Recently the Andean ritual specialist Don Jesus Ccana Tito from Ayllu Amaru near Pisac died aged 81. When I first arrived in Peru in 1987 I was on my ‘year abroad’ from Durham University in the UK where I had studied Spanish language and literature. I was supposed to hand in a dissertation on a literary subject at the end of the year but instead I followed my passion and handed in a dissertation on an ethnographic topic.
A friend from Cusco introduced me to Don Jesus who soon became my friend and mentor. I went on several trips to his ayllu and was welcomed into his home by his wife, doña Rosa and his son Angel and family. At the time I lived in an independent room in a Casona in Calle Recoleta which had a nice sunny Patio where often I sat outside my door preparing meals with my friends. I gave Don Jesus a key to the front door so he could come and go as he pleased as he used to share my room almost every time he had some business in Cusco. Sometimes he would bring a relative, often a niece, and we would sit at night in my small room and sip herbal tea, chew coca and listen to Waynos from Huancayo which he loved to listen to. I enjoyed having him stay with me and spoil him with food; in fact I adopted him as my ‘Andean dad’.
I began to study the world of Andean magic and ritual and we did a lot of offerings to Pachamama and the Apus together. Don Jesús introduced me to the festival of Qoyllur Rit’i, an ancient Andean fertility rite and pilgrimage that takes place every year at the full moon of May/June at the foot of the Sinakara glacier. Together with his son Angel we travelled all night on the back of an open lorry to climb the highlands of the Ausangate area in the freezing winter night. We reached Mahuayani, the last stop on the road at dawn and after breakfasting a hot coffee we hiked the four to five hours uphill to the base camp and the chapel where thousands of Quechuas from near and far had congregated. At the end of the festivities Don Jesus and I thought we had been lucky to find a bus willing to take us back to Cusco, but it turned out to be the scariest bus ride in my life as the driver was drunk and refused to stop to let us out. We celebrated our survival with one of the most expensive breakfasts ever in Cusco!
I remember things started to go downhill with the sudden death of his son Angel. He was going to be a very promising community leader and then tragically died when a pick up truck from Pisac to the Ayllu Amaru went down an abyss. My attendance at the funeral of Angel turned out to be the last time I ever saw Don Jesus’ family. Unfortunately, he turned to drink and became addicted to fame. A Lima rockstar had ‘discovered’ him in the early 90s and was going to take him to Germany (I don’t know whether he ever did – but he definitely took him to Lima).
His character changed, he became aloof, and needless to say I no longer received him in my home. Occasionally, I saw him roaming the streets of Cusco drunk with his nieces, coming out of one of the night clubs where he was given endless free drinks as the celebrity that he was. I was sad to lose him and missed his company and his humorous laughter. I never saw him again for many years, it seemed that we must have started to live in different universes for this to happen in such a small world like Cusco. I treasure the memory of meeting him in the late 80s when he had been still uncorrupted by the temptations of a globalized world. May you rest in peace my friend!