Fiestas Patronales: the colorful folkloric dances of the Peruvian Andes are captivating, with unique, resplendent costumes, masks, and accessories and energetic music that keeps time for the vigorous dancers. I recently spoke with Doris Loayza, a community psychologist and multicultural arts educator originally from Llamellín, Ancash in the Peruvian Andes. She has lived in New York City since 2007, where she gives presentations for children on Peruvian arts and culture, and serves on the Quechua Outreach Committee for the Center for Latin American Studies at NYU. Read/hear more from Doris — in English, Spanish and Quechua. Here is an abridged essay written by Doris, and originally published in Peru Times about her life-long dream to be one of the Pallas dancers in Las Fiestas Patronales:
In 2008, I was invited to dance as a Palla by Abya Yala, a Peruvian cultural group in New York, for an Inti Raymi celebration at St. Mark’s Church in Manhattan. Palla is the Quechua word for “Incan noblewoman.” Inti Raymi is Quechua for “Festival of the Sun,” the Incan celebration of the Andean New Year.
This event sparked my decision to act on a dream I had since I was a teenager, to be a cargo (host) for the Fiestas Patronales of my hometown, where I first saw Pallas. Not only to host them, but to dress up and act as a Palla.
I was born in Llamellín, a village of 3,000 people in Ancash in the North Central Andes, where Quechua is still spoken. In Llamellín, the Pallas appeared two times a year: during the Fiestas Patronales in December, and during the St. Peter Festival in June.
When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by the Pallas. I used to follow them and observe every detail. The way they sang. The way they moved and danced. Their costumes, with colorful adornments. The word Palla was first mentioned centuries ago, by Incan chroniclers Garcilazo de la Vega and Don Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala. “The Pallas, with colorful embroidered dresses, wear earrings, necklace and bracelets, and artificial flowers on their head; sometimes they wear adorned hats, umbrellas and handkerchiefs.” Today, their characters appear at fiestas mostly in the North Central Andes of Peru.
I had a very strong connection to the Pallas. They…played the role of women who appeared to be so free, in a social context. When I was 11 years old, I migrated to Lima with my family. However, most years in December my family and I took a bus 16 hours (or more) back to Llamellín for the fiesta.
I moved to New York City in 2007 to study and met many Peruvians who helped me to stay connected to the Peruvian culture. After participating in the June 2008 Inti Raymi event in New York, I decided to propose “hosting” the Pallas at the Llamellín Fiestas Patronals the following year, in December 2009. My parents agreed to support me with the whole process, and so they traveled to Llamellín, to ask the Tesoreros if the position was available. It was, and they accepted. So then I was committed to carry out many responsibilities.
Chicha de Jora: Chicha de Jora is the fermented corn drink of the Andes since pre-Incan times. The preparation is complex and takes more than a year. It is made with a special kind of red corn that only grows in the high Andes. My parents and I decided to grow and prepare it ourselves in the most traditional way, because this is an important ritual that connects us with our ancestors, and with the nature.
I had to find musicians, especially two violinists and one harpist. One well-known guy was from the town, the only remaining maestro who could play the specific music for the Pallas. The other one lived in the Puna, the high Andes. He always sang in Quechua, songs that people in the Puna still sing. It reminded me when I used to go to the Puna, and see children walking after their animals, singing in high-pitched voices. I could hear them even if they were far away, on the next hill, because the Puna is so quiet.
My mother remembers that when she was growing up, musicians and dancers were paid not with money, but with goods, like a large piece of meat, guinea pigs, and bags of grains. At that time, few people used money. People still used the ancient system called trueque, the Quechua word for “exchange.” This has changed radically. Many people have migrated to the city. The people who stay are more connected to the cities with better roads, cell phones and Internet. Today, more people are expecting to be paid with money for their work, even during fiestas.
Besides the musicians, I needed to confirm the women who would play the Pallas, beside myself. I found four women who could sing energetically for seven continuous days, in the streets and houses. They had done it many times before.
What is the role of the Pallas in Llamellín? The Pallas need to sing and dance throughout the fiesta, in a unique way found only in Llamellín and the surrounding valley. Their songs are high-pitched, pentatonic melodies that originate from the harawi, sorrowful songs from Incan times. People who visit from foreign countries or big cities often say that the melody reminds them of Chinese songs. The lyrics are a mix of Spanish and Quechua, usually referring to the Last Incas (in Quechua), or the Catholic traditions (in Spanish).
Another very important character in the Llamellín fiesta is the Rucu, which means “old man” in Quechua. They represent the shepherds from ancient times who used to travel long distances with their animals. They wear wigs made of animal skin and hair, and carry leather whips.
During the fiesta they represent other roles. They act as protectors of the Pallas and the Incas. Walking in the streets, they clear the space by cracking the whip on the ground, producing a sound that drives away the “bad” spirits. They also assume the role of clowns, to play with the public. Sometimes they wear modern things, like sunglasses and parody the people who return of the of the cities. When they dance, they imitate the movement of the condor.
Returning to the Fiesta
In Mid-November I flew from New York to Lima, then took the long bus ride to Llamellín. I arrived two weeks before the Fiesta to help with the preparations. My parents were already there. There was so much to do: finishing the preparation of the Chicha de Jora; rehearsing the songs with the Pallas; baking the bread; and much more. It was a tense time. Finally the Fiesta arrived.
December 6: Rompe (the Fiesta begins)
Around 8 p.m., after many days of rehearsal, the Pallas (including myself) went to the plaza and began to sing. So the Fiesta officially started. We call that rompe, which in Quechua means “break.” Like breaking with reality. We sang a mix of Spanish and Quechua words, syncretic odes to both the Virgin Mother and Incas. An example:
Lirio weyta janallanta (Quechua: In top of the lily flowers)
Caminemos capitana, (Spanish: Let’s walk capitana)
Mamantzipa jutillanchu (Quechua: In the name of our mother)
Las glorias entonemos (Spanish: Let’s sing these hymns)
We visited the houses of the other hosts. When we arrived, we sang a song to greet the host. Before leaving, we had to sing another song to say goodbye. That is the ritual, making visits to many houses during the fiesta to pay our respects.
December 7: Cabildo (Encounters)
It was dark and freezing at 3 a.m. when the Pallas and musicians came at my house. Together, we walked to the Tesorera’s house, singing in the streets. Inside the house, we sang special Quechua songs requesting the dresses and jewelry for the Virgin Mother.
Then we walked to church, where the Catholic ritual takes place, La Bajada de la Virgen. While the Father leads Mass, a special group changes the clothes of the Virgin Mother. At the end of the ceremony, the Pallas are permitted to sing, a mix of Quechua and Spanish that reference the Virgin. This is the only day they are permitted to sing in Church.
In the afternoon, the Pallas gathered in the plaza to accompany the Tesorero with music and songs. The Rucus were there too, making funny performances.
December 8: El Día central (Main Day)
I woke up at 5 a.m. The Pallas met at my house and we walked to mass. The procession of the Virgin followed. As the procession circled the plaza, the Pallas sang, walking backwards, facing the Virgin. Why? Perhaps to show respect, and not turn their back on the Virgin.
In the afternoon, the Pallas gathered in public spaces, like bodegas, to sing and receive drinks and food. Then they returned to my house, where we danced and sang more, late into the night. People of the town were welcome to join us.
December 9: El Día Central (Second Day)
We again woke up at 5 a.m. to go the plaza. On this day we circled the plaza three times while singing, before ending up in front of the church, where we continued to sing. Why three times? Nobody seems to know. Then we visited people’s homes, singing and collecting food and drink to bring home and share with our guests. The same routine as the day before.
December 10: La Corrida del Toros (Bullfight)
This was a different kind of day, a break from the Andean and Catholic rituals to make room for the Spanish tradition of the bullfight. The whole town was excited with anticipation for the bullfight, especially the men. The energy was very different. The music was louder and faster, so is the dancing in the streets. More young people were dancing arm-in-arm, laughing and singing and shouting. The Pallas returned to the plaza later that night, walking and singing, circling the plaza. The music is melancholy, almost like they were crying in from of the church, like a children crying in front of parents, looking for comfort.
These two groups gathered the same day, yet with totally different feelings and rhythms, representing two different eras, social and economical groups. This duality is constantly present during the seven days of the fiesta.
December 11: Prendimiento y Degollacion (Performance of the Death of Atahualpa)
As usual, we left the house before sunrise to circle the plaza three times, before returning to my house for dancing and breakfast of hot soups (caldo de cabeza is a favorite), coffee and rolls. In the afternoon we gathered in the plaza, where all the cargos brought symbols — chicha, wawa (Quechua for “baby bread”) and cuy (guinea pig) — to give to the person responsible for hosting the fiesta the following year. We danced more before returning home, where we changed into dark clothes, which represented of the death of the Inca. Then we visited other houses.
In the streets, the mood was more somber. The Pallas continued to sing, but the bands and most of the guests had already left, returning to their regular lives in Lima or other places. There would be no more loud music on the streets until the next year. But the guests who left would miss the Llamellín version of La Muerte de Atahualpa, the famous theatrical play that represents the memory of our past, when the Spanish conquered the Incas.
The play begins in the plaza with a ceremony. The Rucus build a huerta (orchard) with leaves and branches at the entrance of the plaza. They sit in the middle and perform funny stories. Many children stand close, laughing. Suddenly the Pizarros enter the plaza on horses, symbolizing the violent Spanish entrance of the Incan Empire. They are going to destroy the “Empire,” but the Rucus defend it with their whips, making loud sounds to keep the bad spirits far away. The Pizarros keep returning, until the huerta is destroyed, a symbol of the destruction of the Incan Empire. The Pallas sing:
Imamanta shamurkeyki (Quechua: Why are you coming?)
Don Francisco Pizarro, Mister Pizarro
Manan mantzatstu shamunkeykita (Quechua: I am not scared of you)
Ay ayayay, ay ayayay
The Rucus crack their whips to defend the Incas. Suddenly the Incas start to run. The Pizarros chase after and capture Inca Atahualpa, and bring him to the second floor of the castle, to his death.
The Pallas, the Pizarros and the musicians begin to dance around the plaza together, symbolizing the mixing of the cultures. Everybody in the public is invited to dance with them.
December 12: Aehualle (Goodbye, in Quechua)
The Pallas danced all day, visiting many houses, where they were offered plenty of food and drink. The goal was to drink all the remaining chicha and wrap up the fiesta until the next year.
Several days after the fiesta, I returned by bus to Lima with my family. A few weeks later, I flew back to New York with my husband.
The 2010 Llamellin Fiesta