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Qhapaq Raymi, Solstice in Cusco (December 21st)

During the Spanish process of conquest, the Incas were converted to Christianity and forced to change not only their language to Spanish but their religion and culture.

The Incas had many holidays usually linked to agriculture. Some of these celebrations were held on specific days. One of the most famous and popular is the Inti Raymi – Sun Festival, which takes place on the winter solstice (June 21st). Another important celebration is the Qhapaq Raymi, which takes place on the summer solstice (December 21st). The Spanish tried to replace this celebration with the famous Christmas celebration.

Qhapaq Raymi

Qhapaq Raymi

Importance of the Sun “Inti” 

The Inca visualized Inti as a man: his wife was the moon. Inti was the sun and controlled all that implies: the sun brings warmth, light, and sunshine necessary for agriculture. Therefore, people believed that since Inti controlled their agricultural activities, it was vital to their existence. It is thanks to the sun that crops can grow, so farmers often worshipped and prayed to this god.

What is Qhapaq Raymi?

The Qhapaq Raymi was an Inca festival observed around the time of the December solstice. The Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere and the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Dances and prayers, offerings of plants, flowers, and animals, the consumption of large quantities of ritual food and drink, such as chicha de Jora (fermented corn beer), and the chewing of coca leaves took place. 

Solstice:

The Solstice is an astronomical event that happens twice, once in summer and once in winter. Each year when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky as seen from the North or South Pole.

Solstices occur on 20th or 21st June and 21st or 22nd December each year. During summer, the day of the Solstice is the longest day of the year. And during winter, the day of the Solstice is the shortest day of the year.

The least amount of daylight in Cusco is 11 hours, 19 min, and 43 seconds. For comparison, the longest day of the year – December 21st 12 hours and 54 min. That equates to a difference of 1 hour 35 minutes.

It is interesting that as we move through the days, we sometimes lose track of time. So, we all wear watches – phones, clocks, or watches that keep our lives regulated. The Incas tracked the day with the precision of knowing the exact dates of the solstices.

They also knew the moment of the equinox – and the Intihuatana stone, such as in Machu Picchu– the hitching post of the sun – ties the sun to the earth during the spring and fall equinoxes. The Intihuatana stone is in Machu Picchu.



Equinoxes:

They occur on March 20th or 21st and September 22nd or 23rd each year, and both days have equal length of the day and the night. They mark the beginning of the Spring and Fall seasons.

The Incas believed that the fields were ready to be sown in September. They also had a feast called Kuya Raymi to thank Pachamama (Mother Earth), believed to be the goddess of fertility, helping to sustain life on earth and, therefore, a principal deity to worship to secure good harvests.

Qhapa Raymi, Solsticio

Qhapac Raymi, Solstice

Why was the Qhapaq Raymi a sacred feast?

The December 21st festival is thought to mark the separation of two months in the Inca calendar that honored the Sun, Inti, and the Moon, Quilla, which also represent the masculine and feminine aspects of life. 

The two months are known as Qhapaq Raymi (Royal Feast) and Qhapaq Raymi Camay Quilla (Royal Feast, Festival of the Moon.), while the sun is at its strongest.

Qhapaq Raymi falls in the middle of the Peruvian rainy season when usually the sun and moon couldn’t be seen as clearly. At the same time, the month of Qhapaq Raymi Camay Quilla was celebrated when the Incas were waiting for a new moon. During the days of the next luminous full moon, there were festivals around the Inca Empire.

Who took part in the Inti Qhapaq Raymi?

The observance of the December solstice also marked an important event for the noble boys of the Inca Empire. It served as an initiation ceremony for the young men of the ruling class. This ritual was known as the Warachikuy

It was then when youths became men, and their future was determined. Those who performed best in rigorous tests of different skills and courage would find themselves well-ranked for military or civil service, the administration of the Tahuantinsuyu Empire, part of the hierarchy or excluded from it, considered competent for war, and marriage.

The first young people to perform were the Inca children. They wished to be known and respected throughout the Empire seen as competent warriors. 

Warachikuy comes from Wara, loincloths, or shorts given only to those who were considered of more value to wear them. 

Hijos del Dios Sol

Inti’s sons

Qhapaq Raymi Nowadays:

While rituals that took part in the Qhapaq Raymi no longer are performed today. Peruvians still celebrate in their way the ancestral festivities.

Many combine Inca and Christian elements in their festivities: they begin their celebration of Navidad (Christmas) and observe the December solstice. 

If you are in Cusco for the December solstice, you will find a friendly crowd, drinking during the day. They’ll be ready to experience one of the essential Inca festivity: Qhapaq Raymi.

You can contact us here:

  1. Inkayni Peru Tours:  www.inkayniperutours.com
  2. Tripadvisor: www.tripadvisor.com.pe

 “A journey is best measured in friends, not in miles.”  Tim Cahill

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