Bolivia. The ritual of potato planting.

Before planting, Quechua farmers ask Pachamama (mother-earth) for permission. Pachamama is the fertility goddess  who presides over planting and harvesting. Then the Ispallamama (spirits) are invoked.

The sowing of the potato begins with the preparation of the land. Farmers select a fertile land, which has rested for two or three years; then they leave the house where they usually live to move to the jant’a, the place where they will prepare the land where the potatoes will be planted. They stay in the jant’a for about four months. Farmers prepare the field by using a plough or else turn the land twice with an oxen yoke, and then again, one more time, before sowing in order to soften the land. This facilitates the growth of the potato plant.

The soil is fertilized with jich’i guano (dry animal manure), usually of sheep.During the process of preparation of the land, farmers perform the Pachamama offering ritual. The Pachamama is a ‘deity’ that represents ‘Mother Earth’, being a protector and provider, source of life and fertility. The purpose of the ritual is to give back to Mother Earth what she has given men. The offerings include coca leaves (for the Andean cosmovision they are the mediators between nature and humans), a variety of cereal seeds, unworked silver, sullus (fetuses of llamas or sheep), chicha, wine, fat of animals, sweets and huairuros (red and black seeds with symbolic and magical powers), q’owa (an aromatic herb), white corn, qorilazo (gold-coloured threads used in ritual offering) and qolqelazo (silver-coloured threads also used in ritual offering), cigarettes and other offerings.
This ritual is performed on a Thursday or Friday at night, at the beginning of the preparation of the land, on the eve of planting and for the harvesting of the potatoes: all offerings are burnt on a grill and the next day the ash is buried in the ground.

The  Ispallamama is another ritual that is performed on the occasion of the potato planting. Before starting to plant, women prepare a special offering: they split three large seeds and then they decorate them with coca leaves and with an alelí flower; they then anoint them with llama feed and then all the ingredients are wrapped in colourful wool and are given to the Ispallas (the deities of producers). These deities are given custody of the seed, in order to protect them from frost, hail, diseases and to strengthen them so that they can produce good and big potatoes.

During the pijcheo (the process of chewing coca leaves), some seeds are cut in half and after twenty minutes the elders of the community are invited to observe those signs that foretell the quality of potatoes that will grow. If some dots can be seen and if the seeds left to dry become white, then the potatoes’ quality will be good, otherwise, if the seeds become red or pink, it is very likely that the quality of the potatoes won’t be good. Once farmers have performed all necessary rites, they proceed with the sowing. There are different kinds of seeds such as the huayru potato, luk’i, ch’iyara imilla, sani imilla and others. The sowing is usually performed by using two yokes of oxen: one is used to draw a furrow in the field and the other one to cover the furrow with soil after seeds have been planted and some fertilizer has been added.

At midday, farmers have lunch and some women serve them a dish consisting of kanka (pieces of grilled meat) potatoes, chuño (a typical freeze-dried potato product), mote (corn grains boiled). After a short break and pijcheo, farmers resume working. When they finish  at 6 pm, they chew the coca k’intu, which is a small bundle made with coca leaves. They take three or more leaves, place one on top of the other and hold them between the thumb and the forefinger. Potato-planting generally requires the work of ten/fifteen farmers and is a collective work that strengthen ties among community and family members.

Jhonny Mancilla Pérez



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