Celebrating Carnival in the Andes

9 March 2011 at 12:42 4 comments

Kiva Fellows celebrate Carnival in Ayacucho and Cajamarca, Peru and Oruro, Bolivia:

Carnival in Ayacucho, Peru

Geeta Uhl, KF14, Peru

Carnaval is probably the second most popular holiday in Ayacucho, after Semana Santa, and you can certainly tell by the crowds of people that flock to the city. Peru’s National Cultural Institute even declared the Ayacuchan Carnival as an event of national heritage.

However, it is nothing like what goes on during Mardi Gras in New Orleans or what everyone thinks of the typical Carnival celebrations in Brazil. Carnival in Ayacucho is much more traditional, though it still brings lots of activity, color, music, costumes, dancing, and musicians to the town’s center, and parties go on in the streets well into the night. The main celebrations last for 4 days and just ended last night (well, some finished their partying this morning). The locals even say that many birthdays in Ayacucho are in October, exactly nine months after Carnival…

Carnival celebrations in Ayacucho. All dancing groups end up in the Plaza de Armas

Usually the locals from Ayacucho and the surrounding area dance with their neighborhood, office, school, or other social group. Each group dresses up in traditional costume, and then parades around town, eventually ending up in the main Plaza de Armas, where crowds greet them. The women dance and sing in the front and the men follow in the back, providing the music on guitars, flutes, accordions, drums, and other instruments.

FINCA Peru staff and borrowers get ready to parade through Ayacucho

I had the opportunity to dance (in costume) with my MFI, FINCA Peru. Many of the songs are sung in Quechua so it was a little challenging to learn the words. Most groups have similar songs, dances, and costumes but then add their own personal humor or irony to the lyrics, many times including social and political commentary- unfortunately most of it was a little too subtle for my foreign ear to pick up.


FINCA Peru's Kiva Coordinator dances in the Carnival parade

FINCA Peru staff at Carnival in Ayacucho

FINCA Peru "socias" or borrowers, really get into the celebrations

FINCA Peru staff plays music throughout the streets of Ayacucho

I am trying to fit in amongst the locals...

Carnival in Cajamarca, Peru

Noreen Giga, KF14, made the 17 hour bus ride from Lima to Cajamarca where she met with Kiva Fellow Sherrise Pond, KF14, who traveled six hours from Chiclayo. Cajamarca, dubbed the Capital of Carnival in Peru, sits 2750 meters above sea level and is surrounded by an expansive vision of beautiful, mist-covered mountains. Noreen and Sherrise also met with former Kiva Fellow, Casey Unrein, KF13, who traveled from Trujillo to join in the festivities.

Sherrise, Casey and Noreen in Cajamarca

Sherrise Pond, KF14, Chiclayo, Peru

Carnival events in Cajamarca actually began in mid-February, but the high point kicked off last weekend from March 4th through 8th.  The first thing I noticed about Cajarmarcans is that they were ready to party…anywhere! Large crowds gathered in the streets singing traditional Peruvian songs, while playing (some more talented than others) specially-made carnival drums also known as “tumba” and the pinkullo, a wooden flute native to Peru. People formed tons of small circles while their friends jumped into the middle and danced to the music. Since Cajamarca is in the mountains it tended to rain off and on throughout the weekend. But that didn´t stop us from enjoying the music, dancing in front of the stage and making new friends.

Friday night was also the crowning of the Carnaval Queen of Cajamarca 2011. Fifteen young women from different barrios in Cajamarca competed for the title in a pageant similar to Miss America. The women showed off their beauty and brains through various question and answer sessions and catwalks where they modeled elaborate evening gowns and swimwear. The stadium was packed with Cajamarcans who clearly loved their neighborhood and supported their potential Queen.

Noreen Giga, KF 14, Lima, Peru

As soon as I stepped off the bus in Cajamarca, Peru for Carnival I was in the middle of Water/Paint Fest 2011. Kids throwing water balloons at cars, kids and adults. Adults dumping buckets of water and paint from their balconies on unsuspecting pedestrians. Bands of kids covered in paint roamed the street with buckets of paint and water guns looking for their next victim. Unarmed and wearing the only pair of jeans I brought with me to Peru, I quickly sought refuge in a convenience store. Not more than 15 minutes later I saw fellow Kiva Fellow Sherrise Pond walking down the street. Quite calmly I might add, as if she was not terrified of getting doused with paint at any moment. She planned to stay on the part of town where paint fighting was not allowed, while my friends and I had other plans…An hour later I left my hostel armed with a water gun and became an insta-target. I didn’t get very far from my hostel when I saw three six year olds huddled together on the corner of the next block, dipping their hands into a full bucket of blue paint. They saw me. I’m pretty sure they could smell my fear. I’ve never been so terrified of little kids before. I had a lame water gun that was more like a spray bottle than the super soaker I wished I had. I looked at the kids, I looked at my friends, and on the count of three we charged. The kids won. It wasn’t a fair fight. I didn’t last long in the water/paint fest and about 30 minutes in we ducked into a restaurant.


Water and paint fights in Cajamarca

Defeated with paint in Cajamarca

During the 4 hour parade of elaborate costumes ranging from typical Peruvian dishes to astrological signs, to marching bands, massive water fights would break out. I stood behind two brave soldiers who tried to take on a group of girls across the street. Everyone was wet by the end of parade and dancing in the streets. I had never been to a parade where everyone interacted with each other. People from the streets just walked up to whoever they wanted and got their pictures taken,  danced with the performers, or started a water fight. I felt like I was a part of the Cajamarcan community. Everyone was so welcoming and proud of what I really do believe is the best Carnival celebration in Peru!

Kids preparing to strut their stuff in Cajamarca

Parade of Astrological Signs


Carnival in Oruro, Bolivia

Clara Visser, KF 14, Bolivia, is serving as a Kiva Fellow at IMPRO Bolivia. Here are her photos from the Carnival celebrations there:

Don’t forget to check out photos from the Carnival celebrations in Baranquilla from Kiva Fellow John Gwillim here

Entry filed under: Bolivia, FINCA Peru, IMPRO, KF14 (Kiva Fellows 14th Class), Microfinanzas PRISMA, Peru, Prisma Microfinance. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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  • […] a front for an extended holiday from our regular lives. You thought our recent Carnival coverage (here and here) represented a change of pace? Think […]

  • 2. Water/Paint Fest 2011 « Giga Bits  |  18 March 2011 at 13:39

    […] Water/Paint Fest 2011 Yep, that’s what Carnival in Cajamarca, Peru was like. One big water/paint fest for the whole weekend.It took me about 17 hours to travel to Cajamarca, but it was quite a comfortable ride. I took an overnight bus on one of the nicest bus lines in Peru, Cruz del Sur. I got 2 meals on the bus and had a seat that reclined 15o degrees, not too shabby! And then Saturday morning I entered a water/paint war! You can read about how afraid of little kids … […]

  • […] Celebrating Carnival in the Andes Countries: Peru, Bolivia / Fellows: Geeta Uhl (KF14), Noreen Giga (KF14), Sherrise Pond (KF14), Clara Visser (KF14) After your trip to Colombia for Carnival, head down to Peru and Bolivia to see how they celebrate it in the Andes. Check out the traditional costumes, paint-covered Fellows, multitude of parades, and so much more in the photos. […]

  • 4. “No Pasa Nada” « Kiva Stories from the Field  |  10 March 2011 at 13:00

    […] pasa nada” has taken on a new meaning to me now, preventing HIV discrimination in Peru. I was heading to Cajamarca, Peru to celebrate Carnival; and on the 17 hour bus ride I noticed an ad running on the TV about HIV/AIDS. It explained how […]

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