The Ukukus Wonder Why a Sacred Glacier Melts in Peru's Andes

Again, when even a 'conservative' paper like the WSJ front-pages a story involving science (like evolution), such as this one discussing Global Warming, one would think the Rethuglican mouth-breathers would be rendered (momentarily) speechless. Apparently not. - The Ukukus Wonder Why a Sacred Glacier Melts in Peru's Andes:
In the past these men, called ukukus after the word for bear in the local Quechua language, cut and hauled down large blocks of ice to share with family, friends and livestock as part of an annual Catholic pilgrimage known as El Señor de Qoyllur Rit'i that usually draws about 40,000 worshipers to a dizzying 16,000 feet above sea level.

These days, cutting ice is all but taboo. “We used to take ice, but now it's prohibited,” said Darwin Apaza Año, a broad-faced ukuku from the province of Anta.

The bear-men say their sacred glacier is disappearing. Over a period of two decades, its edge has drawn back 600 feet along the boulder-strewn slope leading to the church in the valley below, according to people here. Even compared with last year, the glacier is noticeably smaller.

That's a worrisome portent for locals who still worship snowcapped mountains as gods, or apus. It's out of concern for the apu living here, the bear-men say, that they have decided not to take any more blocks of ice.

Although few on this remote mountaintop are aware of it, the demise of this Andean ice-cutting ritual is likely the result of global warming. The United Nations says rising temperatures are causing glaciers to recede throughout the world, with some of the most pronounced effects on relatively rare patches of ice in countries like Peru that lie within the tropics.
A study by the Peruvian government in 1997 found that the country's glaciers had shrunk by more than 20% over 30 years. The National Commission on Climate Change in Lima now predicts that Peru could lose all its glaciers below 18,000 feet in elevation in the next 10 years. Within 40 years, they may all be gone.


...The cosmological implications of the missing snow are clear to people here. According to local myth, when the snow disappears from the tops of the mountains, it will herald the end of the world. “That's what the farmers say. But I believe it, too,” said Ramón Salizar Flores, a shopkeeper in the southern city of Cuzco who last made the 10-hour trip to Qoyllur Rit'i six years ago.

Qoyllur Rit'i, which means “resplendent snow” in Quechua, likely started out hundreds of years ago as a rite to the apus, said Jean-Jacques Decoster, who teaches precolonial history at the University of Cuzco, located in the onetime capital of the Inca empire. Later, in 1780 as tradition has it, Jesus appeared on the mountain in the guise of a little blond boy.

“When Spaniards had difficulty converting the populace, they invented a miracle,” said Enrique Vera Farfan, a tour guide who is also a dancer in one of dozens of troupes that parade nonstop around the mountainside, accompanied by noisy brass bands.
Today Catholic and pagan traditions are fused, an effect known as syncretism. For instance, the glacial ice is deemed to be holy water, and it is also still revered as the apu's semen, good for fertilizing Pacha Mama, or Mother Earth. “It's the same thing,” Mr. Vera explained between gulps of coca-leaf tea.

Until recently, a highlight of the festival was when the ukukus carried down heavy blocks of ice tied to their backs. Some of the ice found its way 100 miles northwest to Cuzco's cathedral. Other pieces were distributed on the spot as a healing elixir.
The ukukus first started to get worried about the ice about 1993, said Carlos Flores Lizana, a former Jesuit priest who ran the Qoyllur Rit'i sanctuary at the time. The mystical bear-men, who consider themselves guardians of the snow, worried that taking ice might be causing it to shrink. “They had the ecological issue in mind,” said Mr. Flores. “They didn't want the glacier destroyed more.”

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