Customs, folklore and legends, Food Culture, Travel

The Fire Devils (Nina Saqras) and the Flaming Cart

Saqras Carrying a Burning Cart (Walter Coraza Morveli)

The Mapocho River separated the two imposing mountains that watch over the population of Paucartambo. They have interesting and traditional histories that run from mouth to mouth among the people. The feast of the Mamacha Carmen, the Virgin of Mount Carmel, is very intense. All of the visitors are drawn in by the music, the color, the taste of the food and especially the warmth and charm of Paucartambo’s people.

Out of all of this, a story told me by a friend I made from Paucartambo while there during the feast. It was night when Maycol (Michael) told me that in one of the mountains there is a rocky and black place. There you find a spring, an eyelet, from which water flows. But there I also a story that from that place Nina Saqras come out.

The Saqras are considered kinds of devils or evil beings at the same time they can bring fertility in a classic Andean ambivalence.

Maycol said: “When I was young I would go to my grandfather’s fields for the harvest with my whole family. After all the work, in the moments when we would take a break, people would tell stories about the place. I loved that and it was in those moments when I heard about the Nina Saqras.

“My uncle began by saying, ‘the wheat was ripe, ready to be harvested. My grandfather, as a result, called all my uncles and his friends together to do the work. It was one day like any other in Paucartambo, but in my grandfather’s field the wind would whistle melancholically even under a blue sky. Nevertheless the day became calm and by afternoon the heat was intense. Then as the sun started down it became cold and we entered a mysterious darkness.

“‘The sky turned red with a little orange, a bit dramatic and we all worked hard to get finished with the tasks. My grandfather suddenly saw from the wheat fields an approaching cart of fire. It was coming quickly and was driven by the Nina Saqras.

“ ‘From a good distance my grandfather could see the cart burning and he could see it coming close to his fields. He yelled out to warn his family. ‘The Nina Saqras are coming. They are getting close. Go hide yourselves!’

“ ‘They all hid behind the wheat they had just harvested and after a few minute fright stalked the family. They were beginning to panic from the fear they had of the Saqras. They thought the Saqras would take their child who was still a baby. He was sleeping right by them. In silence they begged the Mamacha Carmen. “Protect us please. Cover us with your shawl. Make the baby stay asleep.’

“ ‘It seemed time had stopped. Fear filled their sense until the Nina Saqras went on their way without having even seen the family. They neither saw them nor heard them. That was an afternoon my family would never forget. The Nina Saqras hunted and acted freely in the mountains of Paucartambo.

A Saqra on the Roof (Walter Coraza Morveli)
A Saqra on the Roof (Walter Coraza Morveli)

“Today is the great feast of the Virgin of Carmen. The Saqras are one of the main figures of the feast. They fill an important role in the great drama of the little war. It is a battle among the dancers to see who will get to carry away the virgin, the Qhapaq Collas, from the highlands, or the Chunchus from the lowlands.

“In the midst of the feast the Saqras make their presence known in the plaza by pulling in a flaming, burning cart. Inside it, one of them also makes a great performance.

“That is all that my grandfather told me of the stories. But he also said that it is from experiences like his that gives origin to the Saqra dancers. They are representations based on their myths and stories on which their customs are based.”

 

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