As is the custom in Peru, every July we celebrate a fiesta in honor of the Virgin of the Carmen (Virgin of Mount Carmen). Within Cusco the most well known celebration takes place in Paucartambo. It is famous for its traditional fiesta and dance troupes, as well as for its famous overlook from which you can appreciate a magnificent dawn. Paucartambo is much visited by national and international tourists making it a very large event.
However there are other celebrations of the Mamacha Carmen that are not as well known by foreigners although it is well known among the people of the Department of Cusco. One such is held every year in the District of Accha, Province of Paruro.
It is some three and a half hours from the City of Cusco and lies at an altitude two hundred meters or so higher and is known for its agriculture and livestock. As a result, its fiestas begin with an agricultural fair where all the products of the zone are on display.
Accha is also known for the singular form of its Apu, its protecting Lord and mountain, Sihuina. It shows the silhouette of a woman in an advanced state of pregnancy. She lies mouth upward and looks as if she held her hands on her belly. It appears best just as the sun sets.
People say that she was the daughter of an Inca governor who had fallen in love with a youth in the town. That is to say that he was not noble and was, as a result, unworthy. Her’s was a forbidden love.
Love, however, was stronger than the prohibitions and the young Inca woman ended up waiting for the youth from the town. When the Inca found out about this lack of respect he banned the young man from the area. His daughter on hearing this desired death and she was then turned into the mountain.
Apu Sihuina is also associated with fertility. These kinds of stories are popular in the Andes and the town is located at the foot of the mountain and its most important feast is carried out in honor of the Virgin of the Carmen.
That morning I left early. 4 am is when the buses generally depart from Cusco. Because of the feasts they were full and I had to get in a car that made its way almost together with the bus.
The road is very sinuous, surrounded by deep gorges. It also crosses a valley in order to then climb high up where the air gets colder and colder. The scenery changes with the altitude and you go through many towns before arriving at Accha.
Instead of going all the way to the town, the bus stopped suddenly on the road as did my car. All vehicles were stopped. People got out and began walking and soon the rumors began, the mayor of the province and his chauffeur had been murdered. Everyone wanted to know what was happening and wanted to see if the rumors were true.
A few meters on a small crowd had gathered at the scene of the crime. You could here sobs and in other faces was anger, indignation. Others were simply perplexed in the face of such an act. Voices began to be raised demanding justice. They demanded authorities come from the capital to investigate. Other voices protested against the local police since, among other things, since before calm failed they were demanding the cars and trucks begin moving again. People had to return to their vehicles to continue on their way.
The town was only some twenty minutes away. The news had arrived quickly and people had gathered in the main square not knowing how to react in the face of such a fact.
Mass for the Virgin of the Carmen began in a sad and troubled environment. The ceremony carried the accompaniment of the people’s sobs. Both of the dead men were born in Accha. The assassinated mayor, Ronald Nuñez Valdez’, political career had begun in Accha He had been the town’s mayor on two occasions before going to the province. As a result, he was much loved. People were proud that he had become the new provincial leader and felt he held a lot of promise.
The driver, Kevin Suárez, was also mucho loved in Accha.
People gathered in the only school’s patio. The students congregated by the trunks of the eucalyptus trees. Some boys and girls could not hide their sorrow and the scene was like one José Maria Arguedas describe in his story entitled “La muerte del Arango’ (The Death of the Arangos). Ironically, the school carries the name of that great Peruvian writer.
The scene was lugubrious. Almost all the activities planned for the fiesta, the Holy Patroness, were canceled or postponed. Instead of a celebration of life it became one of death and mourning.
Of course, many other ideas appeared. The parish priest, for example, called people to reflect that the Virgin is more important than a mere mayor. As a result the ecclesiastical activities could not be suspended from mourning the mayor. Rather they should commemorate the two victims of homicide and charge their souls to the hands of the Virgin.
The fiesta continued and the cargo holders carried out their festive responsibilities. The dancers and officers just put on a black band in symbol of mourning. “The feast of the Virgin cannot be suspended”, some said. “The virgin is more important,” became the generalized opinion.
The bodies of the dead arrived the next day and were received by the faithful and by the various dance troupes. The assassinated mayor belonged to the group of Qhapaq Colla dancers. In death he wore a cross and his suit. His body was carried on the shoulders of his fellow dancers.
The coffins arrived and they were received by the whole town in the midst of sobs and the songs of the dancers. They mayor was supposed to have danced that year for the Virgin as was his custom but his life had been taken one day before and very close to his birth place.
The feasts continued, though filled with sadness. The next day the town buried the two dead in the midst of dances and sad songs. The feast went on.