First Nations’ New Year Celebration

The sun becomes the big protagonist every year on June 24, when the first nations both from Chile and Argentina celebrate the beginning of a new year.

The “We Xipantu” or “Nquillatún” (“New Year” or “Sunrise of the new Sun” in the Mapuche tongue) is the most important ceremony celebrated by the indigenous peoples in the Southern Hemisphere.

This celebration coincides with the ceremony known as Inty Raimy (from the Inca tradition), which also recognizes the sun as a source of renovation and wisdom. Throughout the ceremony, people pray and give thanks to the sun.

For the Mapuche people and the rest of the native peoples, astrology and astronomy were two fundamental tools for the development of knowledge. For instance, a systematic study and its further analysis could collaborate on the interpretation of the movements of heavenly bodies and the sun. Likewise, these tools could also account for their influence on people and nature and their subsequent changes.

  • The beginning of the new year

    The beginning of the new year

  • A great knowledge of astrology and astronomy

    A great knowledge of astrology and astronomy

  • Interpret the movements of the sun

    Interpret the movements of the sun

  • Respect for nature

    Respect for nature

  • Typical instruments

    Typical instruments

  • An ancient tradition

    An ancient tradition

That was the method the native peoples used in order to know the precise dates on which the year began and ended. For them, nature and earth showed an evident logical evolution and their comprehension enabled to define the beginning and end of each stage.

The Mapuche people conceive time as cycles. Thus, the sun rises when the winter comes, it grows up in the spring, becomes older in the summer and dies in the fall. It is a process of change and evolution which can be seen in nature as well.

In our hemisphere, on June 21, winter comes along with the winter solstice, when the Earth is farthest away from the sun. Likewise, this solstice occurs on the shortest day and longest night of the year. For the Mapuche people, this marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of a new sowing season.

The ceremony starts on the night of June 23. All the families gather around a bonfire and listen to stories told by the eldest members as they taste traditional dishes specially prepared for this event.

During the first hours of June 24, every member of these families plunge into the closest stream or river to have a bath, which is part of a purification ritual with the purpose of cleaning their bodies and spirits before welcoming the new year and the new sun.

Following this purification, a great celebration begins with individual and collective prayers. As families return to their homes, they play typical instruments and dance to celebrate the New Year.

On June 24, plenty of activities are held by the community: baptisms, ceremonies, games and, usually, a special ritual in which girls over 6 years old have her ears pierced to be able to wear earrings as a symbol of the end of their childhood.

Undoubtedly, this is a date which blends joy and emotion. The spirit of this celebration connects with every member of the community and revitalizes the engagement to live a new year following the native peoples’ traditions.

Autor Pablo Etchevers Fotografo Eduardo Epifanio

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