Saturday, June 01, 2013

Maiz Cabanita: El Solay/La Siembra (Planting Season) 2

The day of the solay doesn't start so early, around 7:30-8:00 (perhaps one reason why it was the aspect of the cultivation cycle I participated in most). The workers gather at the house of the person who is doing the planting, and everyone is served a bowl of caldo, thick soup, as well as a large glass of chicha, the first of many during the day.

The men then head off to the chacra. There needs to be enough hands to herd two teams of bulls, carry the pero or plough, lead the horse, mule or donkey that will be used to majonear, and take a porongo or 20-litre plastic container of chicha. I was responsible for all of these tasks on different days. The dense wood of the pero is carried balanced over the shoulder, and doesn't seem to weigh much at first, but after about 15 minutes it starts to become heavier (especially when heading uphill over uneven terrain), and when the chacra is a long way away it can feel like carrying one's own personal cross.

The work during the morning varies, depending on what kind of preparation there has been prior to the day of planting, and what condition the chacra has been left in after the previous year. If the chacra has not already been ploughed by a tractor, it's necessary to plough and majonear twice to prepare the earth for planting. Sometimes, if a small chacra is to be planted as well as another medium-sized one in the same day, the small one may be planted in the morning, somewhat guiltily, without ceremony. Often there's work to be done in filling in the gaps in the terrace walls where animals have been allowed to wander in and out during fallow season. If the chacra is in stony terrain, rocks and stones need to be gathered up. Usually, there's the tough job of fighting back the grass that has invaded the border of the chacra. If this hasn't been done thoroughly the previous year, and the grass has made its way into the centre of the chacra, this task can continue into the afternoon.   

Every half hour or so, someone will serve all his fellow workers a big glass of chicha. Coca leaves and sometimes jampi (herbal licor) will also be shared around. The chicha and the coca seem to gradually  banish pain and tiredness: there were several days when I barely managed to get out of bed to make it to the solay, but by mid-morning was feeling relaxed and relatively energetic.

Around 11:30-12:00 midday, the women arrive. This will be the owner of the chacra, or the owner's partner, plus her relatives or comadres. They have been cooking back in the village and will bring food for lunch as well as chicha for the rest of the day. Sometimes other friends will arrive around this time as well, bringing gifts, usually alcoholic: beer, wine, pisco, champagne and rum may be added to the chicha and jampi.

Lunch is served, the men and women sitting apart in different groups. Lunch during planting is usually sumptuous: the owner of the chacra will want to make sure that their workers and guests are well fed and happy.

After lunch is the centrepiece of the solay, the mocco tinkay,which could perhaps be translated as "seed blessing ceremony". Mocco is Quechua for seed, while the tinka, which in Cabanaconde has been hispanicized into the verb tinkar, is the act of splashing what one is drinking, generally onto the earth, although cattle or other objects can also receive a tinka.

For the mocco tinkay, the men gather in a semi-circle, always facing towards Hualca Hualca, the apu tutelar, or mountain god, of Cabanaconde. The owner of the chacra and/or those responsible for ploughing take pride of place at the left side of the semi-circle. The women sit or crouch in another loose semi-circle, facing the men, while the seeds that will be planted are placed on a lliclla (blanket) in front of them. One of the women, usually the youngest, will serve each of the men in turn with a glass of everything that has been brought. Obligatory are chicha, jampi and pito: chicha mixed with various cereals including barley, maca and kiwicha. Cigarettes and coca are also passed around. As each person is handed the glass, they will splash a little on the ground, perhaps making an invocation to the pachamama or to Hualca Hualca, and then drink the rest.There will be conversation and jokes, and in larger events, someone may be especially designated to play the clown.

The women then turn to face the seeds, and it's their turn to sample some of every drink. When this is done, the seeds will be organized into bundles and one of the women will deliver these to the men who will be doing the sowing. This is known as to levantar la semilla, literally to lift up the seeds.

Once the ceremony is completed, it's time to work. The two yuntas plough the chacra, while those responsible for sowing the seeds follow behind. In some cases, a further person will add natural fertiliser from sacks of guano de isla, ground up bird droppings from the Peruvian coast. Finally, others may continue to gramear, or clear the grass from the chacra. As described in the previous post, it's expected that both the ploughing and sowing will be done by men, while women and children can participate  in the remaining tasks. The gender division is fairly unique to Cabanaconde: in other parts of Peru, and even elsewhere in the Colca Valley, women scatter the seeds, but as many have commented, a peculiar kind of machismo predominates in Cabanaconde.

 The final act of the day is to serve the alsa. This is kind of a picnic that is spread out on llicllas, as in the photo above. The base ingredient is toasted maize, and to this are added olives, cheese, fried pastry, cold meat, and ideally, small dried fish sourced from the Laguna de Mucurca, a large lagoon in the mountains above Cabanaconde. The alsa is considered a great delicacy, and people who remain in the village will often ask you to bring them back some if you are going to the solay.

By the end of the day, most of the participants will be slightly drunk, especially if the owner has prepared a particularly strong batch of chicha, or if people have brought lots of additional beer and liquor. In the best cases, everyone will be relaxed and happy, and there will be lots of joking and ribaldry. This was the case in the solay of Javier and Angelica (also attended by a group of French tourists as part of the Cabanaconde Turismo project), pictured below in one of my favourite photos.

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