Whenever our friend Don Luis Machaca from the remote Andean hamlet of Japu near Q’eros visits us in Cusco, we ask him to do an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and the Apus (tutelary spirits that inhabit the mountain peaks) on our behalf. Don Luis is a highly respected ritual specialist and the ceremonies we have performed with him are beautiful.
His last visit was just two weeks ago and he brought us some highland potatoes from his chaqra (field) as a gift. We arranged for him to make a Despacho (Andean offering) with us the next morning. It is such a beautiful way of saying ‘thank you’ to Mother Earth for all her plentiful gifts. An offering is aesthetically arranged like a plate of food on top of a piece of paper placed on a ceremonial uncu (traditional weaving). It consists of corn kernels (corn is an Andean staple food and this sacred plant is inhabited by the spirit of Mama Sara), seeds, nuts, grains (including quinoa and amaranth, herbs, biscuits, sweets (Mother Earth is said to have a sweet tooth!) and flower petals as well as k’intus (arrangement of three healthy leaves) of coca, the most sacred plant of the Andes.
An Andean offering is based on the idea of reciprocity. We return a plate of food looking like a piece of art to Mother Earth and the elements that feed us. Therefore, the offering should be inviting and pleasing to all the senses. All the ingredients have different colors and textures. Elements symbolic of Andean dualism are also present like the qori (gold) and qolqe (silver) leaves and threads, representing Tayta Inti (Father Sun and masculine elements) and Mama Killa (Mother Moon and female elements). These complementary halves are symbolically united and balanced in the offering. Usually there is also some untu (llama fat) representing the life force (the llamas are certainly the traditional backbone of the highland economy), as well as rainbow colored cotton wool and confetti (the k’uichi or rainbow represents a bridge to other dimensions).
Sometimes elements of the chuqchi mesa (tiny metal symbols) are used in order to pray for the manifestation of specific wishes, like a safe journey, a successful marriage, a good harvest etc.
An important part of the offering is the invocation of all the major Apus of the area and the tirakuna, the sacred sites. We pray to all the elements and ask for the protection from and well-being of them all, including the cardinal points, the sources of water and the earth.
In the end, Don Luis wrapped up the offering like a parcel, using the gold and silver threads to tie it up with. However, before we all did a ch’alla (libation) with some wine over it. It is then wrapped inside the untu and the ritual specialist passes it over the bodies of all participants saying prayers. Thus, the energy of all participants is inside the parcel.
After concluding our offering, we went to the bottom of the garden with Don Luis who started to dig a hole and then prepared the wood for the fire. We were ready for the second part of the ceremony. During the dry season, we burn our offerings (although I have buried them in times of drought). In fact, the Despacho has to burn right down (in spite of the wine added to it). Only when this happens can we be sure that the offering has been fully accepted by Mother Earth and the spirits. It looked perfect. The offering burnt well and we did some more libations over the fire.
We will make our next offering on 1st August which is the day of Pachamama and a kind of thanksgiving day in the Andes. It is at the end of the dry season when the harvest has been taken in and the fields are plowed in preparation for sowing the new crops in September. We are looking forward to our next ceremony with Don Luis.
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Fabuloso! Thanks for that inspiring little story. 🙂