo Año Aymara, took place on Sunday, June 21. I didn´t actually make it out to see the festivities (participants have to hike up a mountain in Cochabamba at 5am, and no one wanted to accompany me at that time), but I did attend a lecture on it.

The Aymarans & Quechuans mark the new year on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. The main location for celebration--the indigenous version of our Times Square--is Tiwanaku, Bolivia, the site of the oldest known ruins in Bolivia (1,500 B.C., before the Incan Empire).

According to legend, the sun´s rays only pass through the Gateway of the Sun one time a year, during sunrise on the morning of the winter solstice. People travel for miles to the site of the ruins in the middle of the night, and wait anxiously with arms raised to the heavens for the coming of the first rays. Dancing, incense burning, and large fires mark the occasion. Llamas are sacrificed for Pachamama, the mother of the earth, and the Aymarans and Quechuans cover their animals in blood or pink pigment in hopes of fertility.

People wait with their arms raised to the heavens as the time draws near to daybreak. The coming of a new year marks the union of the heavens with the earth and all of its inhabitants. For participants, raised arms symbolize openness to the things to come in the new year, and hope for good harvest. The sun´s rays bring hope to Aymarans on what is said to be the coldest day of the year.

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