Pawkar Raymi

desfile1 croppedPawkar Raymi is the Quichua equivalent of Carnival, the celebration that marks the beginning of Lent in Catholic Church. In the indigenous cosmovision – world view, loosely translated – Pawkar Raymi marks the “flowering of the crops” planted earlier in the year and the promise of a good harvest ahead (with another fiesta at summer solstice called Inti Raymi). It’s all about abundance and sharing and my favorite fiesta of the year. Only in recent years have Cañari communities begun to recreate what they claim was a pre-Inca indigenous festival, co-opted first by the Inca invaders and then by the Spanish conquistadors and the Catholic Church. But as Pawkar Raymi always falls on the Monday before Ash Wednesday, and its name comes from the Inca language, I think it’s safe to say it’s a perfectly melded day of old and new traditions from far and wide.comuna quilloacFor me, it’s a long and arduous workday, beginning with a procession that starts early from a host community, usually deep in the country, picking up participants along the way as it winds through town and then out to a field prepared for a celebration that lasts far into the night of music, dancing, eating, and throwing cornstarch, water and canned foam on one another (more on that later). I usually take a break between morning and afternoon, come home for lunch to download my photos and charge the batteries. But my job is nothing compared to the work of the women who carry the cuynaña for hours and hours, a sort of cornucopia platform loaded fruits and vegetables, drinks and cooked cuys – guinea pigs, so important to Andean life. There’s one in the photo below, impaled next to a …chicken? cuy nañaHere’s the cuynaña from above in a moment when the women rested.cuy naña2When I first started photographing this fiesta, live cuys were dangled by their little feet around the platform, usually not surviving the day. After a few years, animal rights concerns put them in cages attached to the bottom of the platform, and now live animals seem to have disappeared altogether.

After lunch, it’s back to the field, where each community sets up a choza to offer food and drink to the carnavaleros. Over in one corner, women and men from the host community are cooking in huge pots on wood fires to feed about 1000 people. As I said, Pawkar Raymi is all about abundance and sharing.mesa ofertaP1040276There I run into many familiar faces, and it’s one day where I’m allowed to photograph everyone without asking, In return, I give CDs of the photos to anyone who asks. tayta2

Families have spent weeks preparing for this day – the women making special clothing and the men fashioning flutes and drums and these amazing hats, made of cowhide stretched over a frame and decorated with everything from fresh flowers to cooked cuyes to deer heads and antlers.


Every year for over 20 years, my old friend Pedro Solano has brought out his Tayta Carnaval sombrero topped with a stuffed condor, each year more desiccated and missing more parts. pedro

By mid-afternoon it is raining hard, and I’ve finally had enough of trying to protect my gear while dodging cornstarch and foam sprayed from cans (called kareoke, for some strange reason), and I’m exhausted from shooting over 500 photos. I trudge home and say to Michael, “I’m not sure I can keep doing this every year.” But I know I’ll be back next year – walking backwards and stumbling along the road, trying to capture the procession as it heads toward me at a fast clip.P1040255 - Version 2




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10 thoughts on “Pawkar Raymi

  1. Wonderful photos (as usual) –such great costumes & color galore– & love the history/story of the Canari festivals. Thanks for all your hard work in Canar; I know it is your passion. I admire your getting the respect of the people. Congrats…

  2. Wonderful post, Judy.
    Your photos are always such a colorful spot to my day!

  3. Incredible images. I am reading this very section in your [Cañar] book right now – lucky me. It’s interesting to note the changes (like no live guinea pigs and chickens hanging off of the cuynaña). That condor hat is holding up very well. See you soon!

  4. It’s always nice to hear from you Janice – one of my favorite readers/viewers…

  5. Yes, I’m so looking forward to meeting you next week. I was just meeting with Pedro Solano (of the condor) and told him a etnomusicóloga is hopefully come to work with us next year.

  6. Thanks Anne! We’re heading for Mexico in a couple of weeks and will end up near Guatemala – one of your favorite places, I know – in San Cristobal de las Casas.

  7. Jude, I think this was your all time best. I had never seen a photo of
    the mass of people, fringed hats, smoke, the full impact. Wonderful.
    Thank you for continuing to do this for all of us who will probably never
    see it in person. You look equally wonderful, if a little chilly.

  8. Judy, no me puedo imaginar que vas a quedarte sentada mientras en la calle pasan todos esos colores y esas fiestas. Esas imágenes que parecen estar por encima del tiempo y del espacio. Gracias por compartir siempre los relatos y las imágenes de la gente que te rodea y de tus aventuras.

  9. Gracias, Lupe. Es la verdad que siempre voy a estar en las calles para cualquier evento – Día de las mujeres, Carnaval, Inti Raymi… Es por eso vivimos acá en esa lugar maravillosa. Un abrazo.

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