Food Culture

Roast Pork, Guinea Pig, and Music: The Cargos of Cuzco

Lechon and Tamales

Music embraces and spreads joy in the feasts celebrated by what in Cuzco are called the caguyoq, the holders of a job or burden.  Along with the happiness and laughter comes faith and devotion, commitment to other people, abundant drink, and the best traditional food.

These feast are the backbone of Cuzco and are carried out following a tradition that comes from deep in the past.  The Incas held celebrations that organized the ritual and social life of the Empire and the Spanish brought their own traditions of feasting.

In our city they joined in events such as Corpus Christi, the largest of all feasts.  The fourteen most important churches in the city send in procession their saints and virgins to gather in the Cathedral, the heart of the city.  From their begins the feasting of every one of them, although on different dates.

The feasting is a cargo, an obligation, that is held each year by a different person, the carguyoq, who organizes the feasting for the people of the neighborhood.    The preparations for the feast and its realization are not easy, since it requires feasting a hundred to two hundred people.  As a result it requires a lot of money and work, as well as a host of friends to help with the burden.

This tradition of helping each other, to carry out the cargo, but also in daily life is an old one in Cuzco.  It is called ayni, a Quechua word that means today I help you and tomorrow you will help me.   This means that everything is only a loan and not something to be kept forever, but something to be passed on in service to each other.  Without ayni it would be impossible for the carguyoqs to carry out the feasts.

Standard of the Carguyoq
Standard of the Carguyoq

The holders of the cargos, the carguyoqs, and chosen months in advance of the feast.   Once chosen they must visit their family and friends to ask for their help in carrying out the feast.  This is called jurka, a Quechua word which means to ask as ayni (a loan) a specific contribution to the celebration.

Carrying out the jurka is a festive event since the carguyoq visits the people’s home with a band of musicians filling the air with sound and carries a special kind of bread called jurka bread.  This bread comes in different sizes but is like a layer cake, with one round of bread on top of another and signifies the ayni.    Not only does the carguyoq take the jurka bread, he also takes two small bottles of beer as thanks for accepting the request for help.

Jurka Bread
Jurka Bread

Knowing Cuzco’s traditions these people will help by giving the carguyoq some of the following:  food (such as c complete lechón–roast pig or with chiriuchu), drinks (ten cases of beer, buckets of chicha, soft drinks, champagne, etc.) large decorated candles, flowers, clothes for the saint or Virgin, a musical band,  standards, etc.    The cargo holder must plan the feast and then visit his friends in order to carry it out with honor.

A Cross Processing with Carguyoqkuna and Band
A Cross Processing with Carguyoqkuna and Band

Once the feast day arrives, everything should be ready.  The obligations of the cargo holders for the feast last for three full days of the feast and then the octava, the eighth day after the feast.

On the first day, the carguyoq and their saint or Virgin first go to hear mass accompanied by dancers, devotees, and a musical band.  On the way to the church they go through the streets dancing.  Once back from mass, the serve the first dish of the festivity which is the juicy and scrumptious lechón, roast pork, along with tamales and Oropesa bread.  In this way all present enjoy abundant food and drink lots of chicha.   The troupes of dancers cary out their steps over and over while waiting for the second day.

When morning of the second day arrives, everyone gets up with great enthusiasm and dress in their best clothes, since this day is known as the central day of the feast where all those invited will be present.   The day begins with a recorrido–a dancing through the  streets, of the different troupes.  One by one the jurkas begin to arrive bringing the cases of beer, decorated candles, firecrackers and castles of fireworks, chicha, and musical groups.  They are received by the carguyoqs with enthusiasm, grace, and great warmth.  When each jurka arrives, the band plays a traditional melody that is quite lively and fun.

Around two in the afternoon, accompanied by the band, the carguyoq by tradition goes to bring the main dish.  It is a chiriuchu and is received with great joy and celebration.  People await the return of the carguyoq with the chiruchu which is placed in a basket decorated with paper in the form of chains and small flags of Cuzco and Peru.   Once the food has arrived everyone returns to the place where the feast is celebrated.  Everyone dances, drinks, eats, and enjoys the music.  The also observe the burning of the castles with their flash, pop, and whir.   This continues until everyone is very drunk, full, and sleeping all around.

Ingredients for Chiriuchu
Ingredients for Chiriuchu

The third day they once again go to mass, and on returning continue with the feast so that a new carguyoq can be named for the next year.   When he accepts he is given five cases of beer, two buckets of chicha, and a complete basket of chiriuchu so that he and his family might enjoy their obligation.

In this way this important festivity comes to an end for the devotees, although their is still the Octava which is like a quick and reduced replay of the feast.  In every town and community the tradition is a little different.   But this is the custom of Cuzco where music, dance, religion, and food all come together and make the year go round.

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