Honoring Pachamama

Arts and Media April 2024 PREMIUM

As April, Earth Month, unfolds, it heralds a significant occasion for global consciousness and renews our commitment to our planet. 

As April, Earth Month, unfolds, it heralds a significant occasion for global consciousness and renews our commitment to our planet. Throughout this month, people from all corners of the globe unite in appreciation of the Earth’s beauty, diversity, and the essential role it plays in sustaining life. Among the many cultures that embrace this reverence for nature, some regions in Latin America stand out with their profound connection to the land, embodied in the concept of Pachamama.

The Origins of Pachamama

The word “Pachamama” stems from the Quechua combination of the words “pacha,” which means space, time, universe, or world, and “mama,” which signifies mother. This fertility goddess, revered by the Andean peoples, originates from Incan mythology, where she is considered Mother Earth responsible for planting, harvesting, creating mountains and earthquakes, and the existence of life on Earth. 

It is impossible to establish a fixed date regarding the exact moment when these agricultural cults began. The first written descriptions were made by Spanish chroniclers and date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. “In those early records, the specific word ‘Pachamama’ wasn’t used, but categories like ‘Earth’ or ‘Earth that is mother’ were employed, even ‘Earth that has a mother,’’’ explains Guillermina Espósito, an Argentine researcher.

Adrián Ilave, a historian specializing in Andean cultures, explains that the term is even broader: in Quechua, “Pachamama is not only ‘Mother Earth.’ ‘Pacha’ means ‘space-time,’ and ‘mama’ also means ‘that which is the greatest.’ So, the concept can be thought of as that maternal giant that embraces space-time.” Pachamama is expressed in a myriad of objects, such as springs or animals. In this sense, the Quechuas also believe that Pachamama is the origin of the four cosmological principles of their mythology: earth, water, the moon (embodied by the goddess Mama Killa), and the sun (embodied by the god Inti). Thus, she is often depicted as an adult woman surrounded by nature. 

In Which Countries is Pachamama Celebrated? 

This tradition is mainly celebrated in the Andean regions of southern Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile, and northern Argentina. In Central America, in countries like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, the concept of Pachamama is not as prevalent as it is in the Andean regions of South America. However, indigenous communities in Central America have their own cultural beliefs and ceremonies related to the Earth and nature. These ceremonies may involve similar themes of reverence for the land, but they are rooted in the specific indigenous traditions and beliefs of each region. For instance, “Paach” in Guatemala refers to the ceremony of giving thanks to the earth, often performed during agricultural events or special occasions. It involves rituals, prayers, and offerings to honor the land and seek blessings for fertility, health, and prosperity.

Although each community has adapted the rituals of Pachamama to its particular tradition, they all share the principle of reciprocity and the intention of thanking and expressing gratitude and respect for the earth and its natural forces.

When is Pachamama Celebrated?

Pachamama is celebrated every August 1st. In some regions, this celebration extends throughout the entire month, coinciding with the period prior to the rainy season. In some areas, preparations begin on July 31st, when families and communities cook, prepare confetti and streamers, and gather bottles of various contents that they will use on August 1st and throughout the month to honor Mother Earth, coinciding with the beginning of the agricultural cycle in the southern hemisphere. Winter ends, and spring begins, the time for planting: “A time that calls for fertility, abundance, and many rituals to ensure that this is possible.” “We ask for a new production and abundance for the coming year,” adds Juan Navi, a local tour guide in the Bolivian Amazon and a member of the indigenous community of San José de Uchupiamonas. 

How is Pachamama Celebrated?

A hole in the ground is dug during the Pachamama celebration, which holds symbolic significance and represents different aspects. One interpretation of the hole is that it symbolizes the earth opening her wounds to receive seeds. The month of August marks the beginning of a new cycle, a moment when permission is sought from Pachamama to open her wounds and place the seeds there. This is called “chaya,” which means “payment.” In this sense, Ilave explains that the Andean peoples are governed by agriculture and, according to Andean religion, the Earth finishes giving birth at the autumn equinox (Pawqar Waray Killa, in Quechua). At that moment, she needs a rest, during which, in April, the harvest is collected and made available for the winter. Then, the historian continues, “The world has to start anew. On May 1st, the Chakana appears in the sky (also called the Southern Cross), which is the symbol that dictates the mandate for Pachamama to rest until Haywarikuy (Day of Mother Earth, in Quechua).”

In another interpretation for the ceremony, the hole, which is less than a meter wide and has a shallow depth, symbolizes Pachamama’s mouth, to which food and drink are offered. It is a ceremony  that is not part of a religion, and anyone can participate in it because it serves as a poignant reminder of humanity’s dependence on the Earth and the importance of reciprocity in our relationship with nature.

In this way, the community connects with its ancestral goddess Pachamama and underscores the importance of nature in their lives, an interconnectedness between humans and the environment, both to ask for and to give, advocating and inspiring others to embrace similar values in their own lives.



Día de la Pachamma, un homenaje a la Tierra

¿Por qué se celebra el Día de la Pachamama?

La Pachamama, una fiesta para la madre Tierra

Paach Ceremony


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