Province of Jujuy
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.
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.
BIOPHILIA is currently working on the development of a textile project with the community of Chalala, a little village 3 km away from Purmamarca, in the heart of the Quebrada of Humahuaca, which is particularly renowned for its role in preserving the Samilantes traditions in the region. The community’s great potential and genuine ambitions are among the reasons why BIOPHILIA committed to develop a new initiative of rural development in this specific site, with a focus on women empowerment.
The Chalala textile project is part of BIOPHILIA’s Wool of the Andes program and will be developed in partnership with Asociación Warmi Sayajsunqo. The project will contribute to reinforce and reorganize the local economy by creating a new productive flow based on the creation of a weaving factory and the sustainable exploitation of llama and vicuña fibre. Furthermore, the project will foster and enhance the Samilantes’s traditions, by turning the Suris’ iconography into a unique source of inspiration for innovative textile and fashion design, with a clear local identity. This activities will play a significant role in preserving the Samilantes’s cultural identity.
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.
PHOTOGRAPHS by Marco Vernaschi