You may not realize it but Earth Day actually first came into being as far back as 1970. While that might seem a long time for modern societies that want quick fixes and magic bullets, when compared to the history of the Peruvian Andes, it’s practically a nanosecond.
Here in the Andes of Peru, every day is Earth Day, and it has been for centuries. That’s because Pachamama, or Mother Earth, plays an important role in Andean Cosmology. Pachamama is believed to take the heavy energy of people (such as we accumulate living in the day-to-day materialistic world) and give them back light energy, much in the way that she uses manure as fertilizer to grow food.
Because of her role in the daily life of the Andean people, it has been common throughout the years to perform ceremonies called despachos that offer respect and thanks to Pachamama. These despachos are also used to ask her, along with the Apus or mountain spirits, for their blessings and intercession. A despacho could be used to ask for a good harvest, for a healthy birth of a child, strong livestock, a favorable climate–even for someone to be cured.
The person who performs these ceremonies is an Andean priest called a paqo. Although paqos can be found in various communities, the community of Q’ero is particularly known for their despachos. Centuries ago, when the Spanish first came to Peru, the Q’ero removed themselves to high, inhospitable mountain lands. Here, they were able to live in peace from the conquerors. As a result, it is felt by many that their customs are as close to those practiced long ago by the Incas.
Today, the people in Q’ero still make these offerings to Pachamama and the Apus, and some paqos come down to Cusco and other places in Peru, even to other countries, to perform them for other people. It is a truly beautiful way to be introduced to these customs and to learn about the culture.
The paqo takes a piece of white paper and makes a sort of mandala with items that are felt to be particularly appreciated. Seeds, dried fruit, candies… colored string representing the rainbow, cotton to represent the clouds, glitter for stardust… flowers. All are combined as the paqo feels compelled to do so, making each offering beautiful and unique.
If the despacho is done for other people, they will be invited to blow their intentions onto coca leaves to be put into the offering. Once the offering is complete, it is tied up, and will be used along with the paqo’s special bundle to cleanse the attendees, allowing them to release any heavy energy into the offering. It is then burnt out of sight, as it is considered impolite to watch Pachamama as she is eating.
For anyone who is making travel plans for visiting Peru, having a despacho made in your honor is a fabulous way to start out your journey. Even if you are not coming here with the purpose of making a life change, Peru has a way of doing that to you. Beginning your visit with a ceremony such as this gives you a chance to connect deeply with the native culture as well as set your own intentions for your time here.
By Maureen Santucci
Originally from the US, Maureen Santucci now calls the ancient Peruvian capital of Cusco home, where she has lived for almost 7 years, working as a travel consultant as well as writing for Fodors Travel Guide. This article was written on behalf of Aracari Travel, experts in providing luxury tours to Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.