San Jeronimo with his followers beat out San Sebastian in their annual competition to arrive first in downtown Cuzco. After walking from their suburban and historical town, carrying their patron saint to the sound of bands and dancing Qhapac Qolla among other dances, the delegation was the first to reach the end of the Sun Avenue.
Every year the two towns, both of which have a strong Inca heritage with many people claiming descent from the royal families, engage in this friendly competition. They do so out of loyalty to their saints and the honor and blessings they bring to their towns.
This custom draws on an Inca custom whereby different portions of the Royal family, called panacas, would take responsibility to care for shrines (ceques) with their attendant rituals and devotions throughout the year.
Both towns take their devotion to their patron saints very seriously. You can see the power of their efforts as you see the saints move, like living beings, dancing to the music of the bands in Cuzco’s streets.
That the saints look like Spaniards is not a problem to these descendants of Inca nobility and others. Rather it is a sign of their domestication of the powers of economic, physical, and spiritual fertility. The Incas prevail because they own the saints and keep them with them, like the ancient trophy heads about which Denise Arnold wrote. The foreign has become theirs and they keep it alive and going for their benefit.
San Jeronimo prevailed in his competition with San Sebastian this year, even though he had farther to come. Who knows what will happen next year.