Don Amador Ballumbrosio, the father of the famous clan of brother artists, has spent years initiating children into the mysteries of Afro-Peruvian music and dance as expressed by the unique traditions and aesthetics of Chincha.
Now in his seventies and undaunted by his wheelchair, he continues to fulfill the duty he imposed on himself so long ago that nobody can remember when he started. He teaches the children to dance for the Virgin, to express with their feet what lies in their hearts.
For the two principal days of celebration, on July 15th and December 27th, dances like the "festejo", "landó", "zapateo", "panalivio" and "contrapunto" must be perfectly rehearsed before being accompanied by Don Amador’s magical violin and percussion instruments like the extraordinary "donkey’s jawbone".
The Black Presence in El Carmen de Chincha
Afro-Peruvians have been living in Chincha since shortly after the first blacks arrived with Pizarro and Almagro.
The Spanish invaders established the systems of "encomiendas", "reducciones" and "repartimientos", which translated into terrible statistics for the indigenous population. Of the estimated fifteen million inhabitants of the Inca empire, only some two to three million remained by the time of the first census of the independence era. The annihilation of the native peoples of Peru created a labor vacuum, which the colonial rulers filled by importing black slaves.
The contingents of slaves brought from Africa or the Atlantic islands were destined for the mining and agriculture sectors. The Africans were unable to adapt to the cold of the Andes, and were concentrated in the coastal haciendas of Ica, Chincha, Cañete, Zaña and Piura (Yapatera).
The black presence in these areas remains strong today. The towns of El Carmen in Chincha and Yapatera in Morropón (Piura) are cohesive communities where African traditions are complemented by indigenous practices to form unique cultural and artistic expressions.
Celebrations for the Virgin
By the end of the 19th century, dance had become the principal expression of black culture. The Chincha-born expert in folklore, Clorinda Pachas Torres, says that in the black bastion of El Carmen, "All the traditional black music of Peru is danced and sung".
Catholicism is one of the Western cultural expressions which had the greatest impact upon the Andean cosmovision, creating rapturous manifestations of religious syncretism. The black slaves brought by the Spanish had often already been indoctrinated into the Church.
To the Festival of the Virgin of Carmen, the Afro-Peruvian community of Chincha brought their own gastronomy, culture and rhythms, making July 16th and December 27th the most important dates on the local calendar.
In July, the celebrations begin on the ninth. On the eve of the 16th the streets fill with music, dancers and the acrid smoke of fireworks, and recitals and parties are held in the houses. On the morning of July 16th locals crowd the main square to attend the mass, honoring the Virgin with bands, choirs and processions. Tents and marquees are erected around the square, where the tireless dancers and musicians gather to drink and eat.
Chevo and the Virgin
"For me, the Virgin of Carmen means everything", says Chevo, one of Don Amador Ballumbrosio’s most talented children. "At the age of twenty I became ill with a nervous disorder. To cure me, I promised to carry the Virgin, attend all of her celebrations and work for the community and its children. And she responded.
Not as an apparition or a voice one might hear. It was more internal. It is as if everything good that I have comes from her. It’s a reason to carry on living. Many people in Chincha claim to have seen her, or been reprimanded by her for their bad behavior. But she cured me and changed my life without any of that".
In the mid-1990s, Chevo Ballumbrosio met the photographer and anthropologist Carmen del Prado, whose extraordinary images accompany this article. "First, I showed her El Carmen. Then I introduced her to my family and she began to learn more about our ways, our past and our traditions".
From then, Carmen dedicated herself to recording the finest celebrations in honor of the Virgin of Carmen from Chincha to Paucartambo in Cusco. She was killed in a road accident in March of this year. They say that the Virgin wanted her at her side, at the heart of the festivities. So, let’s drink to that and keep the rhythm going!