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Feast of the Virgen del Carmen of Paucartambo

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The Virgen del Carmen, affectionately called Mamacha Carmen by her faithful devotees, is a wooden sculpture representing the Virgin Mary carrying the baby Jesus in her left arm. The celebrations in honor of this virgin is already a tradition inherent to the whole population of Cusco, being declared Cultural Patrimony of the Nation.

The feast of the Virgen del Carmen of Paucartambo is a transcendental celebration of this town, which is located just 2 hours from the city of Cusco, without a doubt a wonderful experience full of music, dances, colors, delicious food and the faith of the people of Paucartambo who welcome all visitors with great joy.

Feast and History of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The feast of the Virgen del Carmen, stands out among other religious festivities, especially for the large number of visitors who come from other cities in Peru and the world.

The history of the origin of the Virgin of Carmen is wrapped in legends, the most popular story tells that during the decade of 1740, the image of the virgin was the patron saint of the Chapel of the Assumption, located a few kilometers from Paucartambo. From this place it was taken to the city of Cusco, along with other saints and virgins, to celebrate Corpus Christi; however, during the journey the ''chunchos'' (Amazonian warriors) attacked some landowners and set fire to the chapel of the Assumption, wounding the body of the virgin with their arrows.

Then they threw the image of the virgin to the Amaru Mayu river, it is necessary to indicate that the body of the image is carved in wood, reason why this floated until arriving to firm land, the place now is called Madre de Dios, where it was found by residents of the area, who when recognizing it decided to take it back to Paucartambo, the legend says that the image still showed the marks of the arrows of the Chunchos.

This is how nowadays the Amazonian troupes like the Qhapaq Chunchos or Chunchachas always dance near the image, as a sign of repentance and asking for forgiveness to the Virgin, being now considered warriors who come to Paucartambo to protect the Saint during the celebration.

In addition to the chunchos groups, the Virgin of Carmen is honored with multiple dance groups whose members do not necessarily live in Paucartambo, but often migrate to other cities and even countries, but who return to Paucartambo exclusively to worship the Virgin through dances and songs.

There are so many dance troupes that attend the celebration of the Virgen del Carmen, which is currently called the Patroness of Folkloric Dances in 1972 and was personally crowned by Pope John Paul II in 1985.

Among the main dances that are presented in the feast of the Virgen del Carmen is:

  • Saqra: The most characteristic dance of Paucartambo due to the playful behavior of these characters with the public that attends the festival, and also for the theatricalization that these colorful devils do before the Virgin of Carmen, since when passing the sacred image, the Saqras twist, unable to look at her, they cover their faces with their hands. 

Their costume is one of the most striking, with colorful stripes, tousled wigs, zoomorphic masks with large antlers, and the most exquisite handmade embroidery. The cuadrilla is composed of men with a caporal who directs the choreography, multiple infernal soldiers and a single woman, the Chinese Saqra. During the festival it is common to see them on the roofs of the houses or hanging from the balconies.

Saqra Web Da Foto: Luis Ponce / www.flickr.com
Saqra Web Da Foto: Luis Ponce / www.flickr.com
  • Majeños: This dance represents the merchants of wines and liquors between Majes, Arequipa and Cusco. The majeños have a muleteer costume, riding pants, boots with spurs, leather jackets, always carrying a bottle of wine or beer currently.

The dance is danced, it is integrated only by men, a caporal leader of the group, always accompanied by a mestizo Cusquenian lady, Majeños who dance in rows, and 2 Maqtas who are comic elements that brighten up the dance.

  • Auqa Chileno: This is a dance of republican origin whose name means ''Chilean enemy'' the dance would be a parody to the Chilean soldiers who invaded Peru during the War of the Pacific, the original name of this dance would be Waka suwa Tusuq, which indicates that under the Andean thought the Chilean soldiers were also associated to the thieves and abigeos.

The traditional costume of the Chilean Auqa is a red shirt with whips around the torso, riding breeches, military boots, white complexion masks with blue eyes and blond mustaches.

  • Mestiza Coyacha: This is the only colonial dance of couples dating from the eighteenth century, was practiced by young men and women of marriageable age, this dance was generally practiced by young mestizos, women wear elegant skirts and white shirts, multicolored silk scarves, while men use pants to the knee, white shirt, embroidered vests, gloves, and handkerchiefs to perform the dance. The melody that accompanies this dance is a version of the Andean Huayno, with a harmonious mixture of Andean instruments such as flutes or quenas and the musical instruments brought by the Europeans, it is danced with foot tapping and delicate movements by the ladies.
  • Contradanza: This dance is a parody of the elite dances practiced by the European population during the colony, the dance group is made up only of men, and a caporal who carries an ornate mace, big hat and a mask with a huge nose in satire and mockery of the Spanish landowners. During the development of the dance, the playful Maqtas also participate, playing games and pranks on the caporal.
Feast of the Virgen del Carmen of Paucartambo
Contradanza Dance Photo: @marapalacin
  • Panaderos: This dance represents part of the daily work of the Cusco population, as well as the symbolism of the delivery of the ''jurkas''.

In the dance you can see the caporal carrying a long paddle for the oven, while the other dancers carry sacks of flour, kneading pans, aprons and white hats, the women carry baskets of bread.

  • Qhapaq Negro: This dance dates back to Republican times, specifically the time of African slavery in our country, this comparza like the Qhapaq Qolla, are the only comparsas that can sing to the Virgen del Carmen, so becoming part of these groups is complicated and considered a privilege. The costume is composed of a plaster mask, with cracks in the face that symbolize the marks of tears shed by the slaves, accompanied by rattles that recall the sound of the chains that they carried. The black qhapaq always dance and sing looking at the virgin.
  • Qhapaq Chuncho: This dance represents the mestizo version of the natives of the Cusco jungle, the most representative of this dance are the crowns of Suri feathers, and the wooden spears of Chonta that each dancer carries, the Caporal or king of this dance wears a cape and crown of shiny metal. It should be noted that this dance can only be danced by men.
  • Chunchachas: The Chunchachas dance is the direct counterpart of Qhapaq Chuncho, since this dance represents the mestizo women of the jungle and it is only women who participate in this comparsa.

The costume is made up of a white skirt and shirt, gloves and a grille mask, as well as a chonta wood arrow, however, what stands out the most are the colorful crowns adorned with macaw feathers and a long tail of smaller feathers of parrots, hummingbirds, and other Amazonian birds.

Feast of the Virgen del Carmen of Paucartambo
Chunchachas Dance Photo: @marapalacin

When is the feast of the Virgin of Mount Carmel celebrated?

  • The festival begins on July 15, date on which the dancers arrive in the city, there is the burning, castles, fireworks and the traditional ''cera apaycuy'', the chunchos light bonfires, dance and sing while the maqtas do mischief and play.

At 10 p.m. the bands of musicians serenade the Virgen del Carmen until dawn.

  • July 16th, is the central day of the celebration, it starts at 5 am with the ''Dawn Mass'' followed by the 10 o'clock mass, where the Qhapaq Qollas and Qhapaq Negros sing the most beautiful hymns for the Mamacha Carmen. At the end of the masses, the comparsas perform the choreographies of each dance in the narrow streets of Paucartambo.

Finally, at 3 pm the Virgin of Carmen leaves in procession, by this time the Saqras flee to the roofs and balconies, writhing before the passage of the image, as they can not be in the presence of the Virgin.

  • On July 17, the traditional blessing and guerrilla, the virgin leaves in his second procession, on the bridge Carlos III the virgin gives the blessing to the 4 of them.

After receiving the blessing in the main square of Paucartambo the guerrilla between ''qollas'' (dances of the highlands Qollasuyo) and ''antis'' (dances of jungle, antisuyo) in these guerrillas also participate the Saqras who in a theatricalization take the deceased of the battle in their chariots of fire.

Once the battle is over, all are united in a general qhaswa.

  • The 18th, is the last day of the celebration of the Virgin of Carmen, this is the only day that the Saqras are received inside the temple, who can enter without masks to hear the mass, being forgiven by the mercy of the virgin, the Saqras can happily carry the virgin on their shoulders to the door of the temple, where the ''Okarikuy'' will take place, which is the baptism and blessing to the youngest and new members of each comparsa.
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