Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fiestas and work in Colca Canyon

by Mauricio de Romaña.

The text of this chapter has been summarized from an article by María A. Benavides. 1987 (see bibliography).

Simón Bernal Malaga, an anthropologist born in Coporaque, the oldest village of the Colca, did an interesting study of the agricultural work and the fiestas of the region, and it is to this material which we turn in the present chapter.
The most important agricultural task carried out in the Colca occurs at the beginning of the Agricultural season and consists of scraping and cleaning the canals. Some of the canals require several days work in the high plateau where they originate. The canals are, naturally, blocked during the cleaning, and when the water begins to flow again the first rush of it is greeted with great celebration and devotion. The people kiss the water, cross themselves with it and bathe in it. Everyone is full of joy: the workers who proudly show their tools and the straw and flowers with which they have bedecked their hats and clothes; and the women, children and old people who have come to meet them with "chicha", food and band of musicians. In some cases they celebrate a mass of tanksgiving at the highest point accessible to the priest with his paraphernalia. The national flag floats on the breeze, along with the standard of the village, and hundreds of smaller flags adorn the hills so that the joy of the fiesta can be seen at a great distance.
The "barbecho", or plowing, takes place immediately before or after the first water flows. It is accompanied with great solemnity and offerings of "chicha" and food to the "Pacha Mama" or "Santa Tierra". The earth is considered a fertile woman and the time when she will give birth must be prepared for with care and attention. The water is considered the masculine element which fecundates the earth. Then, the men plow with a team in furrows, or with a "wiso", a kind of hoe, with which they make a hole in the ground. The women, symbol of the reproductive forces, come after them, placing the seeds in the earth and covering them carefully.
The "mishka" or early sowing of corn and beans takes place in August. In September and October the rest of the land is sown. Some fields are left fallow, depending on the water supply. October, November and December are the months which are the period of gestation for the earth. It is necessary to irrigate and hoe around the corn. The fiestas at this season are related to ceremonies to protect the crops from drought and frosts.
The first of January is the presenting of the staffs, when those who will wield the authority in the villages during the coming year receive the symbol of its investment. This occurs in the atriums of the churches which were cemeteries before the constructions of the mausoleums on the outskirts of every village during the second half of the 19th century. The rods are symbols of authority in the Incan tradition as well as in the Spanish.
The second of February is the fiesta of the Virgen of the "Candelaria", the patron of single women. The women adorn the image and carry it to the fields, where they make sure that the Virgen looks in all directions to insure a good harvest. This ceremony begins the period called the "verde", when they begin to harvest the first fruits of the "mishka", the August sowing.
At the end of February or the beginning of March they celebrate a movable fiesta, the fiesta of Pujllay, known in modern times as carnaval. Pujllay is a mysterious person, perhaps a Spaniard, who comes into the village like a whirlwind causing quarrels and upsets, catalyzing, indeed, all the aggression accumulated during the year. This is expressed in fights and acts of vengeance, especially between the two factions of the village. The Pujllay stays in the village a week, then he leaves and the tranquility and spirit of cooperation returns.
The Saturday of Pujllay, or carnaval, work is concerned with repairing the roads and bridges, or else the "tinka", the branding of livestock. The llamas and alpacas are gaily decorated with colored ribbons around their ears and collars of fruit and flowers around their necks. The bulls and oxen are adorned with bread and fruit as a symbol of appreciation for the aid they have given in the sowing.
The Tuesday of carnaval begins the fiesta proper, which lasts a week. This is considered the day of the year when there is no justice and one can take revenge for grievances suffered during the year. Until the decade of 1960 the authorities refrained from interfering, but after that acts of violence were no longer permitted.
The week of Pujllay is also a time of complete sexual freedom for single women. They can have sexual relations with whom they wish, be it men of their own faction or strangers. This week of sexual liberty results in an increase in the birth rate during the month of November.
Until a few decades ago the dance of "witite" was traditional at carnaval time. This is a dance in which the young men disguise themselves as women, wearing skirts, blouses, or a white shirt and a cloth hat or simply a black cloth on their heads. This is adorned with hanging decorations which hide their faces. They wear on their backs two "llicllas" or little blankets in which they put their ammunition: quinces, dahlia roots and pieces of cactus trunk. They carry "huaracas" or slings in their hands with which to hurl the ammunition. The "witite" is danced with the two factions of the village forming lines with a little lane between. They then sling things at their rivals in the opposite line, aiming at the head. There used to be frequent injuries and occasional deaths.
In the 60's the dance was modified and women were permitted to join in. Today they dance with a "witite" or with a young man without a disguise. The slings are now no more than adornment in their hands as the couples parade through the streets of the village to the sound of bands of wind instruments and percussion. Competition between factions has been transformed into a competition to see who can dance the longest and which musicians can play the longest. The "witite" is danced at Pujllay, or carnaval, in all the villages. It is also danced in the villages at the festival of the patron. The rhythm of the music is gay and rapid, different from the "huayno" and other more well known Andean dances.
After the fiesta of Pujllay the young single people of the village must clean it, and the atrium and interior of the church as well, in preparation for Holy Week when they celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Starting with the Friday before Palm Sunday, they have many nightly processions which they perform with devotion. They carry the traditional images on litters: the "Virgen de los Dolores", Christ carrying the cross, and on Holy Friday, the glass coffin with the dead Christ. Holy Week culminates with the great fiesta of Resurrection Sunday which begins, according to the Catholic liturgy, in the church before dawn. At the first rays of light the resurrected Christ, along with other saints, is carried out to the sound of bands and the tolling of bells. This brief procession around the plaza symbolizes the joy of the resurrection of Christ and the approaching harvest, which promises abundant food and corn to make "chicha".
A little known ceremony is celebrated in Yanque on Resurrection Monday. This is the decoration of the "tombolas" or altars set up inside the church in honor of the pleople who have died during the year. Each altar is decorated with flowers and fruits of the first harvest. These are later given to the priest as a symbol of the tithes and first fruits which were paid to the church in the 18th and 19th centuries.
April and May are the harvest months, and June and July are the months for repairing roofs, walls of mud and stone, and the deteriorated terraces. This is also the time when the majority of the patron saint festivals are celebrated in the villages. The fiesta of "Santiago Apostol", celebrated the 25 of July in Coporaque and Madrigal and the fiesta of the "Virgen Santa Ana", celebrated in Maca the 2 of August are especially important. In these fiestas the litters with the images are accompanied by people in disguise. There are two Turks with masks, pointed hats and swords who symbolize a duel between the two factions. Another person is disguised as "Inti", or the sun of the Incas, and another as the moon. The sun and the moon are elements which frequently appear in the decoration of the churches, for example in the towers at Cabanaconde and in the pavement of the atrium at Yanque. The patron festival of Chivay is the "Virgen de la Asunta", the 15 of August, and that of Yanque the "Purísima Concebida", the 8 of December.
All the fiestas are celebrated with processions and dances. The most characteristic dance of the region is the "witite" which symbolizes the mythical "women warriors", a tradition equivalent to the Amazons of the jungle. Other traditional dances are the "wifalita", the "huaylacha", the "kjamile" and the "lanlaco". Some symbolize the mating of animals, others mule driving or mythical aspects of magic and healing. In general the symbolic dances are losing force in the region. They were repressed by the priests during the colonial and republican periods as obscene and idolatrous. Today they are little encouraged by the inhabitants of the villages because they represent too much expense for the "mayordomo" responsible for their organization.

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