Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Coca Leaf Ceremonies

The most basic ceremony is simple to share coca leaves: a curi curi we say, open our coca purses called chuspas, pull out a small handful and place them in our friend's chuspa. They usually return the favor. You should never take the coca in your bare hands, but offer your hat, or the tail of your blouse or your chuco. If you MUST take them in your hands, at least blow on your hands to make them sacred before accepting the leaves.

Next level of coca leaf ceremony is to choose within your own chuspa 3 well shaped leaves, called a k'intu, imbue them with your prayers and then bury or burn them. When doing this with a group, you put your leaves together and one person takes them to bury or burn them. More complex would be to open an estalia, or coca-carrying cloth, which would be prepared previously full of leaves. Each person in the group comes forth, makes a cross or 4 direction gesture with their hands over the leaves and chooses their own k'intus, often more than one set of three leaves. Men remove their hats as for a prayer when they choose the leaves.
We did a ceremony like this this afternoon, May 4, on our last day in Lima, with Celbia and Kusi, using a bandana for our estalia. We started with an intention for the ceremony, but each made his/her own prayers: for prosperity for all, for Sam & Tara's safe travels, for solutions of the land border disputes, for health and love. Here in the city, we did our ceremony on a little picnic table under a peach-colored bouganvilla outside a tienda, where we bought a soda pop and offered some to Patchamama as well. At the end of the ceremony, Sam placed the leaves on top of my chuspa and I buried them a couple of inches below a rock in a sweet little flower garden nearby.
On Easter morning, the ceremony is a step more complicated from the simple estalia. Traditionally, every family on Taquile makes a despacho, a paper-wrapped dispach of prayers. Each person's offering is placed on an open piece of paper augmented with flower petals or herbs. Sometimes symbols are offered, such as paper money or a model or drawing of a house. When everyone in the family has chosen leaves, the despacho is finalized with sweets, wine, alcohol and wrapped up to take to the big ceremony on the highest hill on Taquile to give to the Pacos to burn.
You see, Easter is the date for the biggest coca leaf ceremony on Taquile for the whole year, a ceremony to pay the Patcha Mama for the year. We got all dressed up in our finest Taquile clothes and hiked the length of the island to the high point on the north end of Taquile. The rock-fenced enclosure has another interior rock-fenced enclosure where the pacos collected the individual family offerings. We weren't allowed in that inner sanctum, but we were welcome to participate in the group ceremonies. This year we were a bit late after eating our watia, just in time for the after-ceremony drinking party, but Sam and I attended two years ago when we saw more of the ceremonies.

All of the island's officers, or authorities, were gathered at a stone table dressed in full regalia: black trousers, white shirt, black and white vest, red cumberbund, plus multicolored knitted earflap hat under a black felt sombrero and a black short jacket. Many also carried a short staff. Their wives were seated on the ground facing the men. Taquile has two women authorities now, a recent change in the traditional male-only office holders, and they sat with the men in the row behind the table. The table had several rounds of large estalias full of coca leaves. Sometimes the people attending were invited to come up and choose leaves, sometimes only the authorities chose leaves. Sometimes people would go around and generously pass the leaves out among the attendees and then we would pick our own k'intus which would soon be gathered up to add to the offering. Beer was offered all around by the authorities and individuals would offer their alcohol, serving from the bottle cap.

New Age Tourism: A guide in Puno claims to have been called by PachaMama for spiritual tourism. We happened to connect with her group in time to be invited to a ceremony she had planned with a class she and her partner were teaching. The students were tour guides and artists and restaurant/hospedaje owners from all around Lake Titicaca. Her ceremony reminded me of our Colorado Winter Solstice fire ceremony combined with a lake limpia. They kept saying this was a very ancient ceremony, but it seemed strange to me to write one's intentions on paper to put in the fire instead of using coca leaves. Silvano attended a second ceremony from this group a few weeks later and reported that they used coca leaves in a shorter ceremony, which sounded like an improvement. This group participated in a second ceremony in the afternoon, a strong traditional coca leaf ceremony led by a aged Taquile Paco (shaman).

The Paco had two assistants: One would pick out kintus of three coca leaves and hand them to the Paco, who dipped each in wine, called mountain or locale by name one at a time, blew on the kintu and placed it on the pile on top of a large piece of paper. The second assistant would place flowers and a pinch of herbs on top of the leaves. After a while other people called out suggestions of places to include in the naming. I thought of our Colorado mountains and included them in my own offering, but didn't call them aloud. By the time he finished, the coca leaves were a few inches deep! It took an additional large piece of paper to wrap up the pile to complete the despachio.

The paco and his assistants made a couple more despachos, including one bought ready to go from the market, full of candy and paper money, and then built a fire made entirely of dried cow dung, started using alcohol. When it was burning well, they submitted the despachos to burn, also lots of incense. The circle of people gathered around were invited to toss in some powdered incense, which not only smelled great, but made a delightful flare of fire.

Afterward we shared some alcohol and danced to sampoƱa (pan-pipe flute) music and walked up to the restaurant and house where the visitors were staying. Beer was shared all around and some speeches given. Our friend from many years, Juan Quispe Huatta, became the defacto master of ceremonies, and he invited me to speak. I emphasized that although I love Lake Titicaca and certainly aknowlege the sacredness of this place, we need to remember that Patcha Mama is everywhere, that the whole globe is sacred and deserving of our protection and respect. AND that if they are going to promote Spiritual Tourism, they need to include all of Taquile (and other places around the lake), not just this one restaurant.


  1. Coca leaves are a blessing to have.

  2. The organism should be spread throughout the globe. For the world to use.

    It is good for you.