A rare look at faith in the Andes

Christopher Roche, United Kingdom, Commended, Open, Culture, 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

Photo of the Day: May 6, 2017

Sony World Photography Awards 2017 | Commended

The Descent of the Ukukus

In the Peruvian Andes tens of thousands of pilgrims gather to celebrate the festival of Qoyllur Rit’i – a mixture of Inca and Catholic traditions. During the final night, bands of “ukukus” (the name means “spectacled bear,” and refers to a mythical ice climber) head up to the holy glaciers at an altitude of 5600 meters to retrieve crosses and ice. At dawn they descend back into the valley carrying large crosses on their backs.


The festival is attended by thousands of indigenous people, some of whom come from as far away as Bolivia. The Christian celebration is organized by the Brotherhood of the Lord of Quyllurit’i (Spanish: Hermandad del Señor de Quyllurit’i), a lay organization that also keeps order during the festival.[20] Preparations start on the feast of the Ascension, when the Lord of Quyllurit’i is carried in procession from its chapel at Mawallani 8 kilometers to its sanctuary at Sinaqara.[21]

On the first Wednesday after Pentecost, a second procession carries a statue of Our Lady of Fatima from the Sinaqqara sanctuary to an uphill grotto to prepare for the festival.[22] Most pilgrims arrive by Trinity Sunday, when the Blessed Sacrament is taken in procession through and around the sanctuary.

The following day, the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i is taken in procession to the grotto of the Virgin and back.[23] Pilgrims refer to this as the greeting between the Lord and Mary, referring to the double traditional Inca feasts of Pariacaca and Oncoy mita. (See section above.) On the night of this second day, dance troupes take turns to perform in the shrine.[24]

At dawn on the third day, ukukus grouped by moieties climb the glaciers on Qullqipunku to retrieve crosses set on top. Some ukukus traditionally spent the night on the glacier to combat spirits. They also cut and bring back blocks of the ice, which is believed to have sacred medicinal qualities.[25] The ukukus are considered to be the only ones capable of dealing with condenados, the cursed souls said to inhabit the snowfields.[26] According to oral traditions, ukukus from different moieties used to engage in ritual battles on the glaciers, but this practice was banned by the Catholic Church.[27] After a mass celebrated later this day, most pilgrims leave the sanctuary. One group carries the Lord of Quyllurit’i in procession to Tayankani before taking it back to Mawallani.[28]

The festival precedes the official feast of Corpus Cristi, held the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, but it is closely associated with it.[3]

From Wikipedia

Photo by Christopher Roche, United Kingdom, Commended, Open, Culture, 2017 Sony World Photography Awards

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