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Huancayo: Plentiful Land, Proud Nation

Photo: Mylene d'Auriol




Photo: Mylene d'Auriol




Photo: Mylene d'Auriol





Photo: Mylene d'Auriol




Photo: Mylene d'Auriol




Photo: Mylene d'Auriol



Detail of modern carved gourd



By: Rubén D. Gutiérrez

On the left bank of the Mantaro River, in a luscious, fertile valley 310 kilometers from Lima and 3244 meters above sea level lies the city of Huancayo, capital of the department of Junin and the main commercial center of inland Peru.

Huancayo was the cradle of the Huanca nation, the home of a people known for their pride, warrior spirit, and a history of cruelty toward their enemies. In The Royal Commentaries of the Incas, Garcilasco de la Vega noted, "They scalped their prisoners of war, kept the burnt skins in their temples as trophies of their deeds, and used human flesh as material for their tambourines."
The strong oral tradition of the region maintains that the Mantaro Valley was once a lake with a rock island, or haunco that was inhabited by an amaru (snake). The rainbow god Tulumanya created another amaru, and soon the two amarus were engaged in a series of perpetual wars over control of the surrounding territory. This conflict provoked the god Viracocha to order a flood upon the land, after which the first Huanca people appeared.

Near the town of Huari, the Huanca constructed the Warivilca temple approximately 1000 years ago beside a sacred stream, where, according to the chronicles of Pedro Ciezo de Leon, there stood three huge trees. The temple's remains and two of the trees still stand, solid pillars of history like living miracles. The third tree was destroyed 30 years ago at the hands of grave robbers. The temple was discovered in 1935 and there is now a museum at the site, with pottery and deformed skulls.

During the Incan expansion of King Pachacutec, the Huanca were brought under control, albeit with great resistance, and their territory became an important center of operations. The Huanca took revenge later, however, and sided with the Spanish during the conquest. As a result, the Spaniards temporarily restrained from invading the area, but eventually embarked upon a campaign against paganism and destroyed much of the Warivilca temple.
June 1, 1572 marked the first Spanish presence in Huancayo with the arrival of visitor Jeronimo de Silva. Huancayo, traditionally rebellious, ultimately rejected Spanish domination and it was there, in the presence of General Jose Antonio Alvarez de Arenales, that Peruvian independence was proclaimed on November 20, 1820. Thirty-four years later, Huancayo was also the place where General Ramon Castilla helped eliminate another form of domination by signing the law abolishing slavery in Peru.

Because of the city's bravery and audacity in battles of independence such as that of Azapampa, it earned the well-deserved nickname of "Insurmountable City" in 1822. This title is still proclaimed with pride and serves as proof of the city's resistance and unwillingness to be dominated.

Huancayo's rebellious spirit was to meet another challenge with the unwanted war against Chile in 1879. This time, the Huancayans made a stand with constant guerrilla attacks, including the historic battles of Pucara and Marcavalle. The legendary victories of General Andres Avelino Caceres earned him the title "Wizard of the Andes."

The person who designed the Lima-Huancayo train route also deserves that title, because the first train that arrived in Huancayo on August 24, 1908 was the product of an amazing engineering feat connecting the isolated central highlands with the capital. The Lima-Huancayo line is one of the most spectacular routes conceivable, with 115 curves, 67 tunnels and 54 bridges along the nine-hour route through the Andes. Along the way, the train crosses the world's highest railway bridge-nicknamed "The Stove"-at 4780 meters above sea level. It is a truly adventurous ride, but unfortunately, the route is currently closed to passenger trains. The impact of the train on the region, however, still remains; one can find woven belts in Huancayo's Sunday market that carry designs of trains.

Though the spectacular Lima-Huancayo train route may be closed, cars can still make it to Huancayo easily. In fact, the first car was brought to the city in 1918 by Scottish businessman Robert Saunders, who is most remembered for his famous lesson in punctuality. When his wife died, he promptly sent out funeral invitations indicating the time and date of the burial. The hour arrived but the guests still had not, so Saunders simply placed the body in the coffin and started the carriage ride to the cemetery alone.

The Huanca people may follow "Peruvian time," but they are hard-working, traditional and very religious. These traits are apparent in the nearly endless chain of local festivals that occur in the region. It is said there is a festival somewhere in the Mantaro Valley every day of the year. And where there are festivals, there is dancing. It is estimated that with all the regional variations taken into account, there are more then 5000 different Andean dances. Though it is impossible to mention all of the dances and festivals of the Mantaro Valley, some certainly stand out.

La Tunantada (The Rascal) is danced on January 20 in Jauja and Yuayos in honor of Saint Sebastian and Saint Fabian. It is a picaresque, mischievous and crafty dance that is clearly a product of colonial influence, as it parodies the despotism and presumptuousness of the Spanish powers.

In February, there are carnival celebrations all month long, and the Semana Santa festivities in March/April should not be missed. May is the month of the La Fiesta de Las Cruces (Festival of the Cross), where towns throughout the Valley perform special dances such as the Chonguinada in Chongos in which dancers wearing masks and colorful costumes commemorate the wedding of a Spaniard to a beautiful native of the town in a graceful and elegant parody of the French minuet. The same festival in Chupaca features the famous dance of the Shapis, a war dance commemorating the Hunaca's return to their land after fleeing the Incas.

Sapallanga, Orcotuna, Apata and Marcatuna celebrate their fiestas in honor of the Sanctified Virgin of the Cocharas on September 8, at which time they also reproduce the capture and death of the Incan King Atahualpa in a ceremony known as El Apu Inca. This is also celebrated in Lima on September 2 in an homage to Saint Rosa.
Finally, El Huaylarsh caps the festive and happy atmosphere surrounding a successful harvest. Huaylarsh is a Quechua word meaning "young lovers," and the dance features couples imitating the cultivation of the potato as well as the "flirtation of the fox," a reference to the strength and virility of young men in search of wives. This dance originated in the towns of Pucura, Viques, Huayucachi and Sapallanga, and has become a genuine representation of Huancayan feeling.

These many festivals are possible because the region has an agreeable and healthy climate. There are three distinct seasons: the rainy season, from November to April; winter, from May to July; and the dry season, with strong winds and lots of sun, from August to October.

Huancayans say that anyone coming to the area will feel a liberation of the senses. The climate, the smells and especially the sights will not be forgotten. It is not only a matter of the colorful festivals, but also of the area's natural beauty. Green fields of corn, artichokes, carrots and potatoes contrast with bright yellow retama flowers and the reddish-brown earth. There are old, stark-white houses with burnt orange roof tiles dwarfed by the snow-capped Huaytapallana mountain. And the Mantaro River, stirred by the rains, is chocolate brown.

The legendary river begins at 4000 meters above sea level, in the Pasco region of the Andes Mountains, and runs approximately 300 kilometers until it joins the Apurimac River. Although its waters are now polluted, it is nonetheless used to irrigate the land off of the left bank of the river; the right bank is cultivated only with rain and smaller tributaries and streams. That the Mantaro River is in such condition is tragic, and the many towns of the region have long been awaiting a solution to the contamination. Smoke from refining activities at La Oroya do not help, either, and now new mountains of mineral waste compete with the highest peaks of the area. Another unwelcome visitor has also arrived -- a desert in the sierras.

These ecological problems may only get worse before they get better, since Huancayo currently faces the dilemma of uncontrolled urban growth, which is devouring what remains of the most fertile terrain in one of the most important valleys in the nation, making good land a rare commodity. Residents continue to hope that authorities will focus on the problem.

Huancayo has been a bustling place for centuries, as it is the link between the capital and the Southern highlands and jungle. The Feria Domincal (Sunday Fair) was instituted in 1572 as an important venue for regional products and now does a brisk business in handicrafts, industrial and agricultural products, and livestock. This market, and others like it, are still as important to local commerce as they were in earlier times. The most authentic, and famous, however, is the Feria Dominical . It is an event that visitors should not miss, as it provides a taste of all that Huancayo has to offer in a setting that will not be forgotten.

Though it is easy to buy Mantaro Valley's famous handicrafts in Huancayo, it is also worthwhile to go to the nearby towns that produce them. Each town has its specialty, and there are many from which to choose: beautiful, intricate works of silver, textiles, weavings, ceramics and much more. Perhaps the best known example of Huancayan popular art, however, is gourd carving. The plain gourds - imported from Chiclayo or Piura - are a modest medium for the intricately designed bowls that result, displaying scenes that are first carved and then burned into the surface of the gourd. Cochas Grande and Cochas Chico are the centers of this art.

The delicate metal working artistry of the region is also very popular because of the high demand for religious accessories to supply all of the festivals held throughout the year. Because of this, San Jeronimo de Tunan has become the heart of the metal working trade in the area, known for its silver filigree designs. Engraved and laminated silvers, and sheet designs are also very popular. The town also boasts a 17th-century church with lovely wooden altars.

In terms of pottery, the town of Quilcas has been practicing its craft since colonial times, when it produced tiles using techniques imported from Spain. San Augustin de las Cajas is known for its wool weavings and famous broad-brimmed wool hats. Wood carvings like masks and utensils are found in abundance in Molinos, Huertas, Mito, Julcan and Masma. Huallhuas is known for its highly developed knitting.

A tour of the towns of Mantaro Valley should not be missed, but there are also several places of interest in Huancayo and plenty of outdoor activities for nature lovers. The Cerrito de la Libertad is a hill that provides a good view of the city and of the Mantaro Valley; nearby is Torre Torre, a set of eroded sandstone formations on the hillside. Mountain biking is a popular pastime, but for the more adventurous, it is possible to take treks down the eastern slopes of the Andes and into the high jungle on foot, horseback, or with public transportation.

By Rub‚n D. Gutierrez
Volume II/Issue 8, Page 08
Edited Lola Salas
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