By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza
Huaconada de Mito
The huaconada is a ritual dance of Wanka/Huanca origins, which is performed in the village of Mito (province of Concepción, department of Junín, Peru) during the first three days of the year.
According to the local oral tradition, in the old times there was a council of elders that, once a year, walked around the village to punish moral faults committed by villagers. Today, the custom is reflected in the dance: men in masks, the so-called huacones, take to the streets dancing and asserting their authority by cracking their whips, known as "tronadores". During those three days Mito is ruled by the huacón law.
The huacones wear masks carved out of wood (cut from molle and kishuar trees considered sacred by local people), in the likeness of an old man with a big nose. Both the nose and a few items of the dancers' costumes resemble the condor. Taking these elements into consideration, many authors claim that the huacón embodies a duality: on the earthly side, it would represent the elder who safeguards the community's moral standards; on the spiritual side, it would stand as the guardian spirit of the community, which, in many Andean societies, is represented by the condor.
The huacones are divided into the "old" or "ancient" and the "new" or "modern". The former dress in traditional costume, wear wool clothing and their movements are those of an ancient man. The latter wear colourful clothes and perform agile dance steps. All of them dance to the music played by an orchestra featuring harp, violins, tinyas (drums) and brass instruments (trumpets, saxophones, trombones). The music consists of three melodies which repeat one after the other in a hypnotic pattern. As the music repeats itself the dancers create figures such as the cruce de látigos, the cuti-cuti, the inti palpoy and the anka palpoy, opening, raising and waving their arms (wrapped in a blanket that hangs from their shoulders) as if they were wings.
The tradition is transmitted orally, generation after generation to the present. Those who take part in the dance must go through a rite of passage, after which they become members of a group that gathers individuals of good behaviour. Documentary evidence of the dance dates back to the 16th century: González Holguín includes the term "huacón" in his dictionary (1608), and Jesuit José Acosta describes them in 1590 (he was horrified by their masks, which reminded him of the devil).
The huaconada was declared Cultural Heritage of Peru, and in 2010 was nominated for inscription on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.