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    Land of winds > The people > Culture | Issue 11 (Jul.-Aug. 2012)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Carnival traditions


Carnival traditions

In the Andes, the beginning of Carnival is generally marked by the so called "desentierro del diablo" or "desentierro del pujllay", the fact of digging up the devil or the symbolic character that embodies the spirit of celebrations, since they are the ones who rule the town or community during the festival’s run. Carnestolendas (Carnival celebrations) is a time filled with excesses, a time to "act the fool", to behave in ways people normally would not behave, a time when freedom is paramount: love is on the loose and so do wild instincts. Costumes and devil masks are part of the fun besides playing an important role in street performances and parades.

In addition, in communities with deeply-rooted indigenous traditions, the occasion serves to make "pagos" (offerings; literally, "payments") to the land, including beverages, coca leaves, llama fat and so on.


Carnival traditions

The traditional meetings of compadres and comadres (sort of contests, competitions between mates male/male, female/female, male/female) takes place during the first days of the Andean Carnival. These "encuentros" or "topamientos" (literally, "encounters" or "confrontations"), which start as a dialogue in several voices where participants interchange racy songs (Spanish, "coplas picarescas") usually result in a sort of heated-up conversation (even offensive at certain parts). The coplas are sung to the music of traditional regional instruments, especially small membranophones, natural horns and a number of pinkillos. Likewise, it is also very common to be invited to try typical food and drinks in street stalls and, in small villages, in the houses of individuals. During celebrations, both streets and houses are flooded with dancers and musicians wearing paper garlands, covered in confetti or flour and, sometimes, with soaking wet clothes.

In some regions, those dancers and musicians (members of Carnival groups known as "comparsas") place a small bunch of basil on their caps, hats or upper-body garment. Besides being a symbol of Carnival, in the Andes it is considered to be an antidote against drunkenness. Sometimes, getting drunk is part of the fun. In north-western Argentina there is the custom of "vacunar" (literally, "vaccinating") guests: before entering a house, they must try a few drops of any alcoholic liquid. After several visits and the same number of "vaccinations", participants will soon realize that they are on path to getting drunk.


Carnival traditions

Although traditional games of flour and water still are celebrated, they have been slowly turned into paint battles and foam parties. Anyways, nowadays it is not rare to see TV reporters wearing raincoats in front of camera to protect themselves against the outcome of such practices.


Carnival traditions

Different religious celebrations take place during the festival, including processions (e.g. the Virgin of the Candelaria), masses and several homages featuring traditional music and dance performers. In addition, locals and visitors can participate in a number of indigenous ceremonial events, such as processions and meetings in sacred places. On the secular side of the festival, special mention deserve spectacular parades featuring lavishly costumed performers and coloured floats. There are also sport events, Carnival queen contests, farmers markets and food exhibitions, children’s carnival parades, costumes contests and numerous community events.


Carnival traditions

The central part of the Andes is home to a tradition known as cortamontes (literally, "cutting down woodland"), yunsa or unsha, consisting in cutting down a tree and taking it to the village square, where it is "planted" and adorned with different objects and all sorts of gifs. A few days later, the community join together around the tree to cut it down while performers dance in a round. When the tree finally falls down, people hurl themselves to the ground to seize the gifs caught on the branches.

The so-called cacharpayas (farewell tunes) are performed at the end of Carnival festivities. Sometimes, Carnival spirit (which is represented by a doll in the form of a "devil" or the "pujllay") is buried under the promise of being unearthed in a year’s time. Likewise festive memories will also remain quiet, awaiting the arrival of laughs, songs, costumes and games.


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