The goddess who loves a drink.
August is known as the “tricky” month for the people of the Argentinian Andes. They live in the clouds, up in the mountains in one of the highest inhabited cities in the world. It is here that the cold of August – it is the dead of winter for those south of the Equator – makes residents wary. They are more susceptible to illness. Their crops and livestock are at greater risk of succumbing to the elements. August 1 also marks the halfway point of the dry season and the start of a new year.
Just like our New Years celebrations where often drink our way from the old into the new, the people of the Argentinean Andes use alcohol as well. Except the importance of the wine is not in its consumption, but rather in its sacrifice.
What is Pachamama?
Pachamama is the goddess of fertility, the ancient mother of the Earth and overseer of its health and harvest. She is embodied by the mountains and uses her benevolent power to maintain life on earth. In essence, she is Mother Nature.
Hoping Pachamama will protect the fruitfulness of the earth, the indigenous people of the Andes spend the month of August celebrating her. They dig large holes outside every mud hut and town building to represent the mouths of the Earth. They congregate in prayer and sing her praises. The central ritual is “challa”, which loosely means “to nourish and give drink to the land”.
Amidst the singing and dancing, the invocations of gratitude and prayers for health, the offerings of bean stew, corn, various kinds of potatoes and cigarettes, the leader raises his glass, proclaiming his offering to Pachamama before pouring some wine onto the earth. Others in the congregation follow suit, pouring the first drops of their wine or chicha (an alcoholic drink made from fermented corn) onto the ground before drinking.
Why waste good wine?
Sure, to many of us it seems silly. It’s perfectly good red, after all. But to the locals, it is a sign of reverence to their goddess and to the soil, which provides them with life.
The tradition of libation, or the ritual of pouring out drink as an offering to a deity, has been around for thousands of years, predominantly in the lens of religious practice. It is intrinsically entwined with the idea that sharing drink with their goddess is divine and shows her the incredible respect they have for her and the work she does nourishing the earth.
Unlike the other contributions of food and earthly items, which sit untouched in bowls or thrown into the freshly dug holes, drink can seep into the soil, allowing the earth to literally “drink” the alcohol they offer. The wine and chicha are made from grapes and corn respectively, both of which were grown from the earth, and to the earth they return, completing the circle both literally and spiritually. It is a form of reciprocity, a cosmic justice that keeps the balance of man’s relationship with nature in check.
Argentinians aren’t the only ones to believe in Pachamama. Other cultures living in the Andes across the borders into Peru and Bolivia also revere Pachamama and have their own variations of the ceremony. The one constant is the role of alcohol as a symbol of their worship.
Who can blame them? It isn’t a party without respectful company and a fine glass of wine.