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Land of winds > Traditions > Festival | Issue 04. Mar.-Apr.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Humahuaca Carnival

Humahuaca Carnival
    Llegando está el Carnaval / quebradeño, mi cholita.
    Fiesta de la Quebrada / humahuaqueña para cantar.
    Erque, charango y bombo, / carnavalito para bailar.
    [The Carnival is coming / to the Quebrada, my dear.
    The Quebrada Festival / in Humahuaca for singing.
    Erque, charango and bombo / for dancing carnavalito.]

    “El humahuaqueño” (Edmundo Saldívar).
Carnival in the Quebrada de Humahuaca (Jujuy province) is one of the most renowned celebrations in Northwest Argentina, besides one of the oldest. In Humahuaca, much as in other Andean carnivals, Christian tradition merges with native religious beliefs, especially with thanksgiving ceremonies for a successful harvest and the revival of the soil, as the offerings made to the Pachamama (Mother Earth), which might be related to the ancient Inca celebration known as Qhapaq Inti Raymi held from December to March. Humahuaca Carnival starts on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. The prequel to Humahuaca Carnival is a festival celebrated in the village of Tilcara known as “enero tilcareño” (Tilcara January), which serves as warm-up for “the big party”.
Today it can be stated that there are two types of Carnival celebrations in the region. On the one hand, those held in small and remote villages still retain the flavour of their origins, maintaining their local features while playing native instruments (such as erquenchos, cajas, kamacheñas), performing old dances (e.g. the saltaditos) and singing coplas (stanzas) that only the eldest remember. On the other, in bigger villages like Humahuaca and Tilcara there are few traces of the ancient celebration and today’s festival has new elements and a much more international flavour: with borrowings from Bolivian carnivals and a number of activities aimed at the many tourists that visit the area at this time of the year.
In every community, the festivities start with the so called “desentierro del Diablo”: people arrive at the slopes of the hills surrounding the villages to “unearth the Devil”. The Devil, also known as “coludo” or “pujllay” (from Quechua puqllay, “to play”), is a rag doll that represents the celebration itself, who was buried in a hole or under an apacheta (sacred cairn, pile of stones left by wayfarers along the Andean paths to honour Pachamama or the spirit guardians of a place) at the end of the last year Carnival.
Once the Devil is unearthed, firecrackers are thrown and a large group of dancers begins to descend dancing to carnavalito traditional music. During the following days people shake off their inhibitions and give free rein to their passions: intoxication is accepted and even encouraged, tolerance and free love is back on the streets and moral prejudices are shelved for a while. The Catholic Church, much to its regret, had to get used to the facts and as time passed it became apparent that she would have no option but taking part in the “pagan” celebrations.

    Sale el sol, siguen chupando. / Sale la luna, siguen chupando.
    ¿Qué será de esos muchachos / tan queridos, pero borrachos?
    En Maimará siguen chupando. / En Humahuaca siguen chupando.
    ¿Qué será de esos muchachos / tan queridos, pero borrachos? ¡Salud!
    [At sun-rise, [they] keep on drinking. / At moon-rise, [they] keep on drinking.
    What will become of those guys / so dear but drunken?
    In Maimará [they] keep on drinking. / In Humahuca [they] keep on drinking.
    What will become of those guys / so dear but drunken? Cheers!]

    Los Tekis. “Los Borrachos”. On the album “Somos”.
Joyful dancing and feasting takes place during eight days and many different instruments are played such as quenas (Andean flutes open at both ends), charangos, guitars, anatas (flipple flutes-like aerophones), panpipes and accordions (many of them borrowed from neighbouring Bolivia). Many dancers cover their faces with colourful masks to remain anonymous and wear shining costumes with rattles attached or dress up as devils, Indians or gauchos (residents of the pampas and Patagonian grasslands herding cattle on vast territories, and practising hunting as their main economic activities). There are waterfights, flour (or talcum powder) games and the aroma of basil leaves spreads all around the village, for it is said to prevent against the macha (getting really drunk) besides being the symbol of Carnival festivities. Copious drinking of chicha (the local brew made from fermented maize) and traditional dishes such as empanadas (pasties) and humitas (consisting of fresh corn, sautéed onions, some spices and some dice cheese depending on the region or taste, wrapped in corn husks and boiled) also play a leading role in the celebrations.
From neighbouring communities (even from big cities such as San Salvador de Jujuy, the capital of the province of Jujuy) buses and open trucks full of people arrive in Humahuaca, while many others go on foot or on mule back. After those days of joy and drunkenness the Carnival “is buried” on the Passion Sunday (the sixth and last Sunday of Lent and the Sunday before Easter), placing the pujllay in a hole or under an apacheta again, and offering him coca leaves, chicha, cigarettes and colourful streamers. This ritual, known across the Andean range as cacharpaya (from Quechua “farewell”), is actually a farewell full of emotions, where every single mouth sighs wishing the same thing:
“May the Carnival’s Devil comes back soon”.

Humahuaca Carnival, in Wikipedia [es].
Humahuaca Carnaval description , in [es].
Humahuaca Carnaval description , in [es].

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NOTE. There are many videos of the Humahuaca Carnival in YouTube and other online video sites. Most of them are of low quality and have therefore not been included. However, those interested can search for them and have a look: you will get an idea of the colourful hustle and bustle of the celebrations.
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