Peruvian culture is a mix of both native traditions and customs imported from the Spanish colonists. Roman Catholic traditions have seeped into many aspects of Peruvian life, including the Carnivals that take place in February. And, like the other Carnivals celebrated throughout the West, the festivities act as a precursor to the solemn Lenten celebrations that follow.
Ritual of the Yunza
The Andean highland ritual of the "yunza," known as "umisha" in the jungle and "cortamonte" in the coastal region, is an important aspect of Carnival. Those in charge of the festivities artificially plant a tree loaded with gifts and decorations. When all of the guests have arrived, everyone begins dancing around the tree. After a while, couples begin to chop at the tree with an ax or a machete. The tradition continues the following year, when the couple who makes the final swing that brings down the tree make all the arrangements for that year's yunza.
Watery street battles are a tradition that dates back to the 1800s. Historically, Carnavals in Peru would shut down entire cities for three days, and anyone who dared to venture out during that time ran the risk of being drenched with water. Men would roam the streets with sealed eggshells filled with scented water while women watched from above, preparing to dump buckets of water onto unsuspecting people passing below. In the modern era, the eggs have been replaced with water balloons.
Parades are one of the most familiar aspects of Carnival celebrations. Though each Peruvian city or region has its own specific elements and traditions, certain elements such as parades, costumes and dance are the same throughout the country. Families and neighborhoods get together to create allegorical floats for the parades, and people wear brightly colored costumes and masks that represent traditional characters and events. A traditional Peruvian dance called the "pandilla" is one of the more common styles of dance performed during Carnival.
Two of the most recognizable figures in any Carnival celebration are the Carnival Queen and King Momo. The Carnival's Queen is elected, and she presides over the music contests that take place on the aptly named Queen's Night. The King, known in Spanish as "No Carnavalon," traditionally rules over the festival's parades as an embodiment of the God of craziness and fun. A representation of King Momo is traditionally burned at the end of the festival so as to banish any unwanted elements, such as fertility, before the Lenten season.
Dolls & the End of Carnival
Dolls feature in different ways during Peru's Carnival celebrations. In Cajamarca, a boy doll is used to mock public figures, while in Cuzco, rag dolls hang from light posts as representations of friends or godparents. In Cajamarca's celebrations that involve the boy doll, the doll is paraded through the streets before being given a "funeral" and then cremated in a mock burial. This "burial" traditionally marks the ceremonial end of Carnival on Ash Wednesday. An effigy doll of King Momo features in Carnival celebrations.
*Culled from traveltrips.usatoday.com.