In the lead up to Carnival, Cuzco celebrated yesterday a fascinating event called the Day of the Comadres. This day is dedicated to one of the really important social relationships in the city, that between parents of children and the people who agree to sponsor them as their godparents. In Cuzco these people are called comadres and compadres. But the day is also a time to celebrate stylized images–life sized and larger rag dolls of picturesque figures of Cuzco.
Women as roles symbolize many aspects of Cuzco life. They may be the typical valley woman who wears a broad skirt and a stove pipe hat; and they may be the chicheras–the women who make and sell chicha, the traditional drink that enables social relationships to be built; or the vendors who either sell prepared food or the ingredients to make it. In any case, women in image occupy a symbolically important place in the reproduction of social life in Cuzco.
Interestingly, in the Feast of Compadres, the comadres’ male equivalents do not have such rich representation as types. That is the role played by women’s images.
As these women larger than life in types dance through Cuzco, tourists joined the dance and in the partying. They too colored their faces, got wet or threw balloons and water, and danced in this feast which in Quechua is called puqllay–or play–referring to a time of joining and of reproduction. Even Cuzco’s foreign guests contributed to the future of Cuzco as both life and culture.
But it is not just life in these types. The day is also about how Cuzco gets food. That might be a surprise given that the fields are full these days because of rain and corn ears burst with ripeness.
Nevertheless. the Feast of Comadres and the Day of the Compadres, celebrated Thursday a week before, set the stage for couples dancing around the yunza tree found in most of Cuzco’s neighborhoods. This is a tree dug into the ground and loaded with gifts.
The couples dance and dance, periodically chopping at the tree, until it falls and brings the gifts to earth, setting the stage for next year’s Carnival. According to some sources this ritual refers to the indigenous mythology of how food came to people following a common Amazonian story of a tree being brought to ground and thereby giving food down from the sky–heavens–to earth. Another story tells how the fox fell to earth similarly bringing food.
But in the case of Cuzco’s yunza the couples dance and chop, and in that work, they bring the food to ground. It is not the fox or the tree, per se, but the dancing and chopping of couples–man and woman (in one of Cuzco’s types)–who make the presents rain down, just as the sky lets loose with its rain that makes the crops grow.
The couple that places the last axe cut and makes the tree fall has the obligation to sponsor next year’s feast and so literally reproduce Cuzco’s ritual life. In the process the eat dishes of adobo and puchero.
What follows is a photoessay of this year’s Day of the Comadres in Cuzco.