The carnivals in northern Argentina are very different from those held in other regions of the country. They take place especially in Tilcara, a city located in the center of the Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy province, but some are also present in the valley de Lerma, in the province of Salta. Moreover, the festivities are spread over all areas of both provinces. While this carnival takes place over nine days between late February and early March, there are bailecitos ('little dances') and carnavalecitos ('little carnivals') that start in mid-February with the Topamiento (gathering) of Comadres (village women), when the women visit each other, exchange gifts, and create new relations of comadrazgo. These social gatherings continue with the Festival of the Chicha (an alcoholic drink made from corn and of Inca origin), where a jury selects the best drink made by important families within the Chicha tradition.

The event starts in the morning with the presence of all the groups in the Plaza of Independence and a street mass, followed by the ceremony of “unearthing the carnival.” The troupes move to a cluster of rocks known as Mojón ('Landmark'), that is an apacheta or magical place. Organizers in charge of carrying the baton of the celebrations approach the Mojón carrying their own cloth devil or Pu Jillay, which is buried by the stones, and then unearthed again in a simulated emergence of the devil from the Mojón. After this and as the days pass, the devil goes from hand to hand and is thrown into the air with shouts of euphoria. That devil symbolizes the red sun and according to some beliefs, it fertilizes or propagates Pacha Mama (the Mother Earth), generating seeds, roots, stems, foliage and fruits in the region. For this very reason, when digging and unearthing the devil, people dance and prepare a communal barbecue, and in a hole dug in the earth people put food, coca leaves, cigarettes, flower garlands, cooking spices, and pour chicha and beer as offerings to Pacha Mama. After the ceremony, participants follow the Carnival flag accompanied by masquerades, music and dancing, while walking to the city in double lines and performing a typical saltadito (jumping) a dance of the carnavalito of Jujuy, while singing and throwing flour, basil and streamers. Then, people proceed to what is called, “go around the world", i.e., to move throughout the town while singing songs.

It is important to note that the devil also represents the release of repressed desires. It is therefore a kind of god for celebration and lust. During carnival, anyone can be Pu Jillay. According to tradition, carnival is the time where the devil is loose and runs through the streets. This is how, for example, women who choose to dress up and participate are pursued by masked devils that 'harass' them with 'diabolic' intentions. Local writer and musician Fortunato Ramos indicates that in this game men speak in high tones and wear masks in order to not be recognized. It allows the timid personality of the men of Jujuy “to declare their love to a woman" under the disguise of their costume.

After the week-long carnival and as Lent approaches, it is time for the “little carnival.” Following the beats of the siku, erkenchos and anatas, the devil comes back to earth accompanied by coca leaves, alcohol and cigarettes, in order to 'stay' buried for a year. At dusk they light a bonfire by the Mojón, and the devils begin to mourn. Notably there are tears behind the masks, because the sadness is not just represented. In fact, many weep openly because the carnival is gone, and with it the license for unbridled pleasure in an area where, according to young people, there are few occasions and sites for festivity in other times of the year. The couples that have formed during the nine days of carnival are typically dissolved by mutual consent. There is a roar that marks the end of the celebration, and the devils remove their costumes while those attending make their way back down the hill.  


2011 Devils of the Americas. Some rights reserved.


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