A Huancayan family’s culture lives on despite their migration to Lima, with a traditional wedding that included the lavish and competitive pallpa (gift-giving) by the families of both the bride and groom.
This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of being invited to attend a traditional huancaino wedding of Alex and Ana on the outskirts of Lima. Since I began living in Peru, I have heard rumors of Huancayo’s brand of weddings and the lavish gift giving that goes on as the the families of the bride and groom compete to see who can give more to the newlyweds. I was about to find out if the rumors were true.
For those unfamiliar, Huancayo is a province of Peru located in the central part of the country, in the heart of the Cordillera of the Andes. It is known for its particular culture that is distinct from that of Cuzco, for example, or any other region of Peru, and as I mentioned it is especially known for the weddings.
The day began in Centro Lima with the religious ceremony in the El Sagrario Church, located in the Plaza de Armas. Afterward, the guests were arranged transport packed into a bus that took us to the second part of the wedding on the far outskirts of Lima’s metropolitan area, in a place called Carapongo in the district of Chosica.
It all started off fairly normal – the speeches by the newlyweds and their families, the dances, and the official signing of the legal marriage certificate. Toasts were made and a delicious pachamanca lunch was served. After lunch, some lovely traditional dances took place including one caporal dance from Puno, and then the typical big band huayno music for all to dance to after a second toast. So far, nothing too unexpected.
The newlyweds begin by being seated at the same table as the godparents of the ceremonies that have just taken place. Generally, these godparents are two couples that know the family well and one couple is chosen for each ceremony, religious and legal, respectively.
Then it began, the gifts of bread, fruit, and meat carried in by the parents of the bride and groom were presented to the godparents. The godparents, in turn, present lavish gifts that are literally made of money: one of the couples gave a “necklace” made of US$ 20 dollar bills, and the other a tree with leaves of US$ 100 dollar bills hanging from its branches!
This is when the famous gift-giving “competition” between the families of the newlyweds began. Beginning with the groom’s family and friends, a dancing line was formed that marched to the rhythm of the band playing traditional huayno music, and the gifts were carried to the table where the newlyweds sat, one by one. The number and quality of gifts were extraordinary – refrigerators, televisions, dressers, and who knows what else were inside the packages of all sizes and shapes. Not only that, but the other side of the family and their friends followed suit, and the couple came away with at least two of everything you could ever want in a new home.
There is a nice prize for those who give the best gifts. When a gift was presented to the newlyweds, a number of beer bottles, or sometimes even a full case of beer was given by the newlyweds to the family member or friend in return. The amount of beer they gave you was in proportion to how lavish your gift had been. The beer, of course, was to be consumed…you can imagine…right there and then. When all the gifts had been given and all the beer distributed, the party really began, and the drinking and dancing must have lasted well into the night.
This gift-giving ceremony and competition, known as the palpa, has been a part of Huancayan weddings for countless generations, even before the Incan Empire. It is based on reciprocity: you may be given all you need for your house for many years to come on your special day, but your entire extended family and friends are going to have weddings as well, and your turn to be the gift giver will come many times over.
It always enchants me to see how cultures can transcend movements of people through time and space; the families who have immigrated from the Andes, settling in the metropolitan capital of Lima on the coast in search of a better life, and continue to preserve such an important part of where they come from…that is what people mean when they talk about living culture.
Finally, I would like to send a special thank you and congratulations to the newlyweds Ana and Alex for allowing me to participate in their special day and learn something about their wonderful traditions.
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