CustomsFolkloreFood & DrinksPeruvian Food

Thorns, Fish, and Beer: Two Realities

Thorns above Cuzco

Fires will burn on Cuzco’s hilltops Thursday night, after which many people will fast and eat traditional food, while others will go to the Cervecería Cuzqueña’s Beer Garden for a contemporary gastronomic festival featuring fish.   Two realities, one traditional with deep Inca and Catholic roots, and the other contemporary and promotional, will twine together two different strands of Cuzco’s divided wool as Holy Week continues.

The most important celebration of the Catholic Calendar, Holy Week began the morning of Palm Sunday when the faithful left home very early to hear mass.  On Holy Monday the procession of the Lord of Earthquakes was carried out.  That celebration continues on Thursday night with a pilgrimage.  The devout gather at the churches after dark to carry out the tradition of an long walk through the mountains up to the crosses that are found on the high points.

In this, whether they realize it or not, they are continuing aspects of Inca tradition. The hills surrounding Cuzco had pillars in Inca times that were used to measure the arrival of sunrises and sunsets.  Since then, these towers have been destroyed, but traditions of waiting for sunrise on significant days has not.

Crosses often mark places that were sacred to the Inca. Now, during Holy Week, though not in the official calendar, pilgrims accompanied by priests will climb to those holy places and, in the process, tie land, sky, plants, and food together with people’s lives.

The pilgrims leave the churches at ten pm or so Thursday to climb to the highest point of the hill where the Cross is found. It will be an all night adventure, though it takes them about three and a half hours to arrive.  They climb while  singing hymns and the devout pray an Our Father and every person carries a lit candle in their hands.  That is how this interesting hike begins.

Along the way the people with the priests who accompany them make stops at different stations of the cross. There they pray and sing for eight to ten minutes before continuing. They do all the stations of the cross that represent Christ’s passage through Jerusalem, at the same time it represents and Andean version of climbing to the holy in high places to await the sun.

While hiking people will sing and they will play games. These are spontaneous games, like the telling of jokes and anecdotes, or challenging each other to answer a question and if they get the answer wrong then they have a punishment. People climb and have fun while exercising devotion.

Once they arrive at their destination they light bonfires. Around the fire, the people tell each other their experiences.  They also sing and play fun games. In sharing and playing with each other they pass the night.

Other people raise tents to rest while waiting for dawn.

At around 6 am everyone goes looking for branches of retama (Scotch Broom) or  cactus thorns, found in abundance in these mountains, to carry them home as a sign of faith and to protect their homes from misfortune and evil.

Then everyone gathers around the Cross in rows to receive a whipping from the priests as a sign of faith and to be cleansed of their sins, like Christ was whipped.

Not only do people climb to the high crosses, people also gather on other places like at the White Christ.  There people come at dawn to also offer their devotions and receive the whipping to be able to eliminate their sins at the same time the young people make it a game, striking one another in play and having lots of fun.

Once people finish the pilgrimage they return to their individual homes carrying with themselves the retama or thorns which they put above their door as a sign of faith.  Then they begin their fast and at mid-day eat the 12 dishes of holy week.

On Thursday, Cuzco will also see a procession following the four pm mass in the Cathedral to the Temple of the Holy Family.

In addition, something new and quite different will take place. Thursday and Friday, Cuzco’s Beer Garden (Jardin de Cerveza) will resound with the sound of knives and forks to the smells and tastes of good food.

Just off the main Avenida de la Cultura (ask your taxi driver to get you there because the Beer Garden is so well known it has no street number) Cuzco’s Brewery will host a gastronomic Festival called “Cusco Come-Tukuy Mijuy” for which its finest restaurants have been invited to prepare and offer dishes, for a reduced fee, with an ocean-lake-river theme to promote Peruvian Cuisine and honor Holy Week (since on Good Friday most faithful avoid meat.)

Cuzco has its own strong traditions for Holy Week, but, as the Diario el Sol del Cusco newspaper noted, tourists on the whole will not be involved in those celebrations that often take place in family homes or high on the mountain sides.

Public celebrations with a flurry of sound and color will not give the toursits something to do, they fear, besides going to Machu Picchu and following the standard tourist route. So, Cusco’s Regional Government organized this event to promote regional cooking, fish, and capture tourist interest. This will be the first festival of what is planned to be an annual event.

The Festival also hopes to draw the population of Cuzco since, with increasing modernity, many people no longer hold to tradition, especially the young.

As a result, to the side of the Beer Garden there will be a special fish market which will sell trout and other products of water for half the normal market price. The organizers will especially promote trout, anchovy, and jurel (members of the carangidae species of ocean fish.)

The double couplet of the title “Cusco Come – Tukuy Mijuy” suggests the contemporary bilingualism of a city in which Spanish is the dominant language and it maintains a strong Hispanic culture all the while it celebrates its Inca past and still speaks Quechua.

The title indicates the official symbolism of this event and the campaign by Peru’s national government to trademark the country for tourist promotion and obtain recognition from UNESCO for Peruvian cuisine. Peru is a fusion of both Spanish and Quechua, the organizers assert.

But the couplet is not a translation from one to the other. “Cusco Come”, accidentally like the name of this blog, is “Cuzco Eats”, simple and direct. It refers to the specifics of the capital of the Inca Empire and its tradition of distinctiveness within Peru.

At the same time, the Quechua expression is built from “all to eat” or (everyone or everything to eat). It holds a universality not at all available in the Spanish. And so it is in Cuzco, Spanish and Quechua meet, share a table, even raise a mug of beer in salute, but they do so in their own, distinctive accents and styles.

They do not completely join. So it is with the gastronomic promotions. They celebrate an increasingly creative and formalized professional cuisine that claims local tradition, at the same time local tradition continues on its own way from the pilgrimage to the peaks on Thursday evening to Next Year’s procession of the Lord of the Earthquakes.

The Festival Cusco Come-Tukuy Mijuy will take place Thursday and Friday, April 21 and 22 in the Jardín de la Cerveza Cusqueña (Av. La Cultura s/n). from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Entrance will cost 1 sol.

1 Comment

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