Meredith Slater of Friends of the World Food Program, writes about her visit to the town of Chakiccocha as part of a wider visit to Andean Peru. You can find out more about the group’s work and time in the country here.
From 14,000 feet high in the Andes mountains, our group of nine Americans – five WFP Committee volunteers and four Friends of WFP staff – watched in awe as the Quechua people of the village of Chakiccocha shared their ancient ritual to bless and prepare their land for the next harvest season. This ritual was truly a once-in-a-lifetime insight into the indigenous Quechua culture, and we were invited with open arms to observe and participate in this beautiful tradition.
It started off with an invitation for men and women to sit, on separate sides of the land, and face two village elders, who sat in front of a blanket covered with a lovely woven basket and a variety of offerings that would play an integral role in this ritual. With the backdrop of the Andes mountains, brown rock and red clay and all shades of green, broken only by an occasional home or patch of yellow or purple flowers, the setting truly could not have been more stunning. As the village leaders began to put fruits in the offering basket two by two, followed by cotton, coca leaf (a traditional plant that is chewed or made into tea by the people of the Andes), flowers and seeds, one of the Spanish-speaking villagers (most speak only Quechua) explained to us what was going on. When all offerings were placed in the basket, a hole was dug in front of a stone, and the villagers sang a song asking that the land open up and accept their offerings. As one leader dug this hole, a sense of happiness could be felt. It was determined that the land truly did open itself to accept the offering, as the soil was soft and there were no rocks in the hole. The basket was lowered into the opening on a bed of straw and then re-covered with dirt and then stones.
The villagers then moved on to the second portion of the ritual – the preparation of the land. The men stood in line and used a tool invented by the Incas to break the land. The women faced them and, with their bare hands, pushed the freshly broken soil to one side, creating rows in which the villagers would later plant seeds. As this was taking place, a rumbling could be heard, and the skies opened up, first with rain and then with hail. Our group took shelter, groping for our ponchos and coats, but the villagers were unfazed. They explained that the rain was like a jacket for them, and they welcome it. The rain proved an important symbol to close out this ritual, guaranteeing a good harvest to come.
I can barely put into words how special it felt to be welcomed with so much love into the lives of a people practicing such a magnificent, ancient culture. I can’t wait to sleep in another such village tonight and really experience a full day in their lives.