Saturday, July 29, 2006

On the Roof of Peru, Omens in the Ice

On the Roof of Peru, Omens in the Ice: The article concerns itself with Andean glaciers in Peru. They're retreating, like other glaciers around the world. It's a sign of a warming climate. I want to write about this because of a trip I took to the Andes 11 years ago.

In 1995 I was able to take a trip to witness an ancient Quechua ceremony that is performed every year at their Winter Solstice (what is, to us, the summer solstice). The Qu'oyllu'riti festival draws 50,000 or more natives of the Andes, and the year I attended there were only 100 or so foreigners. The festival site is very remote, far up in a valley where there is a glacier at the head of the valley. The story they told me is they're commemorating the site where, shortly after the Spaniards arrived in the 1500's, a small child was seen whom they took as Jesus. There's a story that was told, but later reading about this festival tells me the ceremony has been performed for thousands of years, and this is another instance of Christianity overlaying itself over a native ancient custom.

It is a three day festival where the participants are representatives sent from villiages in the Andes, from Bolivia, and I think even from the Amazon rain forest. Each villiage has performers who perform their version of a common song, each band of performers has their own costuming, and the music they play all follows the same tune but with small differences unique to each group. There are other aspects to the festival, such as fireworks, including a loud cannon that shoots off every minute or so, and a group of people who dress like a certain bear known in the Andes and are charged with keeping peace, order, and the spiritual nature of the event. There is a rather large church of a Catholic style.

But, what is the point of all this, and what about the glaciers? The point of this festival is the glaciers. They see the glaciers as containing the purest of water. The spiritual leaders of this festival go onto the glaciers and do special ceremonies, and this festival is a major initiation time for the Quechua shamanic practitioners. There is special care taken to collect the ice from the glacier, and bring it back to each individuals home villiage for special ceremonies for those who could not leave.

It was clear to me the ecology of that area relied on the glaciers for water throughout the year. They seemed to not get much rain during the summer, and instead had collection of snow and ice on the glaciers that fed the rivers that provided the water they need to live. Oh, and not only is it the water the Andeans need to live, but that same water feeds a large portion of the Amazon basin below them.

The article linked above tells this story with scientific facts. It tells of scientists observating the glaciers retreat, how the nature of the glaciers have changed over the years, and how the local farmers are worried about their future. The article describes how one farmer has shifted his work to growing flowers, and how he is able to earn money that way, but if the water stops running how can he live? He can't drink money.