An Ancient Ritual

By: Fr. Al Utzig
July 5, 2011

On Monday June 20, we took a trip up the mountain to celebrate New Years in Bolivia with thousands of local folks.  We left at 8:30 p.m., drove an hour to the town of Sipe Sipe and watched a pageant put on by local youth about how the Inca king received the sun.   Then we sat in the plaza with hundreds of other people for a while, chewing coca leaves.  At midnight, we started to walk out of town and up the mountain on a trail made by the Incas 500 years ago (paved with stones, like the Roman Apian Way).  It took us near the top at 12,000 ft.  It was used by runners keeping the Inca Empire connected.  It was a breath-taking hike With lots of people going up.  We rested, passed others resting, chewed coca and finally made it to the top around 3 a.m. in bright moonlight.  Up there, there were military police keeping things orderly and thousands of people with little fires going to keep warm.  We were joined by some local young men and sang around the fire till 6 a.m.  Then we joined the crowd moving toward an area where people were waiting for the sun to rise through a notch in the mountains across the valley.  There was a man with a llama 10 feet from us.  As the sun rose and everyone held the palms of their hands out towards it, the man slit the llama´s throat, got the blood in bowls and splashed it all over the crowd.  My jacket was splattered.  It was definitely interesting.  We slowly made our way back down to the town by 9:30 a.m.  It´s a good thing we couldn´t see how steep our climb was last night, or some would not have gone.  We had climbed about 3,500 feet.

The next day was a national holiday for New Years.  The pageant in the town plaza last night closed with the raising of the flag of all Bolivian indigenous people.  It was banned by the government until the present president came in to office.  He is Evo Morales, a member of the Amayra people, and does not discourage it.

I´m enjoying this Bolivian experience.

Fr. Al Utzig is in language school in Bolivia.