Peru festival marks return of spellbinding star cluster

26th Feb 2014

Few South American festivals and events are as spectacular bizarre as Peru's Q'oyllur Rit'i or "Star Snow".

Travellers on private journeys to the tranquil Andes mountains can enjoy the peaks through a more lively prism this spring.

In May, they can watch a vivid procession winding along a rocky path more than 4,700m (2.9 miles) above sea level.

They can also witness masked men taking turns whipping each other to musical accompaniments.

The religious festival deep in the heart of the Sinakara Valley commemorates the sighting of an image of Jesus on a boulder in 1780, according to local Catholics.

The indigenous Quechua people prefer to claim the festival as their own, however, pointing to its Incan roots.

Q'oyllur Rit'i marks the return of the Pleiades star cluster, which vanishes in April and reappears in early May, Pacamama (Mother Earth) and the "Apus" or gods of the mountains.

Some attendees congregate outside the church which houses the "Lord of the Star Snow", the boulder upon which Christ supposedly made his appearance.

The event, whoever is worshipped, is a good humoured-one, packed with markets offering fortune telling, traditional dishes such as fried trout and lomo saltado, colourful dances and processions.

Some fortune tellers even claim to offer life-changing spells that can alter your luck.

Q'oyllur Rit'i's dance groups - "comparsas" - are even more eye-catching than the markets.

Dancers don an eclectic array of flamboyant costumes, such as wide-brimmed hats trailing long rainbow ribbons, feathered head-dresses and bizarre masks. Instruments include drums, woodwind and accordions.

The highlight attracting most locals and tourists, however, is the famous dance of the ukukus.

These chosen ones wear a ski mask with a prominent chin and nose, small slits for the mouth and eyes, and a menacing handlebar moustache.

The dance sees two masked men whipping each other for a minute at a time on their well protected legs, where they feel no pain. The intensity of the whipping runs parallel to the music.

The final, most religious section of the festival sees the ukuku's pilgrimage to the glacier.

Copyright Press Association 2014

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