On a hot Sunday I had just finished up some work and was preparing to head out to make some phone calls when I was greeted by my neighbors outside the Karikuy Bed & Breakfast. No sooner had I greeted them that they began to drench me in buckets of cold water topped off with a coating of flour. On any other day this would seem abusive, but during these hot February weekends in Lima it is non other then Carnival.
The Festival of Carnival in modern times is attributed to ushering in the holiday of Easter, in truth it goes back much further to the ancient Peruvian holiday of the harvest. Ancient Peruvian organized elaborate festivals honoring the sun and rain Gods and praising or praying to them depending on the agricultural state.
In the city of Lima it is common to see water fights break out on the street amongst friends and unsuspecting passers-by. Carnival is most intensely played on Sunday and pits man against women. Groups of both sexes will approach each other with buckets of cold water, eggs, flour or talc and even water based paints. The result is a messy yet hilarious sight as the victims walk away, heads held high even though covered with paint and eggs.
In the country side Carnival is celebrated in a similar manner, although traditional dances are more common as well as the ritual of “yunza” (called “umisha” in the eastern jungle, and “cortamonte” on the coast). A specially-transplanted tree is decorated with gifts, and guests dance around it before it is ceremoniously cut down. The couple who strike the final blow of the axe to bring down the tree are given the honor of organizing next year’s celebrations.
As a result of the current wave of nationalism throughout Peru the tradition of the yunza has begun to spread through more neighborhoods in Lima. On neighborhood streets concrete is broken to plant a large 40 ft tree to use as the festivals centerpiece, the festival is celebrated with live music, heavy drinking and dancing, customary to Peruvian festivals.
Carnival is one of the most notably festive occasions in Peru, in contrast to the other more solemn traditions. I would recommend any adventurous traveler with a good sense of humor to visit Peru during the Carnival month of February. That is if you don’t mind the occasional water balloon or egg on your head. I encourage everyone to take part in the festivities your are guaranteed to have some fun!