Sunday was the final and main event at the carnaval celebration–El Gran Cortamonte (the grand tree cutting)!
We went out early in the morning with our host family to rent costumes. By going out early, we were able to rent brand-new costumes in our favorite color (I obviously picked turquoise!). I had no idea how intricate the costume was going to be, nor how many pieces it was going to have! For the ladies, there are three skirts: a slip, a starched lace underskirt, then a heavy, colored outer skirt. The skirts alone weigh about 5 lbs! There’s also a fancy beaded and embroidered blouse, a white hat with black ribbon, and a manta (blanket) worn over the shoulders and secured with an adornillo (adornment/brooch). I rented all the pieces of the costume for 50 soles, or about $18.
The man’s costume is much more simple. All Chris had to rent was a straw hat for 5 soles, or less than $2. The rest of the man’s costume consists of a suit and an embroidered panuelo (kerchief) synched around the neck. One of our host family member’s gave Chris a panuelo as a keepsake that has a dancing couple embroidered on it. The men actually use their wedding rings to synch the panuelos around their necks, but we improvised and used a key chain ring to secure Chris’ because we didn’t want to lose his ring while dancing!
In the morning there was mass given in the field next to the montes (trees) and then a lunch was given. Then everyone went home for a bit and returned to the field dressed up in full costume ready to dance, drink, and cut down the trees!
The cortamonte began with a dance around the montes led by the sponsors of the festival. The sponsors wear special sashes over their costumes that say padrino (sponsor) on them. They danced around the field in a large circle holding axes decorated with balloons and ribbons. Once the first circle was finished, the head of the social organization started the cortamonte by taking the first swing at the tree. Thereafter, the band played traditional songs while couples danced around the circle and took turns cutting the trees.
We joined in for the dancing and, boy, was it exhausting! The dance itself was pretty easy, you step slowly “like a horse” in a figure eight while circling the field. We expected to just go around once, but we ended up doing at least 5 or 6 big circles before the band decided to take a break. With the heavy costumes, sunshine, and high altitude we ran out of breath rather quickly!
We also participated in the cutting of the tree. You take the axe from the previous couple who was cutting the tree and dance with the axe held out in front of you for a few steps and then you take a swing at the tree! Chris went first, taking three big swings at the tree and actually making a dent in it. I went second and I definitely didn’t even make a scratch on the tree, but it sure was fun!
The trees were positioned in such a way that once they were cut they would fall into the open space around which the people were dancing. Other than that, there weren’t many security precautions. You pretty much just had to be careful and make sure you were out of the way when the tree fell! Once a tree fell, people rushed to it to take the adornments from its branches. Some people just keep their prizes, others sold them to buy more beer!
Everyone was enthralled with the gringos (foreigners, referring to us) dancing and participating in the cortamonte. I doubt they’d ever seen a non-Peruvian participating in the festival before. As we danced around the circle, spectators cheered us on and took our photo. We were interviewed for the annual video that’s made of the festival. Someone invited us to their cortamonte that was happening in April. People asked to take their photo with us. One woman even handed her crying baby over to Chris to hold for a photo!
There were so many people not only participating in the festival, but also watching from the periphery. The next day we ran into people on the street in the market who commented on how well we had danced. We’re local celebrities and apparently we feature prominently in the video that was made of the event, which we have managed to avoid seeing for now. 🙂
All in all, the carnaval jaujino was great fun! We really enjoyed being a part of all the different pieces of the celebration and learning more about the local culture of the region!