In the month of February, for anywhere from 1 week to 1.5 months, the celebrations of Carnival commence all across Perú. According to this article, Carnival originated as a time for indulgence prior to the arrival of the solemn time of Lent. Essentially, here in Perú Carnival is celebrated via lots of parties, a lot of drinking, a lot of water shenanigans, and a lot fallen trees. The biggest Carnival celebrations occur in Cajamarca, another department of Perú, but I thought we had some great celebrations here in Caraz.
The beginning of the Carnival Huaylino was marked by a series of different activities, a summary of which you can watch below in a video produced by my municipality.
One of the first activities was the selection of the Shumaq Shipash (“beautiful girl” in Quechua) via a sort of beauty pageant in which girls from different barrios of Caraz compete in events such as evening wear, Q&A, speaking Quechua, and performing a traditional dance. The winner earns the title of Shumaq Shipash and achieves a spot of honor for the Carnival festivities. The Shumaq Shipash competition was really interesting, and two other Volunteers and I were almost roped into performing a sort of half-time show when the contracted entertainment backed out. While I am not a huge fan of beauty pageants in general, the Shumaq Shipash competition is different because it serves as a way to remember and honor the sierra culture of Caraz.
The following day was the principal Carnival activity, a.k.a. the Rompecalle (literally road breaker). Essentially, the Rompecalle is a giant parade in which the municipality and many community organizations participate. Each participating group dresses in some kind of traditional attire, and then constructs a tablada (think portable shrine), upon which they tie foods such as noodles, cookies, bread, beer, wine, candy, etc. The tabladas are carried throughout the parade and then judged at the end to determine who made the best one. My gerencia made a triangular tablada, and my contribution was a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups; I’m fairly certain our tablada was the only one in all of Perú with that special ingredient.
Just like all of my co-workers in the municipality, I dressed up in some traditional sierra attire that I had rented for the Rompecalle. While the parade was long, it was a ton of fun to dance to and sing along to Huayno with my passionate fellow Caracinos. Check out a video of the dancing below:
However, apart from the length, the Rompecalle was also very HOT. Fortunately, an important component of Carnival celebrations is water, usually in the form of water balloons. Throughout the entire parade, there was no shortage of kids (and sometimes their parents) dumping buckets of water or throwing water balloons upon the parade-goers from the heights of their homes. Personally, I found the water quite refreshing, and frequently told them to give us more, and more water is just what I got, however not from a kid.
As we reached the end of the parade, we were met with a wonderful surprise in the form of a fully stocked fire engine, whose hose was aimed straight at my fellow municipality workers and me. If you are wondering what it is like to get hit by water streaming out of a fire-engine hose, you are in luck, because I recorded the entire experience on my camera.
Now, while the parade was probably the principal event of Carnival for the whole city, another important component for Carnival celebrations are the Yunzas. Essentially a yunza is a party in which a family cuts down a big tree, generally a molle, “replants” it in another location, and then decorates it with lots of goods like blankets, sheets, bins, clothing, etc. Now, as the party progresses and everyone has a good time, you draw closer to the principal event. At some point near the end of the evening, a special yunza song is put on and then people pair up, and take turns swinging an axe at the decorated tree in an attempt to fell it. Generally, it takes quite some time for the tree to fall, but once it does, it is a mad rush to quickly gather as many items as possible from the fallen tree. Per tradition, the pair that deals the final blow is to provide the tree and the goods for the following year’s yunza.
At the yunza I attended, I managed to grab 3 plastic bins and some hangers from the branches of the fallen tree. I just wasn’t quick or aggressive enough to get the treasured mantas from the flourishing hands of the mothers.
And that’s really it. While the main events only lasted about 1 week here in Caraz, there were Yunzas and parties for Carnival going on for well over a month after the main events had passed. As I said, many Peruvians like fiestas, and plenty of fiestas there were.
While I had a great time with the parade and yunza, my favorite Carnival memory came via my neighbors. One Tuesday after the Rompecalle, I was riding my bike back from the school to my house, and I discovered that my neighbors were throwing water balloons and buckets of water at cars and moto-taxis as they drove past. Unfortunately, they let me pass without a word, and so of course I yelled at them asking why they didn’t drench me with water like everyone else. So, I did what any reasonable person would do, and went back to my house, changed into shorts and a t-shirt, and then came back and MADE them give me a solid drenching. I think they were really confused, but I had a grand old time.
I can’t wait for Carnival 2.0 next year.