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    Land of winds > The people > Culture | Issue 18 (Mar.-Apr. 2014)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Culture of Argentine Northwest

Culture of Argentine Northwest

The north-western portion of Argentina (known as NOA, by its Spanish acronym) comprises the provinces of Jujuy, Salta, Catamarca, La Rioja, Tucumán and Santiago del Estero. The region's distinctive features come from various cultural backgrounds: from the pre-Hispanic indigenous substratum (Atacama, Diaguita, Omaguaca and many other peoples; influences from the Tawantinsuyu or "Inca Empire" and its mitmaqkuna or "forced resettlements") to immigrant populations (mostly of Aymara origin) arrived from the north of Chile and Bolivia since colonial times until present days, and to those arrived from the rest of the country. NOA culture, therefore, can be understood as a synthesis of traditions, a blending of cultural elements from local native peoples, neighbouring Andean societies and other parts of Argentina.

Culture of Argentine Northwest

Remarkable surviving examples of pre-Hispanic heritage include food and craftsmanship. Traditional Andean crops, such as maize, potatoes, beans, squash and pepper, bred over centuries to fit it in with the local climate and soils, play an important role. Some of the most traditional dishes are humita (sweet corn parcels), mazamorra or api (prepared with white corn, boiled in water or milk, with sugar), alcucu (a stew prepared with corn and charque) and locro (thick stew), and one of the most popular beverages is the chicha (made out of fermented corn). Flat deboned beef, lamb and llama pieces can be used to prepare charque (form Quechua charki, "cured meat", dried and salted meat) and to make criollo/mestizo dishes such as the empanadas (pasties, little meat pies). Wild fruit (especially carob beans, but also prickly pears, mistol fruit and chañar fruit) are also used to prepare arrope (thick, sweet molasses-type syrup), patay (the sweet floury paste of the carob bean pods, ground up and dried) and aloja (fermented beverage). Local handicrafts range from fabric manufacturing using a loom (to interlace two sets of wool yarns or threads, obtained from sheep or Andean camelids, and hand dyed with natural dye) to pottery and ceramics. In both cases tradition draws on a centuries-old practice that continues to this day enriching our cultural horizons and augmenting diversity.

Culture of Argentine Northwest

Traditional consumption of coca leaves is another trace of indigenous influence, probably introduced to the country from the Bolivian Altiplano. Coca-chewing is a traditional practice in Andean culture since pre-Columbian times: the user puts several coca leaves in the mouth with a small amount of an alkaline substance called llista (from Quechua lliqta or llijta) or bicarbonate that activates the stimulating properties of the leaves. The mixture is chewed lightly and formed into a ball (an "acullico", from Quechua akulli, akulliku) that is placed at the side of the mouth. In rural contexts, once the acullico becomes flavourless it is not thrown away, but placed on the apachetas (from Quechua apachita, a sacred cairn of stones at mountain passes) as an offering to the Pachamama.

The apachetas (where on a stone can be placed instead of an acullico when the traveller does not have one) reflect one of the many religious popular expressions that occur in the NOA. Spread across the region, there are lots of other small "sacred structures" in honour of the Virgin, of popular "saints" and of those individuals who made a miracle happen, such as Difunta Correa or Gauchito Gil (both cases, as a number of others, reflecting the influence of Argentine culture and history). Both indigenous and Andean roots are evidenced by ritual offerings made to Pachamama, "Mother Earth", (in February and August), where the earth is fed to thank her for her bounty (the earth-feeding ceremony is known as corpachada).

Many traditions born out of the blending of indigenous and catholic cultures, however, there are several ones that have nothing to do with catholic saints. This is the case of the Duende and the Coquena in the Altiplano and the Andes mountains, and the Sachayuq (the "owner of the forest") and the Tanicu (the mythological representation of the God of misery) in Santiago del Estero. The large number of myths, fables and legends that have been passed down through many generations are also an indigenous heritage, which is reflected in thousands folk tales and folk songs alike.

Oral tradition not only includes songs and stories, riddles and rhymes, but also games, dances, natural remedies and old-age superstitions. All of them have survived to present day and remain one of the region's main cultural assets.

Culture of Argentine Northwest

A few of the most well-known festivals include Carnival celebrations (especially the Carnival of Humahuaca, in the province of Jujuy, and the Chaya in the province of La Rioja), All Saints' Day (families eat, drink and offer flowers in the cemeteries, generally in the rural zones), the Tantanakuy (Andean music festival prior to Carnival), Toreo de la Vincha in the village of Casabindo (a peculiar bloodless bullfighting), and Christmas. The music that accompanies these celebrations is part of the Argentine "Andean" repertoire, which is becoming more influenced by the music of neighbouring Bolivia.

Argentine Northwest, in Wikipedia.
Article. "Región del noroeste", in Ministerio del Interior (Argentina) [es].
Article. "Cultura en la provincia de Jujuy", in Viajo por Argentina [es].
Article. "La resurrección de la cocina de altura en el NOA", by Carolina Reymúndez. In Travesías [es].
Article. "Mitos y leyendas del norte argentino", in Folklore del Norte [es].

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