The Festividad en Honor al Santo Padre San Roque (Festivities in Honor of the Patron Saint Roch) have been going on for the past week in Hualhuas. We had heard that there would be some sort of celebratory activities happening there on Saturday and we decided to head over to check it out. We were not disappointed. As per usual, Peru totally surprised us.
We arrived around 11 am and there were people gathering in the main plaza. We were there only a few minutes before a band started up and the Avelinos starting pouring into the town. Dressed in wonderfully colorful costumes with hats and/or masks, the Avelinos represent and celebrate the bravery of the soldiers during the time of the War of the Pacific (1879-83) under the command of Andrés Avelino Cáceres. The dancers’ clothing represents how the soldiers had worn rags (pretending to be beggars and feigning madness) and infiltrated enemy lines. The costumes have changed over the years and the Haulhuas Avelinos now wear all varieties of hats and masks–everything from the traditional to Homer Simpson to scary Halloween masks. Check out the video link below to get the full scope of the music, energy and crazy assortment of hats and masks!
Once the Avelinos had finished circling the plaza and whipping the crowd into a frenzy, more bands started up with a much slower tune introducing the Chonguinada. The dance has its roots in the colonial era, when the indigenous men of the towns would imitate the dances and gestures of the Spanish as a form of mockery. The women wear skirts and mantas (blankets worn over the shoulders) exquisitely embroidered with flowers and birds, and hold a white, silk handkerchief in their hand while dancing. The men wear short pants, hats with large, colorful feathers on top, and dance with a cane. Some also wear wigs and masks to make them appear more like the colonial Spanish. The Spanish had come to the Mantaro Valley region to reap the benefits of the mines and, to represent this, the men wear coins on a sash across their body and the ladies on a bib on their front. The music is slow and the dance includes small, elegant steps performed in groups or pairs. There were groups of Chonguinada dancers scattered all over the plaza in Hualhuas, each with their own band, oftentimes playing music and dancing at the same time. Watch the video below to hear a sample of the music and see the diminutive dance steps.
While the Avelinos gathered in the plaza to drink beer and the Chonguinada music played and dancers danced, yet another tune started up across the plaza. A procession exited the church to commemorate the death of and honor San Roque (Saint Roch), the patron saint of plagues and pestilence. The procession continued all the way around the plaza, stopping at arches at each corner of the square and saying a prayer. The music sounded almost like a dirge played by the procession’s own band that followed the group around the square.
The overall cacophony of music, energy and dancing of the festivities was a lot to take in. It was definitely an education in yet even more dances and traditions of the Mantaro Valley. And we didn’t even attend on the biggest day of the week-long celebration. On Monday there were even grander celebrations planned, including firework displays and dancing until 4 am! Maybe next time.