I remember well the feast of carnival in my neighborhood on the hillsides of Cuzco.
The feast always begins on the Thursday two weeks before Lent, when people celebrate their compadres and comadres, the co-godfathers first and then the co-godmothers.
Around ten in the morning the first musical bands would pierce the air when they visited the homes of the compadres to begin the celebration. Often they would drinking and dancing until the next day.
The same thing would happen on the following Thursday when they would now celebrate the comadres, the women.
Before both feast people would make dolls looking satirically like someone in the neighborhood and hang them from posts. The dolls would be dressed with the clothes of the person they represented, without his or her knowledge that their personal belongings had been taken. They would just appear on a doll in the neighborhood. Everyone would gather to see the doll and laugh and that is how the person found out that a joke had been played on them.
On the day of the compadres the dolls were of men, and on the days of the comadres they are of women. The women steal the clothes and make the dolls for the compadres, while the men do it for the comadres. People are very careful before the feast to keep careful watch over all their belongings, especially their clothes, so they will not end up in public to make fun of them. You especially have to be careful when you wash your clothes to keep watch so they are not stolen from the line.
When the person celebrating the feast has a cargo, a charge to sponsor the feast, then instead of someone’s home, they will carry out the feasting in the neighborhood’s main square, where they dance, do a yunza, eat adobo at noon and puchero in the evening, along with drinks such as frutilladas, chicha, beer, or cocktails. All of this is organized by those responsible; we call them mayordomos de cargo. They are responsible to receive with proper courtesy and service all the guests.
The central moment of the feast is when all the guests dance as couples around the yunza, a tree with gifts, planted there. The guests take turns chopping at the tree with a hatchet. Whoever has the luck to do the final cut that tumbles the tree gets the honor of being responsible for the next year’s carnival feast.
On Sunday, the central day of the feast, all the neighborhood kids would get together very early in the morning and fill balloons with water. Once prepared we boys would run into the streets to wet all the girls an women, no matter their age since carnival is a feast for all ages. It is fun to throw the balloons at the girls and listen to them scream. But just like the boys, they also get together an fill balloons. They run through the streets in bands wetting any boy who happens to cross their path.
While in the day this measured kind of play with water is permitted, at night things change and everyone leaves behind the buckets and balloons; they replace the water with colored paint, Sprite, or any kind of makeup in order to paint your adversaries of the opposite sex. Of course, everyone wins in the competition. We all have great fun.
I remember seeing many times all the compadres dancing around the yunza with brightly colored gifts in its branches. I remember how excited we were to see who would bring the tree down. Of course, as soon as it would fall all us kids would run to grab as many gifts as we could get, just like with a piñata we would pounce on the gifts.
That was the high point of the feast for us kids. But the teenagers and adults would continue dancing in the neighborhood plazas. It was not to be missed. I got to go for the first time when I was seventeen, just a few years ago. I met a lot of girls who became my friends. They lived in neighborhoods close to mine and it would have been hard for our paths to cross if not for the feasts.
Those moments of carnival throughout the years are absolutely unforgettable. They were a lot of fun and are things I will never forget. But the memories are recreated because this is a living tradition. This week we continue celebrating.