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Performing & Visual Arts
Masquerade Dance
Thousands of tourists and residents come to Paucartambo to honor the Virgen del Carmen, known locally as Mamacha Carmen.
Thousands of tourists and residents come to Paucartambo to honor the Virgen del Carmen, known locally as Mamacha Carmen.
Photo courtesy Área de Patrimonio Inmaterial de la Dirección Desconcentrada de Cultura Cusco

La Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen is celebrated in July in honor of the patron saint of Paucartambo, la Mamacha Carmen. Troupes of masked dancers, which trace their origin to Spanish processions brought to the Americas, reenact cultural, social, and economic events in Paucartambo, a town that was once a commercial center between the Amazon and the Andes. Each of the thirteen groups recreates a particular story, such as the encounter of Andean migrants, who wanted to steal the Virgin, with local lowland communities, who are her guardians. These community members live in the historical imagination of the town through dance and stylized acting.

Although Paucartambo is much less populated today, during the fiesta it fills with thousands of tourists and returning residents who come to celebrate the Mamacha Carmen.

La Contradanza

The contradanza troupe performs intricate dances in quadrilles to music that combines rhythms and melodies of Andean huaynos and pasacalle with European mazurka tunes. This Virgen del Carmen troupe features a Spanish machu, or captain, enjoying himself with his soldiers, poking fun at their European features and mannerisms.

Costumes and Masks

Members of the contradanza fiesta group work throughout the year to customize their costumes, each year adding details. Mask making is also an important craft tradition to the Virgen del Carmen celebration. Every dancer wears a mask, and certain characters, including the machu or caporal (chief) have exaggerated features, such as an elongated nose.

Crisscrossed with paths connecting communities across geography and history, Peru boasts a stunning vertical landscape that integrates a diversity of ecosystems and cultures. Peru is one of the world’s most biodiverse nations, containing ninety microclimates across extreme variances of altitude. The coastal, rain-forested, and mountainous environments provide abundant resources, including major exports such as fish, copper, and asparagus. Many culturally and historically significant areas are popular tourist destinations that encompass complex layered histories.

The uniqueness of Peru’s diversity lies in the connectedness of its landscape in the form of rivers, roads, and pathways that existed long before the Inka Empire (fifteenth–sixteenth centuries) and Spanish colonization (sixteenth–nineteenth centuries). Across its different altitudes and climates, communities exchange commodities and practices, shaping deeply rooted but constantly changing daily customs and celebrations. The influx and movement of people between and beyond borders also influence and transform these exchanges.

The 2015 Peru program featured projects, organizations, and groups whose cultural expressions highlight these social, cultural, and economic exchanges. It demonstrated how the networks of celebration and community, crops and markets, textile and craft production, foodways and technology, and music and dance forge the diverse cultural heritage of the country.

Visitors to the Peru Festival program could experience these unique connections through cooking and craft demonstrations, music and dance performances, moderated discussions, ritual and celebratory processions, and other participatory activities. In addition, there was a robust involvement with Peruvian American and diaspora communities. The public had the opportunity to learn, to eat, to dance, to shop, to witness these vibrantly connected cultures, and to create their own connections with Peruvian artists and specialists on the National Mall and beyond.

Olivia Cadaval and Cristina Díaz-Carrera were Curators for the Smithsonian; Rafael Varón Gabai was Curator and Consultant to MINCETUR. Valentina Pilonieta-Vera was Program Coordinator; Alexia Fawcett was Community Engagement Manager, and Betty Belanus was Family Activities Curator. A Curatorial Advisory Committee included: Madeleine Burns, Marjorie Hunt, Mary Linn, Luis Guillermo Lumbreras, Giancarlo Marcone, Soledad Mujica, Diana N’Diaye, Luis Repetto, Marcela Ríos, Daniel Sheehy, Jorge Ortiz Sotelo, Milagritos Saldarriaga, Francisco Tumi, and Madeleine Zúñiga. A Community Advisory Group included: Catherine Cabel Chicas, Nelly Carrión, Billy Castillo, Kristy Chavez-Fernandez, Fabiana Chiu- Rinaldi, María del Carmen Cossu, Miguel García, Elmer Huerta, Vicky Leyva, Doris Loayza, Ana Noriega, Elena Tscherny, and Ricardo Villanueva.

The program was co-presented and co-sponsored by the Republic of Peru Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (MINCETUR). Additional support was provided by the staff of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, directed by Kevin Gover (Pawnee), coordinated by Amy Van Allen; Washington Dulles international Airport and the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. The program received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center. Special media support is provided by Telemundo Washington DC,, Latin Opinion Baltimore Newspaper, Orange Barrel Media, WAMU 88.5, El Tiempo Latino, Washington Hispanic, Washington Blade, El Tiempo Hìspano (MD-DE-PA), CTM Media Group, El Zol 107.9, Digital Conventions, and Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Support for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage's welcoming ceremony was provided, in part, by Avocados From Peru and Pisco Portón (in-kind).

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