A Snapshot of Choquekillka

By Ashley Wade, Marketing and Communications Intern

The procession of Señor Choquekillka progresses from the main church to the plaza and signifies the official start of the festival.

“The synthesis of the Catholic and Andean religions is something magic, something I have inside me.”

Jenny, an Ollantaytambo local, shared with me the importance of the Choquekillka festival for her community and her family.  The festival celebrates Señor de Choquekillka, patron of Ollantaytambo. “I learned this religion from my grandparents, and it fills me with happiness to know that Señor Choquekillka is the Saint of here.”  Part of the festival, she says, is asking favors of Señor Choquekillka for the coming year. “I’ll ask [Señor Choquekillka] to grant good health to me and my family, to take care of us in danger.”

La celebración de Señor Choquekillka is a four-day sensory experience in late May or early June combining festive dance, steaming food, and upbeat music.  The festival, which takes place in Ollantaytambo, draws visitors from all over Peru: people from Lima, Cusco, surrounding towns, and indigenous and rural communities all join together to honor and celebrate Señor Choquekillka in the Sacred Valley.  “People from Lima and even other countries come, and they always say, ‘Hi, hi, how are your kids?’ because that is the culture of the festival,” Jenny reflects. The festival portrays the syncretic nature of modern-day Peru, displaying influences of Catholicism from the Spanish colonial period combined with indigenous Quechua religion and culture.  This celebration was proclaimed Cultural Patrimony of the Nation in 2008 (Peru Telegraph) and, according to Jenny, features 17 dances throughout the weekend.

A woman twirls while performing with her group in the Plaza de Armas.

The Choquekillka festival originates with the story of a man named Román Ontón.  Román was riding on horseback near Ollantaytambo when he saw a brilliantly-shining cross spinning in the river Vilcanota.  Distracted by its incandescence, he fell into the river and was trapped in the rapidly-spinning whirlpool. Miraculously, and by no will of his own, he ended up on the river bank and was rescued from drowning.  The power of the cross had saved him, and the miracle of this cross was declared Señor Choquekillka, patron of Ollantaytambo.

On Sunday, the biggest day of the festival, the other volunteers and I joined the celebration in the early afternoon, many hours after it had begun at around 6am that morning. We ate many, many churros from the churro stand, drank some chicha morada (a traditional Peruvian drink), and watched the vibrant colors of the dancers as they celebrated in the square. We were invited to a cargo, a party within the festival hosted in a huge tent by a local Ollantian family, for a steaming Peruvian pasta dinner served with Cusqueña (a Peruvian beer). The band geared up a bit later in the night, and soon everyone at the party was dancing cumbia (or, in my case, very clumsily attempting to dance cumbia), a Peruvian dance involving lots of twirling, stepping, and hip-moving. The Ollantinos in the cargo not only welcomed us into their tent and fed us a delicious meal, but also embraced our bumbling attempts at dancing with kind smiles and gentle instructions. We finished out the night in the Plaza de Armas, Ollanta’s main square, eating (more) buckets of the steaming sugar and chocolate-coated churros while joyfully ignoring the protests of our stomachs.

Each group is formed of a neighborhood or family of people who choose their own costume, dance, and music.

Today, Choquekillka serves as a way to maintain Quechuan culture and connect Ollantaytambo’s community through a collective memory.  Displaying the vibrant colors and exciting spirit of Ollanta, la celebración de Señor de Choquekillka is a beautiful representation of a fused history uniting a community.  As Jenny shared, “Each year the festival teaches me something new or reminds me of something forgotten.” This year, Choquekillka reminded me of the importance of community, the connective power of celebration, and the irresistible call of churros.