Inca Religion & Celebrations
BY DANIEL SÁENZ MORE
The religious festivals and rituals have kept alive even the most ancient beliefs. They are riddled with a worId of ancestral sounds, rhythms and theatrical beliefs that continue to surprise the entire world with their creative dynamics. These qualities are more than just a fleeting activity in the midst of popular piety and mystery, but are also part of a sense of creativity and metaphysics centered on the worship of Man and Nature. These rituals may be celebrated in a temple or a main square, the first is part of a sacred world and follows a certain order, while in a lake or a mountaintop, and almost always is divided into two parts: the second involves a release of tension that awaits the moment to celebrate, when all that is sacred gives way to the profane side of life. Peru's religious festivals are imbuid with faith and devotion, but at the same time color and noisy celebration, trading and amusement. The festivals draw people from all over the world, attracted by the gaiety and healing powers of an endless list of saints. The masses are determined to sing and dance in homage to life against a backdrop of magical enchantment.
1. Virgin of the Candelaria, Puno
Andean faith in the folkloric capital of the Americas
Puno, considered to be the folk art capital of the Americas, is perched on the banks of Lake Titicaca at an altitude of 3,870 meters above sea level. The festival during 18 draws thousands of faithful and dancers days who visit the church of San Juan to venerate the Virgin of the Candelaria or Mamita Candelaria, as the locals call the image. The cult is believed to date back to the vital prehispanic ritual of Mama Pacha, the earth goddess. The Catholic origins of this example of Andean faith date back to the sixteenth century. Today, the festival starts nine days beforehand, when a sponsor called a mayordomo decorates the church and gays for three Mass ceremonies, banquets and fireworks. Then on the main day, on February 2nd, the virgin is carried out of the church to parade through the streets- against an unimaginable backdrop of manifestations of folk art. During the following two days, hundreds of eagerly-awaited dance and musical troupes parade through town. The participants, who like the dancers of the Diablada (devilry) choreographies, one of the most typical dances of the area, wear masks and complex, shining costumes sewn with fine stones, pearls, gold and silver thread, bound around and dance to the strains of the sikuris bands to delight their patron saint.
2. Lord of the Earthquakes, Cusco
The Somber Christ crucified
Since 1650, when, according to the faithful, an oil painting of Christ Crucified miraculously held off a powerful earthquake that rattled the ancient Inca capital of Cusco, the locals have rendered homage to the image of Taitacha Temblores, the Lord of the Earthquakes. On Holy Monday, the main day of the festival, a sprawling carnet of flower petals in a variety of designs and colors spreads out across the main streets of the town to receive the carved wooden image that is said to have been donated by Emperor Charles V when he learned of the miracle. This Christ, who looks rather somber, is worshipped by countless highland lndians who dedicate Him their prayers and mournful dirges sung in the Quechua language. During the preparations, helpers perfume and arrange the image's hair, change its crown of thorns and swaddling for others made from gold, silver, precious stones and bright scarlet ñukchu flowers that resemble the drops of blood that redeemed the faithful.
3. The Crosses of Porcon, Cajamarca
The Crosses themselves
On Palm Sunday, in Porcon, a half-hour drive from Cajamarca (800 km North of Lima), the olive branch-wielding locals celebrate the entry into the town of Christ mounted on a donkey. What makes the festival appealing is its colorful, shining two meter-high crosses. Each wooden cross, festooned with flowers and rosemary, is carved with religious motifs and mirrors that symbolize the souls of the devout, as well as metal bells that herald the cross' arrival in the community, borne aloft by its bearers. The night before, after having been transported from different communities, the crosses are accompanied in locales that have especially decorated by the patrons of the festival, where the attendants eat and drink to get up their strength for the main day of the festival. The villagers, most of them peasants, make offerings and pray in Quechua, while the bands of musicians blow their horns, including a peculiar three meter-long horn crafted from a piece of piping which is fitted with a wooden mouthpiece and tapers off into a dried gourd bellmouth.
4. Easter Week, Ayacucho
The Agony and the Festival of the Resurrection
Ayacucho, which boasts more than 30 churches, is the most heavily-visited spot in Peru during Easter Week. On the morning of Palm Sunday, Jesus enters the city mounted on a donkey, surrounded by the devotees who bear palm fronds and olive branches. On Ash Wednesday, the images of the Virgin and Saint John are taken out of the Cathedral to take part in a procession that eventually leads them to a moving encounter with the Nazarene in the main square. On Good Friday, the Lord of the Holy Sepulchrum silently wends His way through the streets accompanied by crowds of the faithful who are dressed strictly in mourning and carry large wax candles. Throughout the night of Saturday of Glory, the entire population crowds into the main square to await dawn, when they will receive by the light of bonfires, the imposing Christ who has risen. The image emerges slowly from the Cathedral to sway round the main square on his spectacular pyramid-shaped litter wrought from pure silver, which is celebrated with fireworks and the pealing of church bells.
5. Virgin of Chapi, Arequipa
Paganism and atonement
While thousands of devout followers drive up from the city of Arequipa and from other parts of the country, many make the pilgrimage on foot, in the way of penitence, carrying stones which they will lay down near the sanctuary of the Virgin of Chapi in a huge pile, a pagan tradition that dates from pre-Inca times. These stones symbolize the sins that are to be atoned or the desires that the believers wish to see come true by begging the miraculous image, which has been worshipped since colonial times. Once inside the Chapi sanctuary, the pilgrims renew their vows, lighting candles before later breaking into song and dance to accompany the image as it is carried from the church decorated in all its finery, embroidered with silver threads. The faithful who cannot attend these celebrations in general attend Mass in the picturesque church of Cayma in the city of Arequipa itself.
6. San Isidro Labrador, Cajamarca
The Harvest Festival
In Icochan, a district in the province of San Marcos in Cajamarca, the locals worship their patron saint San Isidro Labrador, picking out typical flowers from the region and products of their harvest such as corn, potatoes and oca tubers. These are used to decorate the saint's litter and the altars located at the entry to the homes where the procession is to pass by. At the same time, the people also decorate the yoke of the oxen, the main work tools in the region. Prior to the procession, the people exchange their agricultural produce, wishing each other prosperity and well-being all year long. Residents set off fireworks, while marching bands play cheerful tunes to celebrate the appearance of the saint from the depths of the church, carried shoulder-high by the faithful. The procession also features the prayermen, heirs of a time-honored tradition of reciters of chants and prayers and religious services in the most remote communities.
7. Lord of Muruhuay, Junín
Christ portrayed on the rock
In Muruhuay, 12 km from Tarma, Junín, the locals worship the image of Christ crucified painted on a boulder on the outskirts of town. The crowds of believers, organized into spon-sors of the festival, make the pilgrimage to the sanctuary to hear Mass in Quechua, deliver their "letters to God" and take part in the main day of the festival, May 3. In the run-up, the pilgrims hold prayers and let off fireworks. The festival sponsors and their lieutenants are also in charge of organizing a banquet the same day, for which the women cook up Andean delicacies like Uman Caldo (sheepshead soup) and Papa a la Huancaína (boiled potato drenched in a sauce whipped up out of ají chili pepper, milk and eggs. The celebration has kept alive two concepts held sacred to pre-Hispanic Andean cultures: the stone and water, which are believed to grant favors to the faithful.