Qoyllur Rit'i: A Woman's Journey
Videocassette (57 mins.)
Directed by Gabriela Martinez Escobar
Produced by Holly Wissler - 1999 (email: [email protected])

The Qoyllur Rit'i is an annual pilgrimage ritual with origins in pre-Columbian Peru. Although Catholic imagery (apparitions of the Catholic Parish of Ocongate two centuries ago) has become part of the event, the pilgrimage is still centered on Ausangate Mountain, in the Andean chain. Holly Wissler's personal and passionate film centers around her role as the mayordomo of the Qoyllur Rit'i preparations and ceremony. A long-time mountain guide in the Andes and with extensive knowledge of the region, it was nonetheless an unusual honor for a foreign woman to be chosen for a role usually reserved for a Peruvian male or couple.

Taking the mantle of mayordomo at the conclusion of the prior year's pilgrimage, the film documents her lead role as she coordinates food, transportation, costume preparations, accommodations and fundraising. Six months out, Wissler is busy gaining commitments for sacks of rice, pigs, potatoes and a long list of food and other logistical details. Nearing the time of Qoyllur Rit'i, announcements are made on a local radio station that the time had arrived to deliver the committed ceremonial necessities. Qoyllur Rit'i then follows Wissler and her group of dancers, musicians and pilgrims as they progress through the rituals. Shamans help with offerings to the Mountain Gods, asking for success and safety, and the camera accompanies the pilgrims through the opening ceremony and along the path marked with Christian crosses, each a ritual stop along the way, leading to the sacred site. For three days and nights, thousands of pilgrims and hundreds of dance groups camp at 12,000 feet on an esplanade between a pair of rock shrines; each group will dance, and music and dance are constant for the duration. At the end of the second day, all groups converge for a single procession, still leading up to additional rituals high on the sacred glaciers (15,000 feet). The final night is an emotional ceremony at the main altar, beginning the cycle which will repeat in yet another year. - Richard Dorsett

Available in English & Spanish from Holly Wissler c/o Lionel Hampton School of Music, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho 83844-4015. $30 plus shipping and handling. (Your purchase will help fund the completion of the Spanish version of this documentary so that all participants can receive their own copy.)

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