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Sunday, 01 January 2017

Empire of the Sun and Moon: A Bolivian Creation Story

Written by Daniel Davies-Llewellyn
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A serendipitous walk along the spine of Bolivia's Isla del Sol leads to an unexpected and unforgettable festival experience.



The TV camera panned across the scene and onto the politician from La Paz. A young reporter fired well-prepared questions from his notebook whilst a group of bemused locals looked on in amazement. It wasn’t every day a film crew from the capital turned up here, but then it’s not every day you celebrate the birth of the Sun, Moon and all life on Earth.



We were at what seemed like the extremities of the world; 4000 meters up in the crystalline air of the Andean massif at the northern tip of Isla Del Sol, a small island floating in Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable body of water. No cars, roads, mobile phone masts or chain stores here.



We had stumbled across a traditional celebration of the Aymara and Quechua creation story and I now found myself face to face with The Rock of the Puma; the place where it all began.



It was at this very spot that the Creator god Viracocha rose up and created the sun, moon and stars as well as the first Incas, Manco Capac and his wife Mama Ocllo. Most modern-day Aymara and Quechua peoples of Peru and Bolivia still accept these legends as their creation story.



Any doubts one might have about the faith of the local people in these beliefs were quickly dismissed as I looked around me; men with drums strapped to their chests beat out a rhythm like a heartbeat, others played flutes and danced to the universal language of song as their ancestors had done for generations. Women sat huddled together, some holding babies, others chatting and laughing. Groups of teenagers gathered around the performers, each wearing feathered hats and bright ponchos. In the background troupes of entertainers from far-off villages prepared themselves for their big moment. All around the practiced and unrehearsed, the young and the old, the near and the far came together in a celebration of life on Earth under the unrelenting sun, shining in approval over its own birthday party.



I squeezed my way through the tight crowds to a dusty expanse of ground, roughly the size of a football field. Opposite me was the Rock and below it, running its entire length, stood a line of men, backed by colored materials. In front of the men sat a parallel line of be-hatted women, all with the traditional double plaited hair and wearing skirts of different colors. Both they and us were being entertained by a troupe of dancers and musicians. As one group finished another would start up, the sounds of both blurring into one for a time. To the left of the field a group sidled off stage whilst to our right a fresh and invigorated band strutted on, playing and dancing like their lives depended on it. In many ways they did.



For hours group replaced group, each individual adding another ingredient to the whole, until the recipe was complete, all cooked under the ever-present ball of fire in the thick blue sky above us. The atmosphere was potent and a weariness soon descended as we headed towards late afternoon.



As the sun sank lower I noticed the politician from La Paz, now adorned with garlands of multi-colored flowers, chatting casually to a group of musicians and dancers. It was nice to see a member of parliament going beyond the usual meet, greet and go. The reality was that these celebrations meant as much to him as they did to the rest of the partygoers. Any class divide that may have existed had been forgotten, for one afternoon at least.



As we left the site and filtered away with the rest of the crowd, laughing and joking, I thought back to our Machu Picchu visit a few days earlier and was struck by how, in contrast to what we had just seen, Peru’s biggest tourist draw had been devoid of anything of contemporary relevance to the peoples of South America. 



Being amongst these people celebrating and embracing their origins and beliefs felt like the cycle of life was being continued. The circle was complete, the past permeated the present and a sense of reality prevailed.




ⓒDaniel Davies-Llewellyn

Last modified on Monday, 16 January 2017