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Land of winds > Traditions > Clothing | Issue 01. Jul.-Aug.2010
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza


The ukukus (also known as “pablitos” or “pawluchas”) are central figures of the Qoyllur Rit’i festival (see). They are young men (nowadays, women are also accepted for this role) representing mythical demigods, the Ukukus, descendants of a woman and a jukumari or Andean bear. They are said to be wild beings much stronger and tougher than ordinary people. These supernatural entities live between the darkness and the light (on the edge between two worlds) and are the only ones capable of facing and defeating the “condenados” (Spanish for “damned”), evil and lost souls that roam over the glaciers at night. During the festival, each “nation” brings a handful of ukukus which are in charge, together with other members of their brotherhood, of organizing the camp, cooking, dancing, ritual fighting, arranging people, leading the pilgrims, keeping a tight rein on drunk people and stopping the abuses. In addition they are the ones that climb on the mount to get the glacier ice, and are selected for being in good physical condition and able to defeat the “condenados” who dwell on those frozen heights. Their authority is not a matter of discussion, it is a matter of fact; on the one hand for they “are” demigods and, on the other, for give orders in a funny way, using all sorts of jokes, or relying on the crack of their whips. The ukukus insist on hiding their human appearance under a costume that just shows their eyes and mouth. They even project their falsetto voice to avoid being recognized as ordinary human beings. This way they become very special characters with a shared code of honour, which are admired and treated with due respect. The ukukus’ clothing consists of a woollen mask (usually white, though some of them are black) with painted or embroidered features (such as the outline of eyes and mouths, eyebrows, moustaches, ears and a small cross on the forehead); optional hat; a sleeveless sweater and several adornments over their trousers and jackets (i.e. chuspas or small bags, crosses, emblems, wide belts, garlands and pompoms); sometimes several layers of pelts resembling a bearskin; and, finally, a chicote or plaited leather whip.
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