The annual Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen is a colorful mix of Andean pre-Columbian ceremonies and Catholic religion in which masked, costumed dancers relive ancient gods and rites.
Held at various times in several communties in the Andean highlands, the festivities include a procession of the Virgin through the streets while the dancers advance and retreat in the never ending battle between the forces of good and evil.
The Virgen del Carmen is the patron saint of Paucartambo, near Cuzco, where streets of white colonial buildings topped with red roofs are the setting for the dancing and merriment held on July 16. Regional dance groups, each with their own musical accompaniment, perform during the processeion, re-enacting historical events and folktales.
In El Guayabo and El Carmen the festival is held on December 27. Here the festival bears the name La Peoncita, or little peon, and has special importance to the teenagers who perfomr the dances called los negritos and las pallitas.
In Celendin, the Fiesta del la Virgen del Carmen occurs on July 15, with fantastic masks and costumes.
The festival is also celebrated in Huancabamba, Chavín, and Huarmey.
The festival comes from the Old World, where the Virgin was honored in seaports as Stella Maris from the Old Testament when the prophet Elias retreated to a cave in Mount Carmelo near present day Haifa, in Israel. Many centuries later, hermits following in Elijah's footsteps asked for the protection of the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmelo - the Virgin of Carmen. Stella Maris, as she was also known, was soon adopted by mariners and fishermen everywhere as their patron, the
Virgen del Carmen.
The festival is one of merriment and religious fervor, as supplicants pray for miracles.
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