Peru celebrates carnivals since ancient times. Every February, all around the country displays a street show full of splendor, with pompous masks, beauty queens and energetic dancers.
Just a few weeks ago I traveled from Mexico, where I stay, to Lima, the capital of Peru. I was invited by Laya, my peruvian friend to pay her a visit in her homeland. She insisted me to join her family’s happy time in the Carnival, promising me I wouldn’t regret it.
Years before I witnessed the famous brazilian carnivals from Rio and Olinda, that impressed me with that famous brazilian vibe and colors of the people. So then, how would the Peruvian carnival feeling would be like?
Peruvian culture is a mix of indigenous and Spanish traditions brought centuries ago by the catholic colonists. The carnival festivities is one of those old traditions and it take place every February, as a precursor to the solemn Lenten celebrations that follow.
People wear masks and costumes during the celebrations, allowing them to lose their everyday individuality and experience a heightened sense of social unity. Is the moment to let go, to dance, to drink and eat a lot, as most of the Peruvians are religious and follows the prohibitions during Lent.
The Andean ritual of the “yunsa” (also known as unsha) is an important aspect of Carnival. Mi amiga invited her friends to her place as, this year, she was the Mayordomo (governor of the feast). So before the guests arrived, I helped her decorating the yunsa tree loaded with gifts such toys, fruits, balloons or liquor bottles. When everyone was there, we all started to dance around the tree, and soon after me and her begin to chop the yunsa with a machete. Than we passed it to the next couple as each has to strikes the tree three times. When the yunsa finally falls, everyone rushed to grab the prizes.The person who successfully brings down the unsha is the one to become the following year’s governor. Well, it wasn’t me unfortunately.
The carnival takes 3 full days, but I was anxious to be part of it since the beginning. During all the festival, whenever I dared to venture out, I had to choose carefully the clothes to wear, as the risk of being drenched with water was extremely high. Men were roaming the streets with water balloons while women were throwing buckets of water onto people passing below their balcony. No matter how careful I watched over my shoulder, I always got totally wet by the end of the day.
The streets were full of vendors and their traditional art crafts, as different as all the regions of the country that were participating at the festival. There were plenty of paint colors, flower battles, water and confetti. But when the ladies were passing by in their beautiful and colorful costume, nobody dear to throw at them with anything but flowers.
The folkloric performances comes from different regions of Peru with its own specific traditions and elements such as parades, costumes and dance. The vibrantly costumed competitors were dancing for miles in a seemingly never-ending parade through Lima’s streets.
The sidewalks were full with spectators enchanted by the energy that comes from the dancers. Brightly colored costumes and masks representing traditional characters and events, were floating down the Malecon Barranco.
A traditional Peruvian dance called the “pandilla” is one of the more common styles of dance performed during Carnival.
The King traditionally rules over the festival’s parades as an embodiment of the God of craziness and fun, while the Queen of the carnival is elected and she presides over the music contest.
Long after the last dancers have gone home I could still feel their vibe and the energy coming out from them. As I wanted to watch again some of those beautiful performances, Daya took me to a club where some of those who participated in the streets show were now acting. Not only that I could watch again their charming moves, but this time I could even dance with them. And what a dance that was. Even if this wasn’t any Brazilian samba or Colombian salsa, the youthful, cheerful, sensual and energetic dance of these Peruvians convinced me they, also, got the true latin vibe inside…