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     Land of winds > Rhythms and styles > Dance | Issue 14 (Mar.-Apr. 2013)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Qhapaq ch'unchu


Qhapaq ch'unchu

The story goes that back to the 17th century: two small wooden statues of the Virgin Mary were sent to the Peruvian Andes from Spain. The most beautiful one remained in the Peruvian Central Sierra, in the Quechua village of Paucartambo (province of Paucartambo, department of Cuzco), while the other ended up in the southern Altiplano, in the Aymara village of Paucarcolla (province of Puno, department of Puno). Another version tells that the Altiplano traders, who usually made deals in the region of Cuzco, found a statue of the Virgin Mary near Paucartambo and took it with them to their local temple.

Problems arose when the Aymara from the Altiplano/Paucarcolla decided to appropriate the statue that was in the sanctuary of Paucartambo and attacked the village. It is said that local defenders were mostly black slaves and indigenous people from Q'osñipata (Amazon region close to Paucartambo), who fought fiercely and ultimately successfully against the southern attackers.

The battle (in which many other small and big stories are embedded) is recreated in Paucartambo during the celebrations in honour of the Virgin of Carmen, every year in mid July: the qhapaq qulla or cápac collas (in Quechua, "powerful collas [southerners]") fight against the qhapaq nigru or cápac negros ("powerful blacks") and the qhapaq ch'unchu or cápac chunchos (in Quechua, "powerful chunchos [rainforest inhabitants]"). The battle is re-enacted in the main square and, in the end, the saqras (devils) carry the souls of the dead in carts of fire.

The qhapaq ch'unchu wear colourful ch'uku crowns of feathers, masks and richly adorned costumes. They usually dance to the music played by a "war band" consisting of two pitos or traverse flutes, bombo (drum) and tambor (snare drum). They are regarded as the protectors of the Virgin of Carmen of Paucartambo and her favourites, though they also take part in many other festivals (i.e. the Qoyllur Rit'i).

The dance is conducted by a character called "Rey Chuncho" and is accompanied by the ever-present k'usillos, amusing masked characters that liven up the festive spirit. The steps are martial and at times the movements resemble those of the old European soldiers; while the rhythm and the melody have something of an indigenous march and something of a bugle call from colonial days.


Article. "Virgen del Carmen de Paucartambo", in El Comercio [es].


Picture 01. Cápac chunchos in Paucartambo 01.
Picture 02. Cápac chunchos in Paucartambo 02.
Picture 03. Cápac chunchos in Paucartambo 03.
Picture 04. Cápac chunchos in Paucartambo 04.


Video 01. Cápac chunchos from Paucartambo in Lima.
Video 02. Cápac chunchos at the coronation of the Virgin of Carmen.
Video 03. Cápac chunchos in Huallhua, 2007.


Picture A.


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