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    Land of winds > Traditions > Festival | Issue 14 (Mar.-Apr. 2013)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Festival of the Virgin of Carmen in Paucartambo

Festival of the Virgin of Carmen in Paucartambo

One of the most famous and renowned Andean celebrations in honour of the Virgin of Carmen takes place in the Peruvian village of Paucartambo, a small locality of colonial beauty with narrow streets and white houses with blue wooden balconies and red tiled roofs. It is located in the province of the same name in the department of Cuzco, a hundred kilometres far from the city of Cuzco, and at more than 3000 metres above sea level, in the Peruvian Central Sierra.

Festivities to pay homage to the "Mamacha Carmela" are held annually in mid-July (15th-18th), bringing together the faithful, those who had made a promise to the Virgin, participants and visitors, among them many tourists from abroad. The event is well known for its twenty or so "bailes", groups (comparsas) of musicians and dancers parading the streets performing traditional dances (saqra, cápac chuncho, contradanza, k'achampa, auqa chileno, tarpuy, challalla phallchascha, qollacha, cápac negro, panaderos, cápac colla, chujchus, chunchachas, majeños, maqt'as, sijllas or doctorcitos, waka wakas...); they are easily distinguished one from another and can be easily identified by their distinctive features, and their dazzling costumes and masks. Both local and visiting groups create several narrative threads that run throughout the streets, balconies, roofs and squares of the villages; those stories, told through the music, the dancing and the costumes, refer to the history of the village of Paucartambo.

Festival of the Virgin of Carmen in Paucartambo

Celebrations begin on the night of July 14th, when comparsas rehearse their dances. However, the festival officially begins in the evening of July 15th, with fireworks, bell ringing and dances. Festival big day is July 16th. The opening event, the "Misa de Aurora" (Mass of the Dawn) takes place at 5 a.m., followed by the "Misa de Fiesta" (Mass of the Feast Day, at 10 a.m.); it is during the latter when members of both comparsas the cápac collas and the cápac negros, sing songs dedicated to the Virgin of Carmen. Immediately afterwards, it is time for the comparsas to parade the streets and squares. The next activity is called "el bosque" (literally, "the forest"), where the cápac collas throw gifts to the public from a tower built for that purpose. The day ends with the procession of the Virgin; the image is carried through the narrow streets of the village by the faithful and those who had made the promise of doing so, while the saqras or devils threaten her from the balconies and roofs where they had climbed earlier.

In the morning of the 17th, the comparsas go on a pilgrimage to the local cemetery, where they visit deceased dancers and drink and dance to their hearts' content. In the evening there is a second procession of the Virgin and afterwards everybody goes to the main square (or the Charles III Bridge) to see the "guerrilla", the traditional battle between the cápac collas and the cápac chunchos. The latter emerge victorious and the dead are carried in carts of fire (literally) by the saqras. At the end of the day there is a qhaswa or party for everybody.

Celebrations end the following day with the watatiaycuy (from Quechua wata tiyaykuy; appointing the organizers for next year's festival) and the oqaricuy (from Quechua uqharikuy, "to stand up"; children's and teenagers' blessing). Sometimes festivities last one more day with the walqanche, the musicians' farewell.

Article. "Festividad de la Virgen del Carmen de Paucartambo", in MinCETur Perú [es].
Book. "Máscara, transformación e identidad en los Andes. La fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen", by Gisela Cánepa Koch. In Biblioteca Digital Andina [es].

Picture 01. Pasacalle (procession) of the Virgin of Carmen, and a saqra or devil in the balcony.
Picture 02. Dancer.
Picture 03. Saqras or devils.
Picture 04. Cápac negros.
Picture 05. Cápac collas.
Picture 06. Cápac negros.
Picture 07. Chunchachas.

Video 01. Short documentary by Gianni Guetta.
Video 02. Short documentary by Jeremy Hunter.
Video 03. Report, in Cuarto Poder.
Video 04. Pictures of the 2012 Festival.
Video 05. Pictures of the 1961 Festival.
Video 06. Pictures of the Festival.
Video 07. Dance and duel of the cápac collas.

Picture A | Picture B

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