Salud: Toma Ko Sunchis (A “How to” Guide for the Corn Festival)

January 13, 2012

Last Sunday, the J-Term MIIS group ventured to Choquecancha, a mountain village that had invited us to attend the annual Corn Festival celebrating the last day of work before the land is left to grow.

We arrived in the rain. Women welcomed us to their home with a kiss and a sprinkle of rose petals on our head. Covered in flowers and droplets of rain, the women dressed us in traditional clothing. The men dawned a bright red poncho, and the women wore skirts and intricate cloths around their shoulders. I bent down as a woman fastened my hat with ribbons trailing down my back.

Soon after we arrived, the women packed up food in “mantas” (cloths), strapped a small portion to my back, and headed out to the fields carrying lunch for 40 people. As we walked along the muddy dirt road, dressed in traditional Quechua clothing, the women stopped for a drink. Chicha, the local brew of fermented corn alcohol. “Tomai Sunchis,” (Salud or Cheers) the women called out after offering a drink to Pachamama (mother earth). The cup was passed from woman to woman, each toasting the group, “a nuevas hermanas” (to new sisters) one woman exclaimed.

When we arrived, we opened our packages and began to serve the men. Corn cakes, rice, spaghetti, kale sauté with fava beans, fried egg, salad and potatoes. After the feast, as I lay napping in the warm grass, I awoke suddenly to the sound of a drum.

A cornhusk was pushed into my hand, and a farmer pulled me along behind him. The flutes, drums, singing, and conk shells egged us on. I realized what I had to do. “Corre” I yelled, (run), as I swung the husk at the man’s legs, butt, or whatever I could reach. He weaved in and out of the rows of corn. I did my best to skip them over. People yelled as the different pairs crashed into each other, corn flying.

When the music stopped, I stood in the grass catching my breath as the flutes began again and another round of the game commenced. ~Alex Shaphren

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