Cotabambas: Yawar Fiesta and condor hunting


The day had been cold and cloudy when I arrived to Cotambambas, a little and beautiful town situated in the highlands of Apurimac, six hours from Cusco, and crossing the Apurimac Canyon.

During the travel, the landscapes were marvelous. A mountainous chain, conformed by blue, sky-high mountains covered by a dense greenery: pines, chontas, opuntias, eucalyptus, cantutas (Peru’s national flower), among others kind of grasses. Meanwhile, even higher up in the sky, clouds “walked” together with the moving bus.

During the Inca Empire epoch, the condor was considered an important Apu (a divine god), not only for being large and majestic, but also because according to the Incas it was an immortal creature.

Many years ago, in this nice and singular place, an unusual and singular bull fighting was realized that you wouldn’t believe: a live condor carried on the back of the bull! This was an unknown tradition until one day a prominent Peruvian writer, José Maria Arguedas, wrote an indigenous novel entitled _yawar fiesta_ (a blood party). With this piece of literature, Arguedas related so well just how exciting was this _fiesta_ that since then his tales of this tradition have been translated into several different languages to become known throughout the world. The fact is however that this custom remained until last year, when a beautiful condor suffered a broken leg while being tied onto the bull. Later on, near the end of the celebrations, known as _cacharpari_ (a goodbye discharge), this injured condor was given its freedom. Accompanied by music, the Peruvian flag, drums and trumpets, many men cried as they said goodbye forever to the winged creature.

The sad fact was found out by INRENA (Instituto Nacional de Recursos Naturales) and the Department of Agriculture, who determined that hunting condors is totally forbidden in all of Peru. For this reason, no condors were included in this year’s Yawar celebrations in Cotabambas.

It is assumed that this could be forever because besides this great bird is endangered, for the rest, people will always know how to have fun, dancing, singing andean songs, cooking and eating delicious dishes, parading in the main square. For instance, this year a curious condor made out of paper and fabric, almost identical to a live condor, was paraded as the people excitedly applauded.

Finally, all Andean parties, with or without condors, are always enjoyable. Every year, crowds from various surrounding communities arrive to take part in this exciting party; watching the cockfighting, bullfighting, participating in the _toropukllay_ (a parody of bullfighting in the streets one day before the real bullfighting), taking part in the dance competition, and playing the trumpets and the _wakawaqras_ (trumpet horns). Taking place seemingly so far away from it all, so close to the mountains, near the trails, along the noisy rivers, coming back to earth, to live in her; it is truly heaven.Aspects of a traditional festival in Peru’s highlands have become controversial as rules against animal mistreatment become tighter.