In recent days, the Catholics of Cusco celebrated the Bajada de los Reyes, the Return of the Kings, at the same time they celebrated the corn harvest in the image of the Sarawawa, the Corn Baby. The activities are a mixture of Catholic and Ancestral ways and ideas. You have the image of the Child of Prague, dressed and adorned with corncobs and corn kernels and this has great meaning for us still today.
The celebration of the Sarawawa in Cusco is carried out on the 5th and 6th of January in the Casa Cultural Kancharina, located at 380 Tres Cruces de Oro Street. To enter this place that is laden with art, you enter a colorful and small café called Sisary. Inside the house, beginning at the door, you breathe in an air filled with art, plants, and recycled goods that combine in a joyful way throughout.
Maestro Edwin Chávez, the owner of the home, as well as the members of the Kancharina community create art from recycled goods at the same time they research our culture. They treasure and preserve ancestral knowledge in order to put it in practice and to interact through it with nature and with other people.
In the fiesta they honor corn, following Andean tradition, and work to bring children into their activities. For this, the put together games, workshops on painting, sculpture, theatre, music, and dance where children, youths, and adults can have fun and learn to value before having to return value to lost customs and beliefs.
We at Cusco Eats had the opportunity of joining the celebration as part of the La Manada Collective. We received the jurca, the request—responsibility of making chicha for the event. Walter, Hebert, Maicol, Edwin, and Fernando from La Manada and from Cusco Eats, promised to carry out the ancestral traditions under the guidance of Master Edwin Chavez who taught us the process of preparation.
The way in which we received the jurca is fascinating. It was the first time we have received it. They brought bread for each of us. These breads were delicious, made from a base of corn flour, and were accompanied by smaller breads made in the same way which we were to give to children. This action symbolized ayni—reciprocity—and the obligation to participate in the fiesta.
From the first day, the 5th of January, everything already concentrates on chicha and on corn. In the afternoon a small mass was offered in honor of the Corn Child, after which the celebration became a party. How could we ever forget the beginning of the celebration which included around 100 people together in the first patio of the house dancing to the rhythm of drums and panpipes, played by the sicuri group, Apu Wayra. The carguyoc, the people responsible for offering the feast, attended to all present and offered each of them mote (hominy corn) and chicha.
In the second patio, the interior one, where the kitchen is located, you could see small groups of people interacting and talking about cultural, political, artistic, and news themes while sharing chicha from a single glass, brothers and sisters together and in trust and confidence. This event went until about 10 pm.
On the main day, the 6th of January, at 10 am, a large crowd of people began to arrive. They came for the great event filled with people games, laughter, music, and even sunny weather mixed with scattered moments of light showers. The children played freely among themselves, or with the adults. During this day people shared experiences they had throughout the year. Children learned from adults, and adults from children, all the while sharing laughs and time together.
The appetizers and desserts made from a base of corn passed around frequently for the pleasure of all present. At midday, a small lunch was shared: tallarines al horno – oven baked noodles with a rich huancaina sauce. While people enjoyed the dish, many others kept arriving, like bees to the hive. After lunch, musical groups set up on the balcony above the first patio to make all vibrate to varied rhythms.
The feast continued through 6 PM and all had fun. They drank chicha made in the house, combine with chichas that came from various other places. The point was for us not to forget our ways and our valleys where chicha is made in the traditional way.
When supper time arrived, the two carguyocs who were in charge, Claudia and Iñapacana, served up dishes of oven-baked alpaca with a small pasta salad that included egg, cheese, and olives. The requisite native potatoes that were also baked finished off each dish. In both patios people settled to be served and enjoy the delicious meal. After the great celebration, the two carguyoc stood before all gathered in order to name the people who will receive the responsibility for carrying out the fiesta for next year. They accepted gracefully, and each of the three named were applauded by all present. This is the way the responsibility is passed from person to person over years.
During the upcoming year, the new carguyoc will give out the jurca bread and responsibility to those people who can help them carry out the event. It is all based on reciprocity. People offer help and then they can ask for it.
After the ceremony finished, all present went out on mass towards the doors of the church of San Pedro where they gathered with another group that was celebrating the Niño Punchao, the Morning Child. The two images met there and everyone danced, hand in hand, forming a large circle around the two images, the Morning Child and the Corn Child.
To finish people carried out a tinkuy a meeting, re-meeting, and separation with dance and instrumental music from the sicuri band. Thus the fiesta ended.
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During those two days, the whole Casa Cultural Kancharina filled with life. Its particularities called the attention of all present and marked their encounter with each other and then their separation.
I was very touched to see two young girls, around 6 or 7 years old, sharing the mote to everyone in deep ceramic bowls. “Have a bit more,” they said. With those words they won smiles from all the adults and at the same time showed us their joy in sharing.
In Kancharina, memories return like January’s rain.