A Guide to the Culture and Traditions of the Andean Communities of Peru
Traditions of Peru > Despachos
Despachos and Pagos (Ritual Offerings)
Despacho is a Spanish word meaning offering. In Peru the word pago is often used meaning literally a payment in the form of prayers and material gifts of food, alcohol and other items considered necessary. The offerings are usually made to the spirits residing in the highest mountain peaks (known as Apus) or to Pachamama (Mother Earth) or to a combination of the two. The ceremony is usually performed by a Misayoq, a specialist in Andean rituals (commonly equated to priests). Misayoqs are believed to possess the ability to communicate directly with the mountain spirits and natural forces.
The ceremony generally takes place outdoors, in the middle of a field. The misayoq (sometimes referred to as a Paq'o) lays an unkuņa (a small rectangular finely woven cloth made from natural alpaca) on the ground, orientated in the direction of the nearest important Apu such as Salkantay or Ausangate. He places a large sheet of white paper on top of the unkuņa and upon the paper places one by one the various elements that make up the offering.
There are many variations of despachos. While there are certain elements common to all despachos the particular healing intention determines the final design and some of the contents of the offering. The intent of the ceremony may be to bring about harmony and balance to the earth (such as abundant crops and fertile animals), honour a new beginning (such as a new house, business or marriage) or to get rid of an illness or negative energy. Despachos can also be made to ward off witchcraft and sorcery. Participation in the ceremony can help reinforce spiritual relationships between members of the community and cleanse each participant of negative or heavy energy. This heavy energy actually becomes part of the offering.
It is very important that the ceremony is treated with utmost respect and faith. It is often said that a badly made despacho or a ceremony that is attended by participants who treat it as a game can often do more harm than good. Traditionally the misayoq will not charge a fee for the ceremony and any payment is completely voluntary although a small tip or payment in kind is always expected.
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