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Home/Stories and articles/Recovery
December 2004
Indian New Year:
The other hemisphere’ holiday

For the native people still living in our territory, the year does not begin on January the 1st but on June, during the winter's solstice, just at the beginning of the sowing time. Rites of purification, fertility, traditional parties, and family and community meetings mark the change to a new vital cycle.

By Rosario Mena

Both in Chile and Argentina, each night of June 23rd the Mapuches celebrate the "Wetripantu", their New Year's Eve and one of the three large originary rites they have preserved until now. The celebration begins at night with a family reunion, and before sunrise (during the "epewun"), men, women and children submerge themselves in the nearest river to purify and renew their body and spirit, and feel the force of their God (Gnechen) to receive a new Sun.

During the early hours of the morning, the Mapuche greeting of the Akui We Tripantu marks the beginning of the New Year. It can alse be called "Wiñoi Tripnatu" ("the sun is returning yet again"). There follow several activities during the whole day, all of which tend towards reunion and the balance of family relations. To the south of the Toltén river, the Huillliches also celebrate the New Year during the Winter solstice.

Andean New Year
The observation of astronomical phenomenons guides the calendars of the most ancient altiplane’s cultures; so marking the planting, the harvest and the cattle work. Their seasons are not the same as ours. The June solstice, for instance, marks the end of the winter. Their New Year is the same as in the South of Chile, and also marks the end of the harvest and the beginning of the sowing time.

Gratitude to the Sun and the Earth (or "Pacha Mama") is the base of this celebration. Among the Aymaras, the rituals are led by "chamanes", who can also cure physical or spiritual problems.

Holiday of the Sun

The holiday of Inti Raymi (or "Sun holiday") was Incas Empire's most important. It is celebrated during the Winter solstice, June 21st, at the city of Cuzco (Peru), marking a new "Solar year". After the Spanish Conquest, the ceremony was supressed by the Catholic Church, but was recuparated during the mid of the 20th Century, by some artists and intelectuals that wanted to present the ceremony to the community as if it was a theatratical spectacle.

The tradition says that in the whole of the Inca Empire, the fires were cut at the eve of June 24th, and in the square of Huacaypata (current Plaza de Armas, in Cuzco) people would gather, all in the dark. There, the crowd would wait for the appearance of the "Inti" (Sun) God. Generals and noblemen would wait in absolutet silence, most of them disguised as animals from the Andean mythology.

As soon as the Sun came out, people would start thanking "him" for all of that year's harvest, expressing their gratitude and adoration like he was their universal God and creator of all living things. With the help of the priests, the Incas called the Sun to "fertilize the earth" and protect the Empire's sons. Then came the renovation of the "sacred fire", whith the sacrifice of an animal (the llama) after a long military march. The whole ceremony rounded-up with a big, long and reckless party.

In the old city of Tiwanaku —one of the Empire's home base, that would go through the altiplane and the Atacama desert—, each June 21st one can still see colourful native ceremonies that relive the glorious past of this culture.

Winter's solstice marks for the natives still living in our territory the beginning of a specific calendar for the Southern hemisphere, different from the Western one. The wrongly called "Gregorian calendar" has eleven months (of 30 and 31 days) and an extra month of 28 to 29 days, and was established by Julius Caesar for the Roman Empire in the year 45 b.C., and later slightly modified by the Pope Gregorio during the 16th Century. The first month of the Calendar was originally March, and was later changed to January (a month that is closer to the Northern hemisphere’s Winter's solstice). That's how December, whose name means "the tenth month", became the last one.

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