Andean and Amazonian indigenous festivals are symbolic spaces where, on an annual basis, people collectively enact their histories and community experiences. By way of these festival performances people represent the world around them to themselves, re-inscribing events and social relations from their own critical perspective and symbolically inverting historical outcomes in an ongoing narrative of ethnic resistance.
This mask, known as the “qhapaq negro,” is worn during the festival in Paucartambo celebrating the Virgin del Carmen. In the dance of the qhapaq negro, black slaves from colonial times are remembered. According to oral tradition, many of these slaves were brought from the coast and the Bolivia region to Paucartambo where they worked in gold and silver mines. It is said that these slaves brought their devotion to the Virgen del Carmen from Lima, where they first learned to worship her.
In the songs of the qhapaq negro, which are interpreted in both Quechua and Spanish, both their suffering as slaves and devotion to the Virgen del Carmen are recounted.
This mask is worn during the festival in Paucartambo celebrating the Virgin del Carmen in a dance called “chukchu.” The masks used in this dance are of plaster or paper and may be white or yellow. The dance has three different types of characters: a doctor, nurses, and those suffering from tropical diseases. This particular mask is of a character called “el chukchu,” representing laborers from highland Paucartambo communities that worked on haciendas in jungle valleys where they contracted yellow fever and other tropical diseases.
Many consider this dance to reflect the historical reality of the Paucartambo poor that worked in rubber extraction on the Q’usñipata haciendas during the early 21st century with dreams of progress. Today, this dance has been expanded to also represent other diseases such as cancer and AIDS.
This mask is worn during the festival in Paucartambo, Peru, celebrating the Virgin del Carmen in a dance called “contradanza” which features two different characters: the foreman, “el machu,” and the quadrilles, “los soldados.” The el machu mask, displayed here, can be made of either plaster of paper and contains grotesque features. These masks are typically light in coloring with pinkish cheeks and display a large black mole on an outrageously long nose, dark colored eyebrows and wrinkles, and red lips around a big smile. An important feature is the large mustache, made from the tail of a horse or mule. The teeth are typically white, but sometimes golden.
This mask is worn during the festival in Paucartambo celebrating the Virgin del Carmen in a dance called “Qhapaq chuncho.” In this dance, there are three different characters: the king, who is the head of the dance, the ch’unchu soldiers, who make up the rest of dancers, and the cusillo. The first two wear masks of metal mesh while the cusillo wears one of paper or plaster.
The metal mesh masks of the qhapaq chuncho represent ‘fine features.’ The relief is achieved in the molding of the metal mesh, which is very soft. These characters are light-skinned and their eyes, eyebrows, nose and eyelashes are lined with black or red paint. The eyes are always blue, and a thin red line highlights the specification of the eyelid. Some dancers decorate their masks with a black mole and with a small coin on the tip of the nose.
During the time of the haciendas, overseers carried aciales (whips) such as this one as instruments of authority and control over indigenous peasants. The polished brass handle is a representation of a menacing dog, also a symbol of the hacienda as overseers threatened to unleash dogs on indigenous laborers. During the summer festivals of Inti Raymi, in the areas of Otavalo and Cotacachi, indigenous festival dancers known as sanjuanes test their vigor in a ritual battle for the ultimate prize of symbolically taking the town square. As they trot to the music of twin flutes, they wave these leather aciales.
Donated by Norman Whitten 2015
These festival characters exemplify cultural and symbolic syncretism in the Andes. Their hats and zamarros (goat-skin chaps) are reflections of the hacienda. The Aya Uma or spirit head masks they wear, however, have deep connections with Andean cosmovision. The Aya Uma mask has two faces—one that gazes forward into the past and the other backward into the future. Native Quichua anthropologist, Enrique Cachiguango (2010), writes that this double-gaze, which captures an inverse relation between time and space, is a message of wisdom for runakuna (indigenous people) to walk toward the future in a self-determining way without losing sight of the past.
Donated by Norman Whitten 2015
Andean and Amazonian storytelling is rich with symbolism and metaphors. It is often multivocal and has non-prescribed interpretive developments that emphasize dynamic context. It relies on intertextuality, drawing on various modes of expression that work in concert to complete the story. Most importantly, as Rosaleen Howard-Malverde (1997) points out, Andean and Amazonian oral traditions are evocative rather than merely descriptive. In other words, they do not just tell a story but also engage with cultural symbols and meaningfully reproduce them in an experiential and emergent way.