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SAMILANTES

Cultural Identity

 

The Samilantes (also known as Suris) are one of the most interesting cultural groups of the highlands of Jujuy, the so-called Puna, and the Quebrada of Humahuaca. Half humans, half birds the Samilantes gather in specific ceremonies and cultural festivals, performing a dance in honor of the Pachamama and the Virgin Mary at the same time. This particularly interesting groups bear witness of the native-Christian hybridization that took place over the past centuries throughout most of the Andean Altiplano.

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According to the ancient Samilantes legend, the sun had suddenly vanished from the sky plunging the humankind into darkness. The indigenous communities were concerned and gathered together around a big fire, praying for the sun to shine again. All of a sudden, a female Nandú bird (or Rhea bird) materialized, followed by its chicks, performing a sort of dance around the fire. Shortly after the birds were gone but the sun was back in the sky. Since then, the Samilantes celebrate this event by impersonating the Nandú bird, wearing its feathers and mimicking its movements through a shamanic dance. At the final stages of the performance, the dancers hold a butchered, sacrificial lamb waving and shaking it, until it breaks in two pieces. Only at this point, the dance finalizes. Most of the Samilantes are usually women and children, however through time men were also allowed to impersonate the bird.

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The Samilantes’ ceremonies may be observed mainly through January and May, when the Carnival, Lent, and some local festivals color the calendar and the region. Some groups also gather in June, to celebrate the winter solstice, called Initiraimi.  The most active Samilantes communities are those  from Abra Pampa, Cochinoca and Casabindo, in the Puna highlands, and those from Chalala, Humahuaca and Hiuchaira, in the Quebrada of Humahuaca.

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