Qoyllur Rit’i

June 23rd, 2008

An event which attracts over 10,000 people each year, mostly local Quechua and Aymara people, Qoyllur Rit’i is a Catholic tradition wholly invented by the indigenous in the 18th Century. This religious experience, rather than being violently imposed on them from Europe, belongs completely to them and is gaining popularity among outsiders.

The tale begins in 1780 with little Mariano Mayta, a young indigenous boy from a peasant cattle-herding family. Angered by his older brother’s repeated bullying, he one day abandoned his watch and wandered up the snow-capped Mount Colquepunku above his Cusco valley home.

Above the snow line of Mount Colquepunku he met another young boy who called himself Manuel. Becoming friends, Manuel offered him bread, so Mariano stayed and ate – not returning home.

Mariano’s father worried by his son’s disappearance and angered that he had just abandoned the herd, went looking for him. What he found left him astonished – the herd was bigger and there was Mariano returning from the mountain.

Pleased by whatever the boy had done to increase the family’s wealth, the father rewarded him by sending him to Cusco to buy new clothes. Mariano asked, since he had done so well and all, if he might be able to buy some for his new friend. His father agreed.

Before leaving, he met with Manuel to take a sample of the cloth used for his current single change of clothes so he could buy something similar. When he arrived in Cusco he couldn’t find anyone making clothes with that type of cloth. Unbeknown to Mariano the cloth was very fine and only used by the bishop of Cusco. On having this explained to him, he went to see the bishop to see if he could get some.

When he heard the story, the bishop ordered an inquiry and sent a group to the mountain to meet with this strange boy Manuel. Mariano led the group, headed by the priest of Ocongate, up the mountain.

They found Manuel dressed in brilliant white with a bright light emanating from him. Unable to stand the brightness, they descended, and after being joined by more people, climbed again.

They saw the same figure, but this time were able to get close. They touched the silent glowing Manuel and he instantly turned into a bush, from which a bloodied figure of Christ was hanging in agony.

Mariano, not understanding what he was seeing and believing his friend to have been harmed, died on the spot from shock. He was buried under the rock on which Manuel last appeared.

The bush was sent to Spain and never returned. Angry locals were placated only when a replica was placed in the same location. Since then, once a year at the same time (late May, early Jun) of year, a pilgrimage is made.

Many locals, Aymara and Quechua make the pilgrimage, but in recent years both Peruvian and foreign tourists have been joining in, attracted by the indigenous nature of the festival and the variety of traditional dress and customs.

Photos by Carlos Díaz

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