On the Past’s Edge Pitumarca Celebrated its Culture

Dancers Representing Catholic Priests in Pitumarca (Eric Rayner)

On June 8th, I visited Don Timoteo’s home village of Pitumarka to watch their annual folkloric festival. Apart from university troupes, the dances in the villages are much more traditional than those seen in Cusco. According to Don Timoteo, except for the University dancers, people in Cusco simply copy dances from the country side. For example, in the countryside the footwork and movements of the dancers along with the quality of drum beats and flutes are far more indigenous. The clothing is mostly hand made and I didn’t see any women with fake braids. Braided hair for festivals is distinctive and is woven into two shinny braids starting above both temples flowing down the back. Costumes often include stuffed birds in their entirety with their winds spread or the heads of wild game or even human skulls. Typically, dances represent nature, wildlife plants or agricultural narratives.

The setting was a rectangular area carved from a cliff at the base of the archeological site Machu Pitumarka located on a hill overlooking the village.The festival is new to this setting. Several years before, the festival was held in Pitumarka’s village square and integral to village activities. Above, overlooking both the stage and ruins are the two mountain Lords, Above to the left is the female, Nunuyuk and her male counterpart to the right is Uyayuq. The festival has been taken out of its context, away from village life and is now a performance rather than a ritual.

Machu Pitumarca Site (Eric Rayner)
Machu Pitumarca Site (Eric Rayner)

There is a sort of stage under a canopy where the musicians play bamboo flutes, bang wooden drums and play 16th century styled harps into microphones connected to huge speakers. The sound is projected creating a more unnatural sound than these traditional instruments normally would. The emcee’s continuously shout into the microphone announcing each troupe, describing the symbology of the dances and the traditional costumes different communities are wearing as they dance within a dusty square delineated by a chalk line. Dances are introduced and troupes are awarded prizes based on their performance and authenticity of content. Nevertheless, the new setting is inspiring and the performers dance with great enthusiasm displaying excellent technique and their colorful costumes are very impressive. The dancers represent communities all along the Ausangate valley, the traditional way to the great Lord of the Cusco region, Ausangate. Ausangate is a snowy pyramidal peak rising approximately 26 thousand feet and is the 5th largest peak in Peru. Although Ausangate is located several hours northeast by car, on a clear day it is visible from Cusco. Community members from this winding river valley often travel for hours on foot and from even higher altitudes to participate. Others came from as far as Cana, a community several hours away by car. Dancers begin as the surrounding cliffs are being occupied by hundreds of spectators. The sound projected by the speakers is deafening and I insert ear plugs. The sun beats down on the spectators most of which huddle under umbrellas to escape a blazing tropical sun at 13,000 feet. I watch as children as young as 5 years of age replicate adult dances. Their uncertain, somewhat feeble movements remind me of the more elderly performers. The crowds are pleased with their young ones as great community pride is involved.

Watching the Machu Pitumarca Festival (Eric Rayner)
Watching the Machu Pitumarca Festival (Eric Rayner)

Older children now dance leading to young adult dancers who are at the prime of their performing careers. Perhaps the most traditional dance of Pitumarka is the “Qarataka” named for the four “priests” who occupy the four corners of the dance area. The remaining participants imitate the movements of the Andean goose (“wallata”) enclosed by the four “priests” at each corner wearing triangular shaped garb and headdresses with 12 foot long poles covered with bright feathers representing masculine virility. These elaborate head dresses are heavy which they carry as a penitence, asking for forgiveness from the deities on behalf of the four complimentary communities which make up a single “district”. The “priests” are located at the four cardinal directions representing “sullos” or the four subdivisions of Inca cosmology which in turn organize contemporary Andean communities within time and space. The “wallatas” circle each other pairing up in an mating ritual as the priests watch over, hoping for forgiveness for themselves and their communities. Don Timoteo’s wife, Benita, brings us a lunch of herb-roasted Guinea pig and Andean potatoes wrapped in a manta (brightly colored woven cloth). As I devour my portion of Guinea pig, potatoes and a salad of carrots, mountain herbs, lake algae together with a large cup of “chicha” (indigenous ceremonial corn beer). I enjoy watching performances during the second half of the day as the relentless sun beats down.

Ausangate Valley where Pitumarca Lies (Eric Rayner)
Ausangate Valley where Pitumarca Lies (Eric Rayner)

I witness a dance from the people of Cana who came miles from the North. Don Timoteo explains that this is another courtship dance called the “P’achachuray” with a theme of clothing exchange. These performers are invited every year because of the peculiarity and humor associated with this dance. The male dancers appear smitten, even “love drunk” as they court their ladies who taunt them with comments such as “if you are not interested enough, then I will give your jacket to your YOUNGER brother.”The men say the same about the manta they are giving to their potential mates. “If you are not interested, you sister will be.” Their erratic gyrations are hilarious to watch, difficult to perform and unique to their region. There is an interesting exchange of gender roles in which male dancers approach female dancers who are seated swaying to the rhythmic drumbeats, guitar and mandolin, exchange articles of clothing and also assume the role of the opposite sex. The men then sit on the ground and sway with the music as the women now court the men, eventually removing their “polleras” (Layered external skirts) as the men, and a few women, carry off their lovers.


  1. Gracias por la descripción de los lugares y las tradiciones folklóricas de mi tierra Cusco, soy una amante de su historia y costumbres , pero no vivo en Perú , radico en Buenos aires- Argentina.
    Eric , mil gracias por contar esas danzas típicas de Machupitumarca. Un abrazo a la distancia y mil gracias nuevamente.

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