Among the crowds that daily throng in Cuzco’s Avenida Sol, its main artery entering the colonial core, masked figures move, ropes in hand, to snap them on people who do not respect the crosswalks and signal lights. Called maqtillos, these masked men and women form part of an effort by Cuzco’s government to borrow from local custom to discipline its population and teach it about proper street crossing.
Cuzco’s population has grown as has tourism. Even though the city tries to maintain the structure of its monumental core, with its Inca sites and colonial palaces, more people pour through it. Every day it seems busier.
The Sun Avenue, Avenida Sol, is one of the main places for people to gather since on it are found many businesses, banks, stores, money exchange houses, restaurants and travel agencies, among others.
People most go there to buy or sell, and because it is the main entrance to Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas, its main square. As a result, there is both a lot of vehicular and pedestrian traffic and when the two come together there is certain amount of chaos.
Various attractive and charismatic personages right out of Cuzco’s folk history try to bring order to the block where the Palace of Justive, tourist shopping, and the municipal offices are located, just one block before the Main Square.
These personages, called maqtillos, are masked figures who participate in various of Cuzco’s traditional dances. On the Sun Avenue they have the responsibility of making people respect traffic laws.
Given their characteristics that are probably of colonial origin, there figures are probably parodies of Mestizos and Spaniards. When they dance they throw out shouts and simulate orders that seem to represent daily life. The maqtillos stand for the authorities who lead us for good or bad.
The costume of the maqtillo is composed of the mask from the majeño dance, that is one with a elongated and exaggerated nose. He wears a red vest which is combined with the Andean colors. Inside his shirt is white and he wears black pants that are decorated with embroideries of colorful flowers. He has on white socks and sandals. In his right hand he carries his waraq’a(rope-like sling) and in his left the sign saying to respect the pedestrian crosswalk.
The maqtillo is a male and he is accompanied by a woman a colorful and even more characteristic costume, that of Cuzco’s carnival. It consists of a white blouse, blue skirt, white hat with a blue ribbon. Her boots are the traditional ones of Chumbivillcas. She carries a woven, rope-like sling shot, and wears a mask. Her left hand also holds a sign saying “respect the pedestrian crosswalk”.
The carnival dance that takes place in the public domain mixes the seriousness of dance with play. It intertwines joy and love through a dialogue with colored streamers
Many people try to cross the street wherever they want without taking account of the personages. When they do so, they may suddenly find the maqtillo whipping their back with his woven rope of a slingshot. The woman dancer will chew them out before pulling them into her mask which has the silhouette of a wide, contagious smile.
While this is a useful practice to educate people on proper crossing of roads, it also exalts our folk culture and gives a certain attractiveness to the Sun Avenue.
These personages were extended to traffic control by the current municipal government. We do not know if they will continue having that function under the next mayor, after our upcoming municipal elections.
While the traffic police still have their role in imposing proper norms on pedestrians and autos, they have traditionally been ignored by most pedestrians. That is why the municipality of Cuzco look to our customs for alternatives to educate people and enforce its norms. The humorous and yet serious maqtillos were perfect for the task.