Pawkar Raymi – Celebrating Gifts from Mother Earth

As one of the four principle agriculture-related festivals celebrated by the indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Andes, Pawkar Raymi is a joyous celebration of the bounteous provisions from Pacha Mama, or Mother Earth. With the word pawkar meaning blossoming, and raymi meaning a ritual, ceremony or festival, Pawkar Raymi is also referred to as the “Fiesta of the Flowering of the Maize”. Pawkar Raymi coincides with the Christian celebration of Carnival, because many indigenous festivals and religious celebrations are held according to the solar and lunar cycles.

Held in the Kichwa town of Peguche, near the town of Otavalo, the first day of the ten day Pawkar Raymi festivities includes a meeting of cultures, crossing the generation-gap, and finding common ground between festival goers. The celebrations include a number of cultural and sporting events, as well as the election of the Festival Queen, or Pawkar Ñusta. A parade marks the beginning of the festivities, complete with music by the town’s brass band. Sports teams and dance groups feature in the parade which winds its way through the town while spectators toss flowers from balconies and sidewalks.

Dressed in colorful traditional clothing, men and women join the parade, some carrying large woven baskets filled with fresh produce on their heads and other carrying large jugs of the maize-based beverage known as chicha. With maize being a staple food of the region, it is enjoyed in its many forms throughout Pawkar Raymi, with thanks going to Pacha Mama for the plants that provide food. The parade ends with a symbolic presentation of the food to the wife of the prioste of the festival, followed by a communal feast for parade participants.

A feature of the festival is to acknowledge the importance of water in the growing of food, and it has become a tradition to throw buckets of water, water balloons and use water guns to wet one another. Children join in cultural events such as re-enacting the traditional marriage rituals of indigenous kichwas, while dance groups and musicians keep spectators entertained. The spiritual aspect of the festival includes the ancient ritual of Tumarina during which the local priest blesses buckets of flowers in water, which are then used to “anoint” locals and visitors alike with blessings for the future as Pawkar Raymi comes to an end.