Customs, Food Culture, Travel

Before Carnival, Cuzco Thrills with Comadres and Compadres

Compadre in San Pedro Market

Carnival, the pre-Lenten festivity akin to Mardi Gras, is celebrated all over the world. In each place, people celebrate it according to what their culture provides. They dance, make music, parade, eat special food, and drink.

We also celebrate carnival. But, before the feast begins we have an important prelude. For two weeks the feast of compadres followed by comadres dominate our city. This tradition is carried out every year without fail.

The words comadre and compadre refuse to find an easy translation in a single English word. In one way, they refer to the relationships of all adults with other grownups outside the family, since everyone in Cuzco is a compadre or comadre to someone.

Thus the co-father or compadre is a man who is also a padrino, a godfather. According to traditional Catholic thought he becomes the second father of a child, who he calls his ahijado, godchild at the moment of baptism.

The co-mother, or comadre, is like the co-father. She gets her position by becoming a second mother to a child through baptism.

Though the godchild is important, this celebration refers to relationships between people who share a child, the parents and then the ritual parents, godparents. The two sets of parents then, are co-parents to each other and that is a major social role, as well as a means of setting up the celebration of generations in Cuzco.

Compadre in the Plaza de Armas
Compadre in the Plaza de Armas

The first day to be celebrated is compadres, co-fathers. The men, neighbors, and youths of the neighborhood or, in many cases, the markets make a doll of rags. They give it all the characteristics of a man. He might represent the authorities or someone in particular. They try to call attention with the dress and give effort to representing an Andean man, with his pants, shoes, shirt, vest, and a hat. In some places they dress them in ordinary clothes, like people wear every day.

A week later is celebrated the day of the comadres, the co-mothers. They also make a doll with the qualities of a woman. They dress her in traditional clothing, such as a white blouse, the skirt of a mestiza collacha, a hat, and shoes. Or they use the ordinary clothes you see on people today.

By the side of these dolls you will always find a sign that says “happy comadres day” or “happy compadres” day. Our celebration of comadres and compadres calls the attention of people from all over, since it shows the importance for us of celebrating the feast of carnival in our family along with our compadres and comadres.

Compadre in a Restaurant
Compadre in a Restaurant

At the same time, there is another aspect to the feast. The dolls will be placed in couples, a comadre and a compadre. By them you may find some stalks of corn, colorful streamers, and balloons. You can see these on lampposts or on some high walls where they cannot be easily reached yet, from which they can be seen and make an impression.

On these days you will also find lost of bands of k’aperos, musicians, who play with a lot of energy to fill the days with enthusiasm. You will also fin drinks such as chicha or frutillada (a strawberry chicha), and of course beer. You also find the traditional meal for these days, the thimpu, also known as puchero.

People hope to begin the feast of Carnival will all its energy these days. They organize things together to live them to the fullest. And, in doing so, they give our city its character.

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