Land of Celebrations and Parties

Our ancestral rituals and grand celebrations are two elements we need as much as air. They give us a sense of belonging. It’s often said that in traditional societies, people live “remembering the last party and looking forward to the next.” Cotabambas is no exception. Celebrating is a way to make sense of things. It is a necessity.

Tradition says that carnival comes to Cotabambas every year around February, atop a white horse. It’s one of the most anticipated celebrations in a province of so many, and it has a certain magical feel that is intertwined with the worldview that Andean villages have treasured since time began. Professor and musician Rómulo Arredondo tells an anecdote that clearly exemplifies this point of view.

Arredondo recalls one night during carnival when he was on his way home on horseback, after visiting a friend. He heard vibrant music and women’s voices from far away, off in a distant field. Suddenly, his horse stopped short and refused to take one more step. After a few moments, he saw a parade of carnival spirits walk past him, never showing their faces. They continued until they came to a waterfall where they disappeared. The story shows that the spirits of carnival and celebration remain vital and alive in the shared imagination of the province.

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Arredondo adds that another marked feature of the Cotabambas carnival is its sentimental tone, reflected in the local music. Andean music has a certain air of melancholy. Huayno is a genre most illustrative of local music. Circa 1948, scholar Edmundo Delgado Vivanco estimated that perhaps some seventy per cent of the lyrics of huayno songs refer to themes of “farewell.” Delgado Vivanco continues: “Land, love and goodbyes” are the emotional core of the Andean musical heritage. It was true in the past and it’s still true today. Delgado Vivanco provides a charming example in this excerpt:

Tomorrow when I go
what heart will I go with?
Every step that I take
I cry for your absence;
I will go at night, not during the day
leaving in daylight will make you cry
leaving by day would make you grieve.

Cotabambas musician Wilbert Valencia notes that the mood of Cotabambas’ residents does change, and not all of the music is the same. In many places around Cotabambas, the most popular musical style is called “Carnival of Qhaswas.” It features lively songs and group dances. The qhaswa, in fact, is a group dance that is closely associated with falling in love. Says researcher Libio Benites, The choreography has a man and a woman getting close to one another, holding hands for a moment, while the dance lasts.

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These days at concerts in Cotabambas the audience dances in circles, and they talk and drink chicha and beer, while the musicians inspire everyone. The qhaswa dance is the most traditional.

So, it’s a mistake to believe that the music and dances of Cotabambas have a single theme or mood. In fact, the province is well-known for the diversity of its dances. In addition to the qhaswas, they are also known to dance the llamerada (a satirical dance, commonly performed during the celebrations of the Virgin of Cocharcas in Haquira) and a dance known as retachos, performed by pairs of men who wear alpaca skins on their heads with their faces covered by ski masks, or with clay masks. They parade through streets of the village “dancing and singing with excitement and joy, cracking their whips,” in the words of Professor Roberto Carlos García.

In Cotabambas, they also perform “The Dance of the Negritos.” It is especially popular in October in Haquira district, during the celebrations of Our Lady of the Rosary. At one time, dancing the saksa was widespread in Cotabambas, requiring a costume “using only items found in nature, such as salvajina, a grey-coloured grass growing from the hills,” said Professor Felipe Roldán, a native of Tambobamba. Even the marinera, a type of music and dance from coastal Peru, is performed in the highlands, always followed by a huayno.

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There is also the pallusma, the beautiful tradition of falling in love through huayno dances and songs during the preparation of the chuño at night, in the chuñuna or field where the chuño is prepared. According to Ricardo Valderrama and Carmen Escalante, the pallusmas “are love songs that are performed during the evening dances for young men and women. ... In the pallusma, the solo singers are a man and a woman. ... Everyone puts their own personal stamp on the recital, adapting it specifically to their relationship.”

Each 24 June, during the Feast of Saint John, “the men play charangos at night to court the women, who sing counterpoint,” says musician José Alccahua. “The man gives his warak’a (sling) or ch’umpi (woven belt) ... to the woman he’s interested in and she also gives him one of her belongings. Once they exchange items, they agree to meet again during the day at a certain place, at the sound of a flute or by signalling with a mirror reflecting the sun/sky.”

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Cotabambas’ musical heritage is quite diverse. The huayno genre, for example, not only covers themes of farewell, but includes yet another type of music where the performer sings “politely” to cattle, addressing them as “father”, “mother”, “brother” or “sister”, demonstrating Cotabambinos’ close affinity with nature. The lyrics translated from the Quechua of “Canción al caballo,” collected by Valderrama and Escalante:

Brother with bones of steel
brother with bones of wire
let’s go, my brother
to your home
let’s go, little brother
to where my beloved wife is.

Edmundo Delgado Vivanco describes the huayno as sad songs performed during t’inkanas or offerings to the apus or to Mother Earth. The songs become happier and livelier during the bullfights, an essential part of the great celebrations in Cotabambas, including, of course, carnival. There is a major difference between the Cotabambas’ bullfights and those of Spanish ancestry: the Cotabambas fights do not end with the death of the bull. This custom comes from Portugal, the result of influence that Portuguese traders and businessmen had in the southern Peruvian Andes during colonial times.

In places such as Coyllurqui district, the people gather around the bullring to admire the “spontaneous” bullfights in which the matadors are amateurs. They usually enter the ring waving a red poncho and are quite the show.

A bullfight in Coyllurqui is a great opportunity to trade, socialise, and drink with friends and family. On these days, the town has a fair around its central plaza. The spirit of the bulls lives amongst booths selling chicha and beer, fried chicken and cotton candy. In fact, during the bullfights, everything else seems to stop. Local government officials usually attend and, as they do on Independence Day in late July, they invite all who wish to join them for lunch in their homes. Free chicha is distributed in the stands around the bullring, where both young and old applaud and enjoy themselves.

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The cry of Olé!, a traditional shout at bullfights, is rarely heard here. During the intermission, there is the chawpi qacha, a brief period of fun during which the authorities themselves come to the centre of the ring to form dancing circles. Sometimes, a rather gentle bull will be released from the gate. The spirit of levity is everywhere.

In Cotabambas, on the evening before the first bullfight, a game called runa turus is organised. Some people dress as bulls (with horns, a tail and other bovine characteristics) and chase people through the streets. Everyone strives to avoid being “gored.” The next day, the central plaza is surrounded by long sticks and families can witness the bullfight from a safe, comfortable place behind the fence, or, if they have planned carefully, from the balcony of a nearby house.

Generally, in Cotabambas the municipalities together with an organising committee choose the fighters and bulls for the contest. In just one afternoon, you can see various styles of bullfighting as well as “spontaneous” bullfighters, and others, wearing the traditional traje de luces (suit of lights).

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During these celebrations, traditional bands like Hijo de Pito Orqo (Son of Pito Hill) are in charge of entertainment. This group has played for several generations. Its name references a mountain called Pito, located in this region (orqo means hill in Quechua). Its members are farmers from Cotabambas whose music is often played on Surphuy Radio. Learned from their grandparents, the band’s songs revolve around the bulls — songs about matadors’ capes and bulls entering the ring. “When our parents, our uncles, our grandparents die, we carry on. And when ... we die, our children will carry on. Our traditional music will not be lost,” they say.

The music of Hijo de Pito Orqo has a certain military feel, which is also true of many other traditional groups in this area. Its rhythm and its choice of instruments, including bugles, whistles, drums, bass drums and waka waqras – cattle horns fastened together to make a wind instrument – evoke a sense of military campaigns, reminding all that Cotabambas is one of the most patriotic provinces in all of Peru. Regiments from Cotabambas have fought in almost all of the battles in Peruvian history, including the War of Independence in the early nineteenth century. That experience resonates in the music played today.

There is the other side of the coin, too: traditional music that has reinvented itself to sound “modern”. Verónica Rojas, a singer from Haquira, better known as La Nueva Taquillera del Sur (New Pop Star of the South), is a good example. Her music draws on innovative instruments used in huayno, such as the requinto – a type of small guitar – plus synthesizers and electronic drums. The mood of her music is festive and romantic, often using more modern well-known rhythms. Her popularity, especially amongst younger people, is undeniable.

“My music,” says Rojas, “is not just for Apurímac. It’s meant to be more national.” Rojas’ music is a form of globalisation, which is gradually infiltrating all aspects of everyday life in the region.

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Verónica Rojas poses in front of Haquira, her hometown. Known as “New Pop Star of the South,” the youthful artist sings modern huayno music popular among younger generations. For much of the year, however, Verónica lives in Arequipa, from where she launches her tours around Peru, including Lima.


The music of La Nueva Taquillera del Sur (New Pop Star of the South) draws on innovative instruments used in huayno, such as the requinto – a type of small guitar – plus synthesizers and electronic drums. The mood of her music is festive and romantic, often using more modern well-known rhythms.


Corn chicha – or chicha de jora, as it is called in Peru – is a fermented beverage that is widely consumed in the Andes, and Cotabambas is no exception. It is present at almost every event, big or small, and can be yellow, reddish or white, depending on the type of corn used and the manner of preparation. According to the book, Realidad Cotabambina (Cotabambas Reality), by Gregorio Cornejo Vergara, the corn is moistened and stored in a tank, then covered with corn husks or straw for about a week. Later, the kernels are separated and ground into flour, which is boiled in water. After it cools, the chicha is mixed with toasted balls of harwi (medium-roasted corn) and then chewed by a group of people. This softens the mix for others’ consumption. Delicious and refreshing, Peruvians have consumed chicha since ancient times. In Cotabambas, chicha is customarily served in wooden cups called qeros, or from the horn of a cow. It’s frequently enjoyed while working in the fields and is part of the traditional offerings to the apus or local deities.

In various parts of Cotabambas and other places in the southern Andes, for example, chicha, the traditional drink made from fermented corn, co-exists today with beer in the big festivals and musical performances. There are even popular songs about beer. In the outlying villages, however, chicha maintains its more traditional presence.

The musical repertoire of Cotabambas is, of course, not restricted to only huayno. There are also the yaravíes, often described as “music that pierces the soul.” These songs express the pain of unrequited love. Its ancestor is the Incan harawi, associated with the plaintive songs that were sung when an Inca died. The lyrics of a yaravi, collected by Edmundo Delgado de Vivanco, are a perfect example:

Since you are absent my darling
carry in your heart
my sad lament;

of not loving you without seeing you
I will wait, crying, for you
all in sorrow

The counterpoint to the yaravíes are the wankas, “songs of joy ... to celebrate planting, harvesting,” as noted by musicologist Chalena Vásquez. These “are performed without accompaniment, sung in a loud, high-pitched voice, and can be heard from great distances.”

The Huaylía in Haquira

Booming high strung voices make eminent sense, given that the geography of Cotabambas is rugged and difficult. In 1942, Apurímac native and writer José María Arguedas wrote:

In Apurímac, the carnival displays all of its musical splendour in the valleys of the mighty Apurímac river. ... The music is courageous, warlike, tragic and violent just like the riverbed; as mysterious and sad as the unreachable far banks of the Apurímac.

For the people of Cotabambas, the river is important for agriculture, and for environmental music. The same applies to the lakes. Not in vain is the Aymara meaning of Cotabambas “pasture of lakes.”

In the wiphalas, a music genre related to agriculture or carnival season and sung with joy by groups, is a theme called tuytunki. Though translated as “you float,” tuytunki usually speaks of a drowning episode. A story told by musicologist Gloria Avendaño is about a young farm girl who challenges a young man to pass a series of tests to win her affections. As part of the challenge, he must cross a lake on horseback.

As the young man crosses the lake, he sings and plays tuytunki on his charango. A condor appears and gives him one of its feathers, saying: “If you have any trouble while crossing the lake, write the name of your beloved with this feather. Do this, and you will be saved from being taken by the waters.” But the young man, finding himself about to drown, forgets the advice of the condor. And he sinks to the bottom of the lake, where he finds an underwater village whose chief is the father of the farm girl he loves. He begs the chief to let him return to the surface to be with her. The chief refuses, and so the young man plays tuytunki day and night. Finally, the music convinces the girl’s father, and he sends the young man back to be reunited with his love.

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“And ever since, on nights when the moon is full, you can hear the charango echo over the lake each time the lovers meet,” ends the story.

Rivers and lakes figure prominently in the collective imagination of the people of Cotabambas, as do farm animals like bulls and horses that came to the Americas on the Spaniards’ ships in the sixteenth century.

The horse, for example, is the undisputed central figure in the Feast of the Patron Saint James, mainly celebrated in July in the community of Patawasi in Haquira district. Portrayed as a soldier riding a white horse, Saint James is also a patron saint of Spain. The colonial Church of the Apostle Saint James in Patawasi keeps an effigy of the saint that is worshipped with great devotion during the celebrations.

This piety spreads throughout the complex geography of the region. Urbano Castro Cuba, from the neighbouring province of Chumbivilcas in Cusco, usually goes to Patawasi to leave his offerings and say his prayers. He is one of the many faithful who light candles to Saint James, leaving scarves and other items of equestrian clothing, horse tails, and even horse excrement on the altar. All these are offered up for the welfare of the animals and “asking that blessings be bestowed and that they be given horses,” as written in the book Joyas Turísticas de Haquira (Tourist Gems of Haquira) by Professor Roberto Carlos García Huayna. He adds that, of course, “the prayers will be answered.”

A procession in honour of Saint James highlights the celebration. Accompanying St. James’s effigy amidst fireworks are: the Virgin’s image, crowds, and dance groups, some of them performing “The Dance of the Negritos.” In Patawasi in Haquira district, this dance brings together Western and native elements, the latter represented by the llameros (or llama breeders) who sport pagan masks.

Cultural celebrations in Cotabambas include shows like the montatoro (bull riding) and dressage, both of which exemplify the human desire to dominate nature. These events often go with bullfights and amateurs attempting to ride wild bulls or horses, giving the public great joy.

Similarly, districts like Coyllurqui and Cotabambas are renowned for their cockfighting culture that is mainly highlighted during Independence Day celebrations in late July. The cockfights between specially trained roosters are particularly popular with the public, who shout encouragements and place bets on their favourite animal. One good fighting cock can be a precious and valuable commodity.

Additionally, in the carnival celebrations there is a ritual that could be the result of the encounter between pre-Hispanic traditions – associated with fertility – and the horse, as Professor Rómulo Arredondo suggests. In this impressive event, whose origins are lost in time, participants go on horseback and on foot to a high, sacred plain. Once there, they collect two Andean flowers that bloom only at this time of year: the surphuy and the waqanki. They use the flowers to decorate their hats and their horses.

“One of the most anticipated celebrations of the year,” said Professor Rómulo Ortega, is t’ikapallana (from t’ika, flower, and pallay, to gather or harvest). Activities associated with t’ikapallana were declared intrinsic to Peru’s National Cultural Heritage in 2014. Although it’s considered native to Tambobamba, today carnivals with the same name are held in Coyllurqui in Cotabambas and Progreso districts (the latter located in Grau province).

On the day of t’ikapallana, dawn is special. Beatriz and Paulina Tapia from Tambobamba district remember once leaving home at one in the morning in order to arrive at the sacred plain of Porotopampa or T’ikapallanapampa by dawn. The plain is 4,200 metres above sea level and has a strong symbolic meaning. It’s surrounded by apus that watch over the welfare of the animals and provide food for the locals.

The horse is the undisputed central figure in the Feast of the Patron Saint James, mainly celebrated in July in the community of Patawasi in Haquira district. Portrayed as a soldier riding a white horse, Saint James is also a patron saint of Spain.


The hard work involved in the procession of the statue of Saint James in Patawasi. Trans-Andean beliefs - ancient rites related to Illapa, a pre-Colombian god of rain, lightning, thunder, snakes and livestock fertility - have merged with the Hispanic faith of this medieval saint, who favoured Christian conquests.

A young boy playing the pinkuyllu, a traditional wind instrument, during the carnival in Cotabambas. He sports a large arrangement of surphuy flowers, collected in the meadows of t’ikapallana in Tambobamba district.


Surphuy y waqanki

It’s no wonder that these flowers are an essential part of the celebration of t’ikapallana. After all, they only bloom between February and March at the height of carnival.

Surphuy (Gentianella scarlatina) is a lilac-blue blossom that grows on the waraqu cactus, covered in tiny white spines, resembling a fuzz.

Waqanki (Masdevallia veitchiana) is a reddishyellow species of terrestrial orchid. The Quechua name is related to weeping and means “you cry.” Incan oral tradition tells the story of an Inca’s daughter who was in love with a young warrior – a commoner. Upon learning of this, the Inca orders the execution of the young man, but later pardons him when the princess begs for his life to be spared. However, the father then sends him to quell an uprising in a jungle zone – an order that meant certain death. Upon hearing this news, the young girl ran after her beloved. Where her tears fell, these flowers bloom today.

In the different communities that today celebrate t’ikapallana, there is always a hill or designated lake where people go to collect the unusual flowers. There was a time when all travelled by foot or horseback; but, today they also drive. At dawn in Tambobamba, there are caravans of people carrying drinks, food and goods to exchange. Quite notable amongst them are the mounted cavalry –including women riders – singing with pride as they parade by. The lyrics of a classic song of the Cotabambas carnival, originally in Quechua, say:

Little fish, tiny flower of surphuchay
little fish, tiny flower of surphuchay
who is it that brought you
who is it that carried you
I, little flower, carried you
on my wolf horse, I carried you
on my wolf horse, I took you.
I, little flower, told you the truth
little plant, I told you the truth
don’t become a bud, I told you
don’t become a flower.

Rinaldo Mansilla goes each year on horseback from Tambobamba for the celebration. He observes that although the origins of t’ikapallana are unknown, “Legend says that here there was a t’inkasqa, an offering made, a payment to the earth, and they branded the animals. That’s how the celebrations started. Or so they say.”

Men and women wear blood-red ponchos with multi-coloured rainbow stripes. There are green ponchos, too, with the same stripes.

Celebrations dedicated to the Virgin

Generally speaking, there is a style of clothing typical of the men of Cotabambas; but fashions change over time and the young people are especially influenced by foreign designs. The traditional style consists of pants and flannel jackets, and vests called chilikus, often lined with small, colourful buttons. The men also wear a ch’umpi, a woven sash, around their waists. Their hats are brown or a natural colour, adorned with black ribbons.

Professor Rómulo Ortega says that during t’ikapallana, the women wear jackets that are mostly blue or purple, in honour of the surphuy flower. Their skirts or polleras are green to honour the fields or the surrounding hills. Until the last century, when groups arrived, singing, families who had problems with each other during the year could resolve their differences by fighting with bullwhips. Perhaps it was a traditional way to leave animosities behind and rebuild family harmony.

Celebrated every 17 January, takanakuy (from takay, to box, strike, destroy) is another important custom in the area, a source of pride in various communities around Cotabambas – such as Patawasi. Takanakuy is a bare-knuckle fight to settle accounts before an audience. Takanakuy always happens in a celebratory context. Numerous provinces dispute its origins. Professor García Huayna, however, writes that the custom comes from the Spanish colonial era.

This release of impulses can be seen in other customs that were common in Cotabambas until a few years ago. For example, some men “kidnapped” women in order to marry them. This practice, known as pasña suway, was popular during the t’ikapallana festival, says musician Wilbert Valencia. The custom was to go on horseback, with a group of friends in charge of protecting the “thief.” When the family would try to rescue the woman, the friends would attempt to fight them off, frequently leading to fierce battles.

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“The echo of the rain is heard in the deep canyons; the summits of the mountains seem to shake; and, in the small hollows along the slopes, black torrents fall and carry away stones and trees. Everything moves toward the big river. ... It’s carnival time. On these nights when the river’s voice is at the peak of its power, in all the tiny villages, pinned over the abyss, that dot the mountain pass, they come out to sing and dance the warrior’s song for carnival, which is like an offering to the angry, swollen river, the seething sky and the gloomy night.”
José María Arguedas,
El carnaval de Tambobamba (The Tambobamba Carnival), 1942.


Women (llameras) participating in the Llamerada, trance-like devotional songs for Our Lady of the Assumption, in Tambobamba. With their faces covered, the singers must perform this ritual for at least three consecutive years to ensure pleasing the Virgin, who provides for the welfare of the parishioners and their village.

Valencia says the marriages resulting from this practice were, in the majority of cases, eventually accepted by both families. Another significant event happens during t’ikapallana in Tambobamba. It’s not uncommon for women to grab membrillos (the fruit of the quince tree) and smash them against men until the fruit is soft, when people eat it. It is a “battle of the sexes” in which both sides annoy each other, then pretend to hate each other, and then finally accept that they love each other. The “battle” has a humorous and flirty air to it, there in the highlands of Porotopampa, where in an instant the weather can shift from sunny to foggy, from cold rain to heat, from storms to hail.

Aside from the membrillos, people bring peaches, pacays, potatoes, wool and chuño, amongst other products that are ready for trade. There is usually a fair on the morning of t’ikapallana. People from all around the area – from the valleys to the peaks – come to trade their merchandise. In the olden days, there was only bartering, but today there are also cash deals.

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Fruit plays an important role during warak’anakuy, another practice seen in the t’ikapallana celebrations. According to Professor Felipe Roldán, “the most handsome men of the community begin to challenge each other with their slings, and … in a sort of blanket, they carry fruits, which they begin to throw with their slings. Then community members sing wiphalas to encourage the contestants.”

This kind of competition is a central part of carnival celebrations. There is enjoyment in knowing who can throw fruit the farthest, who sings the cleverest songs, who is the best musician, who is the best dancer, who is best-dressed or who wins the horse races. There is no carnival without rivalry, whether it’s planned or spontaneous. Historian Peter Burke says that competition is one of the recurring themes in the world of carnival.

The day after the main events of t’ikapallana, while a stew called t’impu is prepared (generally containing beef, sweet potato, yucca, cabbage, whole peaches, rice, carrots, potatoes, chuño, salt and pepper), a table is put out where people can make offerings to the earth, including flowers picked the day before. This is a part of what they call t’inkasqa, the Quechua word for “offering.” In addition to the flowers, other offerings include coca leaves, fresh and dried corn, potatoes, incense, llama fat or even unborn llama foetuses. Through the offerings, villagers ask for health and welfare, rains for the crops and abundant harvests.

Yunza, one of the carnival celebrations in which participants dance around a eucalyptus tree decorated and planted for this particular event. They take turns swinging an axe at the trunk of the tree. After several hours of celebration the final swing takes down the tree, decorated with gifts for all who participate. In the photograph, a yunza is seen taking place in the Arcospampa-Congota community.


The Yunza

The yunza is a tradition with ancient origins, practiced even today in many places along the coast, in the highlands and in the jungles of Peru, though it’s known by various names and has different customs. The karguyuq – or sponsors – are in charge of organising the event in which the goal is to topple a tree loaded with presents. Professor Felipe Roldán says that the yunza has existed “forever” in Cotabambas, although in the past it was practiced exclusively by mistis (landowners). Today, during carnivals in Cotabambas, men and women, their faces painted with coloured powders, drink chicha de jora and beer and sing qhaswas as they dance around the yunza tree. They take turns wielding a sharp axe, hacking at the trunk until the tree falls, laden with gifts, and the people rush in to grab one.

The crop yield is extremely important. If during the carnival celebrations there is a risk of a hail storm, for example, a designated person is absent from the party: the arariwa, whose obligation is to stay home with his family, pleading with the sky and performing rituals to prevent the heavens from unleashing their fury. If the arariwa dares to appear at the festivities, the community punishes him. He must dedicate himself exclusively to his “meteorological” duties.

Teófilo Alarcón, who was charged with being the arariwa during the 2014-2015 timeframe in Arcospampa-Congota (in the Mara district), recalls how he and his wife spent numerous sleepless nights, pleading with God and the apus to spare the potato crops from the black sky that threatened hail. His duty being one of sacrifice, the work of the arariwa is worth the cost if the community’s crops are saved.

According to professor and journalist Demetrio Túpac Yupanqui, “The arariwa is the caretaker of the fields, the scarecrow for the birds and the thieves, and the guard against bad weather.” In some communities in Cotabambas and various places around the southern Peruvian highlands, the arariwas confront menacing weather in another way. He says, They are specialists, experts who know when the laden clouds will unleash hail and, in that moment, warn the village so they can start to burn wood and tree branches. This creates warmth that will defeat or drive away the hail or the frost.

There is, then, a fundamental knowledge in the work of the arariwa, who, according to Túpac Yupanqui, “dominates the science and practices of understanding the weather.”

“When the clouds turn dark and the condor flees before the arrival of the storm, the arariwa will humanise the phenomenon, his sling in hand, screaming, “Jahuallanta, urallanta sua pacctatac, carajo! (only above, only below, carajo, be careful, thief of the crops!),” and other insults.”
Researcher Aníbal Arredondo.

A prefabricated condor is paraded in Cotabambas during the National Independence celebrations. Since it’s prohibited to hunt or use actual condors during the bullfights, the fake condor is a replacement.

Researcher Aníbal Arredondo says that in the Haquira district, the arariwa makes a pilgrimage, along with the sunquyuq (elders) of the region. They go to “La Despensa,” which is of supreme importance to the crops. It’s a cave, and inside there is “a storage area for all Andean products, they’re all in good shape ... possibly protected by an ecosystem created by a former arariwa,” says Arredondo.

The book Tourist Gems of Haquira points out that each year on the 14th of August, people harvest in La Despensa a small sample of what was cultivated the year before. Afterward, as part of a ceremony known as hayway, they plant small amounts of potatoes, corn, beans, olluco, wheat and so on, for the next year’s yield. Hayway means offering or sacrifice. Traditionally, a guinea pig or a young llama is sacrificed to ensure sufficient crops during the yearly harvest. The elaborate ceremony lets the village know what is best to plant.

After a year of hard work taking care of the crops, the arariwa ends his assignment in May. There is a farewell ceremony, called “Feast of the Holy Cross.” The arariwa travels throughout the laymi (agricultural fields) collecting small blessed crosses left by him when his assignment began. The awki, the eldest person in charge of sacred rituals, oversees prayers for the potato crops, the earth, the village, and the arariwa and his family. Later the awki blows three times over three potatoes, and the arariwa returns the blessed crosses to the community.

Celebrating is a way to express how we see the world. In Cotabambas, celebration is a constant presence in day-to-day life.


Edison Farfán, Augusto Félix Silva, Édgar Ñahui and Herbert Silva are members of the band Patrón Santiago de Challhuahuacho (Patron Saint James of Challhuahuacho). The group formed on 8 August 1996, the celebration day for this saint, who, according to tradition, performs miracles and blesses animals and homes. The members are not academy-trained; but carry the musical heritage of their ancestors, who were also musicians. They write songs that they hope will give new value to the music of Cotabambas.

“The cross, which was brought here by the Spaniards during the era of evangelisation, was accepted by the local residents to make a sort of biosynthesis – they worshipped their apus but they also put the crosses up,” said Professor Felipe Roldán.

It’s notable that the festivities associated with the Christian cross are solemn, because during these activities Pachamama – or Mother Earth – is also worshipped.

In fact, a custom still seen today in Cotabambas and other parts of the country is pouring the first drink of chicha (or beer) on the ground, as a sign recognising the Pachamama.

Main Celebrations

Syncretism is what scholars call the reconciliation of two streams of different and sometimes even opposing ideas. It’s visible in many of the customs in Cotabambas. A good example of syncretism is what’s known as turupukllay, a bullfight with a condor. The bull, an animal that came from Europe, represents foreign subjugation during the colonial era. The condor, native to the Andes, opposes the bull. Cotabambas was where most of these contests were held in the southern Andes, especially between July and August, a time of rest from working the crops and for branding livestock. The time of turupukllay also coincides with Peruvian independence celebrations. Today, the law seeks to limit the practice as the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) is in danger of extinction.

In olden times, rituals were performed asking the apus for permission to borrow their “pet condor.” People sang and prayed for the welfare of their crops and livestock, said Gisselle Meza and Gonzalo Valderrama in their article, Turupukllay: The Lord Governor’s Bullfight.

Traditionally done with extreme care, capturing a condor could take several days. It was understood that the condor could only be “borrowed” by the village. “If something happened, not only would it be a disgrace to the person who caught the condor but to every person involved in the hunt,” said Professor Felipe Roldán.

In the town of Coyllurqui, they usually celebrate turupukllay on two consecutive days, one organised by the mayor, one in the charge of the governor. They compete to see who can organise the better bullfight. The village welcomed the captured condor with chicha and food. The sacred bird had its own room in the home of the governor or the mayor. Later, traditionally on 28 July, Peru’s Independence Day, the condor would be marched through the treets, accompanied by people from schools and other institutions in Cotabambas.

“The day of the bullfight is when the condor assumes its role,” say Meza and Valderrama. “The principal actor of turupukllay, the condor, is tied to the back of the bull. That’s how it is – depending on how violent the bull is – for the first 5 to 20 minutes.”

It is important to highlight the enormous symbolic power this has for the residents of the area, this confrontation between the bull – an animal with foreign origins – and the condor – an animal that can take to the air, a native of the Andes.













After the celebration, there is the kacharpari, or farewell. “They take the condor to a high place; they make an offering; they perform the t’inka (blessing the condor with an alcoholic beverage); they offer the bird a drink of chicha or beer for the last time, and then it is released,” according to the story by Meza and Valderrama.

Only time will tell what will become of this Andean celebration. A recent bullfight in Coyllurqui, even without a condor, was well-celebrated by the public.

In spite of the changes, there is no lack of opportunity to rejoice in Cotabambas. During the carnival of 2015, one of the main revelries took place in Rayrocca stadium in Tambobamba. The delegation from Coyllurqui was greeted with wild applause. They put on a show featuring a waylaqa (a man dressed as a woman, behaving in a comical way) who wore the pollera (a traditional skirt) in front of the judges and local authorities, and even pushed some of the dancers around, much to the delight of the public. The delegation also dazzled the spectators with their dance of t’ikariy (Quechua for “to enjoy oneself” and “start to flourish”) in which performers recreated a payment to the earth, burning incense in the centre of the big dance platform.

In this area, in a genre of love songs called pallusma, a man can sing a traditional song to a woman he desires:

Little dove with black eyes
little dove with shining eyes
I will take off your girdle
how could I forget your face
if I’m wearing your ring
that’s why I cry, love
that’s why I am ashamed
let me taste your sweetness.

Such advances can be answered by other verses of the same song, this time from the woman:

You, being single only know
the verse about the old life.
You only talk of that,
you express it in your song.
That’s how I cheat, you say.
This is how I invite you, you say.
I’ll cheat on this zambita, you say
I’ll invite this girl, you say.

These customs speak of the friendly and mischievous character of the people, with such a rich cultural tradition. “We watch the calendar to see when we will be celebrating carnivals,” smiles musician, Wilbert Valencia.

Indeed, the entire province enjoys the carnival celebrations. And the dance competitions and qhaswas of Tambobamba are important because the winners represent Cotabambas in the Pukllay carnival in Andahuaylas which brings together groups from throughout Peru. This carnival has been declared part of Peru’s National Cultural Heritage.

Between 2012 and 2014, the neighbourhood of Huancallo was declared champion of the dance and qhaswas competition in Tambobamba. Community and Huancallo club president, Lizbeht Abarca, says that every year, dancers make new costumes according to designs in various localities. It’s quite an investment. Aquilino Torres Arrambide (25) and Audi Cereceda Castillo (18), club dancers, say they have danced “since we were children.” They drink coca tea every morning to have more strength and endurance.

“If the kids grow up with these traditions, in the end they are dancers like their parents, like their aunts and uncles,” says Masías Sotomayor (28), who is also a dancer. And they won’t be ashamed to wear the traditional clothing. Because it’s all about pride. Because culture defines who you are.

Many of the Cotabambas traditions are related to residents’ contact with nature in its pure state. Thanks to their special sensitivity, the people have created a rich, vibrant culture and festivals that transcend their environment, and are linked to the human need to celebrate. It isn’t a coincidence that exceptional history and geography often result in exceptional cultures.

Celebrating is a way to express how we see the world. In Cotabambas, being festive is a constant presence in day-to-day life. There, the celebration will go on forever.

Main Celebrations