Food and Language in Peru #3

Lasater_Amy_Peru_June30, originally uploaded by CLACS – NYU.

Today is my last full day in Cuzco (and Peru, for that matter) and I’m trying to piece together everything that I’ve seen over the past month and a half. One of the objectives that I had had going into these six weeks was to get a better sense of the ways that Peru’s coast and mountain regions interact with each other in the articulation of national identity, and going from Lima to Cuzco with that specific goal in mind was definitely an eye-opening experience, although I’m still trying to determine to what extent I’m seeing only the contrasts that I want to see.

One of the highlights of my trip has been the festival of Inti Raymi, which I attended on June 24. I had read a lot about Inti Raymi (the “Fiesta del Sol” — or “Sun Party!” — as it is translated on a poster attempting to attract tourists to a rave), but I had never actually seen it. It’s an invented tradition, a supposed Inca ritual that actually started in the 1950s, but now tourists from all over the country and world come to see the “traditional” Inca dances and ceremonies, accompanied by a narration entirely in Quechua. (To my disappointment, this narration was not very well amplified and thus hardly intelligible, but since most of the audience doesn’t speak Quechua anyway, I suspect that the referential content of the words was not really the point.)

I was pleased to finally see exactly what goes on during Inti Raymi – the dances, the “llama sacrifice,” the pouring of chicha onto an altar – but what was far more interesting turned out to be the fact that the semiotic vocabulary of the ceremony extended to much of the activity that occurred both before and after June 24 itself. The days leading up to Inti Raymi are the “Fiestas del Qosqo,” and the parades that go on during that day are accompanied by the constant refrain of Inti Raymi: “Kawsachun Qosqo!” [Make Cuzco live!] Even apart from these official parades, though, I saw two other parades in the square this week that deliberately echoed the official events to make very different points about the city. On the day I arrived here, a group of campesinos marched the in square in a direct echo of the official, celebratory parades, emphasizing the fact that many of the descendents of the Incas (as opposed to the costumed dancers who normally occupy the middle or upper classes here) are being ignored by the government and thus have no cause to celebrate. Later in the week, I saw a parade that used the refrain “Kawsachun Christo!” to emphasize Cuzco’s religious identity (although, by using the Quechua phrase, they were obviously linking Christianity to the Inca past, something I’ve explicitly heard many tour guides in the churches do as well).

Having timed my visit here for Inti Raymi, I’m leaving Cuzco with the sense that the city has a very regionally-focused identity, while the events I attended in Lima tended to have a much more national scope (even if that scope sometimes framed non-limeños as worthy of charity or pity). That said, I know from my past experience in Cuzco that this week has contained an anomalous amount of collective effervesence, so I’m planning to look at my notes from this year in combination from my thoughts from last year.

Amy Lasater
PhD Candidate, Anthropology

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