In the Peruvian pueblo of Coyllurqui, a fiesta is held each year called the Yawar Fiesta, or Blood Party. A month or so before the celebrations a group of men, and an old horse, make their ascent into the mountains, climbing
into the home of the Incan totem and the symbol of the indigenous people – the Apu Condor. The horse is sacrificed and the men hide. As the giant bird gorges itself on the dead horse, the men anxiously wait. Sheltered behind rocks and inside little caves, they must be patient. Once the bird has had its fill the signal is given to attack. By this point the condor is too full to fly away and the men corner it, trap it, and bring it back down to their pueblo.
On the day of the fiesta, the mayor passes around giant cups of beer and chichi, a fermented corn drink that predates the Incan Empire. The sound of flutes, drums and trumpets echo off the tall dirt walls of the bullring as an unintelligible torrent of words is shouted over a public address system. Those who started partying too early lie motionless on the walkways or in corners. The excitement builds. "It's like the world cup", Americo shouts, "and the two teams are Peru and Spain!"
A thick nail cuts through the skin of the bull and the condor sits, tied on to the beast's back. The bull's nose is split and alcohol is poured into the wound. Like a rabid dog, the bull shoots into the ring as the condor holds on, pecking at the bulls back. According to Americo, during a good fiesta, they don't tie the condor's beak shut, so it is free to take chunks of skin off the bull's back and maybe even an eye or an ear.
Why? What does all this mean?
"The people here have been abused by the Spanish forever", Americo explains. "They worked our people like slaves, took their land and sent the Indians up to the most inhospitable places. They raped the native women, and now the locals have Spanish last names. They are mestizos. So this is why we feel such rage against the Spanish."
Like many fiestas in the Andes of South America, the main themes are reflections on the brutal conquest and the misery that followed. The Condor, the great totem of Incan mythology, battles the bull, the Spanish beast. Once a year they dance through the ring together as the mestizos watch a live representation of their history. The majority of the spectators do not analyze the event in this way. They just do what their grandparents did, sit back and enjoy the show.
The hero of this drama is undoubtedly the condor. It is the star of the fiesta, and the pride and joy of Coyllurqui for the week that it is grounded, snatched from the Andean sky.
The condor doesn't always survive. One year it slipped under the bull's powerful legs and was torn to pieces. Usually though the condor comes out on top. After its victory over the bull it is paraded up to a sacred hill for the cacharpari, or goodbye party, where it is fed chichi and beer and then released. It is an emotional moment for the villagers of Coyllurqui as they watch their totem rise again into the Andean sky after playing its part in this brutal and bloody piece of post-colonial theatre.