Cusco: A Parade of Festivals
|At certain times of year Cusco seems an endless round
of festivals, parades and parties. Exploding rockets shatter the dawn calm almost daily,
little groups of devotees wend their way around town bearing icons from some local church
or chapel, and on the big occasions the streets are choked with revelers through the
night. Here are some of the main events:
It takes place on the moveable feast of Trinity Sunday, through the following Tuesday, usually in late May or early June. Its location is the Sinakara valley, high above the village of Mawayani in the province of Quispicanchis. Qoyllur Rit'i means "Snow Star", or "Shining Snow", depending on which Quechua expert you talk to - a puzzling name, reminiscent of the cult's pre-Columbian origins. Today the festival is overlayed with Christian meanings, and is said to have begun with a miraculous apparition of the Savior in the late 18th century.
The overwhelming first impression of this fiesta is chaos, discomfort and confusion. Literally thousands of dancers and hundreds of bands mill about the valley slopes, the air is filled with noise and smoke, and thunderous gunpowder charges shake the earth day and night. To reach the valley you must walk or ride a horse 8 kms. from the highway. At night the cold is brutal and by day the sun of high altitude burns like a laser.
Why do they come? Because the Lord of Qoyllur Rit'i is powerful. Many are asking him for earthly blessings - trucks, houses, jobs - while others want marriage partners, or success with college studies. Many want redress in some personal grievance; Christ is a god of Justice in the Andean version of Christianity. And since the ice-clad mountains that loom over the valley are also the seat of healing power, many have come hoping to be cured of an illness.
There is discipline behind the outward appearance of chaos. Dance groups become orderly once they reach the Christian sanctuary, and Qoyllur Rit'i is one of the few Cusco festivals where drunkenness is frowned on. Punishment for this is dealt out by members of a large band of dancers known as Ukukus or Pablos, who dress in wool masks and shaggy tunics, and loosely represent Andean bears.
Water from the mountain ice is considered sacred medicine, and one of the duties of the Ukukus is to conduct a vigil in the bitter pre-dawn cold of the glaciers, and then bring ice down to those waiting below.
Issue 11 Page 06
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