Camelid Ceremonies


Far from the shoppers combing through alpaca merchandise in Lima and elsewhere during their travel to Peru, come February, the alpaca herders give thanks, thanks for their livelihood, thanks for their herds, thanks for the species. Rooted in indigenous traditions, the Hayarisqa ceremony is an annual event that takes place in the Andean herder communities.

According to the Aymara and Quechuan legends, the weavers of the Pacomarca Kingdom possessed the greatest weaving and embroidery skills. When the quality of the fleece began to deteriorate mysteriously, it is told that the Lord of Pacomarca took steps to separate the alpacas from the llamas to soften the alpaca fleece. The people believed that they would be rewarded or punished for how well they took care of their alpacas.

Consisting of much singing and imbibing, Hayarisqa begins in the evening and continues into the next day. The centerpiece of the event is the unveiling of sacred objects held by each family, among them, alpaca fleece, shells symbolizing the importance of water to the herds, and stones representing fertility and vitality. Coca is enjoyed by all members of the family as the ceremony progresses. By daybreak, the items in the sacred bundle have been reassembled, and the focus of Hayarisqa shifts to dancing, dining and drinking.

The chacu is an Inca tradition that has been resurrected in recent times, as a means to the temporarily capture the wild vicunas that roam free on the Andean hillsides of South America. Chacus are gaining in popularity as a return to indigenous ways. In conjunction with the chacu, some communities also hold events that attract visitors on Peru tours who might not otherwise travel to these small villages in out-of-the-way places. What began as an experiment in a few communities has today turned into hundreds of chacus taking place annually in Peru’s highland villages. Far fewer occur in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.

Communities have evolved their own distinctive ceremonies around the chacu that express gratitude for the vicunas. During Inca times, to give thanks to Mother Earth (Pachamama) for providing vicuna fleece, a vicuna was sacrificed at the beginning of the chacu. Today, chacu ceremonies spare the animal. Some are preceded by a fertility ritual consisting of a symbolic wedding of two vicunas in which two animals must drink a mixture of each other’s blood before releasing the animals. Participants may present offerings.

Most chacus in Peru take place between November and May. In Lucanas, near the Pampa Galeras-Barbara D’Achille National Reserve, an International Vicuna Festival is held in June. Visitors on Peru tours here may watch the wild vicuna round-up that precedes the shearing and then participate in a celebration of music, dance and revelry that surrounds the event. Among the locations where chacus take place in Peru are: Huancayo, Ondores, Picotani, Rancas, Tambo Canahuas, Tupala and Tocra.