Throughout Cusco, people obtain a yunza tree, decorate it with gifts, plant it deep and then dance around it while chopping at it to bring it down. For many people this is just the tradition they have been raised with and as much part of Carnaval, if not more so, than water play.
Nevertheless, there is conflict around the tradition. Recently environmental engineer Juan Eduardo Gil Mora published a commentary in Cusco Noticias challenging the custom. His main argument is that the custom leads to the wholesale cutting of local trees at a time when the countryside is already badly deforested and needing more trees planted, not cut down.
Gil Mora, who is also a professor at the Alas Peruanas University, an environmental consultant and a politician—former regidor—justifies his attack on the custom on more than the forestry issue. He also argues the custom is not a legitimate part of the traditional folklore of Cusco. He claims that the yunsa (he also calls it cortamonte, or tree cutter) comes from the central part of Peru and that it has come with force into the region of Cuzco, not just the city but also the countryside.
It breaks the value of the fiesta, he feels. The celebration should focus on raising and honoring regional peculiarity, which he does not feel the yunsa does given its origins outside Cusco. In this Gil Mora raises a peculiar and contemporary notion of fiesta strangely in tension with his cultural conservatism and in harmony with the modernization — increasing appearance of McDonalds and other fast food establishments, an enclosed Mall, latest models of cars, and so on. It allows for fixing a tradition while allowing everything else to change.
Gil Mora feels that people should resist imports of outside culture and at the same time protect their forests. He writes of truckloads of trees making their way this time of the year into highland areas above the tree line for people to perform a yunsada. Mora feels this is an unfortunate destruction of forest when reforestation is much needed. He argues for a tradition of planting trees instead of one of cutting them.
Cultural conservatism of this sort, one that argues to origins is unfortunate in that it does not explore the value of the custom to the people of Cuzco’s neighborhoods who practice it nor to the logic of its adoption and spread. The environmental argument, though trees are especially valuable in highland Peru which suffered much deforestation over its history, also runs into the problem of not seeking to grasp why this custom is so important.
In any case, culture is almost always a matter of disagreement and argument. Rarely is it one of simple transmission from one generation to another. The argument will continue as people dance around trees brought to their neighborhoods and planted for a short while in order to be chopped down at the center of the carnival feast.
Official culture may be performed in the Plaza de Armas and organized in conjunction with the municipality, but whatever its origin the yunsa performs an important role of bringing people together in Cuzco’s neighborhoods and as a result increases in prominence and in bringing meaning.
Juan Eduardo Gil Mora, Carnavales………… Sin Cortamonte. Cusco Noticias, February 13, 2015. http://cusconoticias.pe/13-02-2015/carnavales-sin-cortamonte