The Mantaro Valley, with its main city of Huancayo, lies east of the capital of Peru, Lima. It is a fertile valley containing fields of corn, artichokes, carrots and potatoes, alongside which flows the Mantaro River. The Mantaro Valley is also renowned as an area containing many sites of archaeological importance. Nearby lies the important city of Jauja, Peru's provisional capital in 1534.
Culture in the Mantaro Valley
It was inhabited by the Wanka (Huanca) people - a self-governing nation with a reputation for producing strong warriors and whose spiritual practices placed an emphasis on remembering their ancestors part of the mystique of the Mantaro Valley. In some cases, descendants actually form part of the valley. One legend in particular includes that of the "guerrero" or soldier, who courts a mermaid in Laguna de Paca, a lake in the valley largely isolated, and courts the mermaid each night; she moans and cries for him to join her, then she disappears beneath the surface. One night, she disappears into the water, and the soldier jumps in after her. He looks under the water for the mermaid, but runs out of air and gives up. His body is lost, but now appears as a mountain range present surrounding the valley in the shape of a man's body. This legend of the Huancan warrior of Laguna de Paca has numerous variations and explains the deep connection many residents of the town of Paca have with the Mantaro Valley.
The Huanca (or Wanka) people were eventually subdued during the reign of the Inca King Pachacutec, but in revenge for their oppression took sides with the Spanish during their conquest of Peru. Eventually the Spanish in their quest to suppress paganism, tired of their allies, and destroyed an important temple of the Huanca - Wariwillka (A temple constructed some 1000 years ago near the town of Huari, named after the Huanca predecessors by the same name.) The conquest did little to end traditional Huanca religious practices. Older citizens, when telling stories of the Spanish conquest, call the Huanca "indominable" or unable to be conquered, when comparing Huanca to the Inca, for example.
This spirit lives on today. A hybrid of Pagan and Christian practices appear throughout the year, such as in the livestock festival called Santiago in July, and in Catholic weddings and funerals which combine a traditional service with drinking huasca, the Quechua word for caña (high-proof liquor made from sugar cane) used to pay spiritual homage to the people and their land in a variety of settings. In funerals, it's common for participants to jump over a fire wearing black three times to acknowledge the precariousness of life while honoring the Holy Trinity. In the city of Jauja, north of Huancayo in the Mantaro Valley, a cortamonte party is held to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and weddings involving a transplanted eucalyptus tree with gifts tied to it, planted to the ground, and participants such as the godparents and important family friends take turns chopping the tree little by little with a hatchet; the person who chops it down must pay for the tree the following year.
The weather is divided into three distinct seasons - the rainy season from November to April, winter from May to July and the dry sunny season, with strong winds from August to October. To the average citizen, both the landscape and the weather play a crucial role for health and prosperity, and abundance from year to year determines how intricate the festivals described above are achieved. A changing climate is observed by some citizens. Some remark that in the last five years, the "rainy season" increasingly starts in September and October, shortening the drier seasons significantly. Treasured landmarks such as Huaytapallana Nevada, when compared to 30 years ago, has much less glacial ice during the peak dry season. This is a crucial water source feeding the Mantaro River, and some estimates suggest that within 10 years there will be no ice left on the mountain.
In the valley are several small towns, each famous for its own particular craft. Hualhuas is known for its tapestries, blankets and sweaters, and where it is possible to see the craftspeople working at their weaving looms. Molinos is noted for woodcarving. San Jeronimo de Tunan is famous for its intricately designed and crafted silver filigree jewellery. Aco and Quilco specialise in ceramics and San Agustin de Cajas in hats of sheep wool. Mito has the tradition of making wooden masks, and Viquez has artisans who specialise in colorful belts and blankets. The twin towns of Cochos Grande and Cochos Chico are famous for their intricate carving on gourds, which are imported from other regions of Peru. These burladeros practice burlando, a craft of burning intricate creation designs on the surface of gourds (macas).
- Ruben Gutierrez (Article in Rumbos. Vol II/ Issue 8, 2003)