Peru’s Independence Day, Culina Style!

Celebrating the 28th of July

I sometimes forget how years ago the way the Culinas of San Bernardo celebrated holidays was with a lot of drinking, dancing to loud music that went all night and people getting hurt. It hasn’t been that way for over five years. Well, they haven’t stayed completely straight all that time, but since there was “revival” in the church, the holiday activities now mostly revolve around the church.

Recently some non-church going people and their families moved back to the village after being away for several years. While discussing the up-coming holiday at a church meeting one Sunday, the leader Dani said, “They may have their parties and do whatever they want, but we are going to have our celebration with the believers!” And that’s just what happened. A few had a little drinking party one night but they didn’t bother the rest of us. The celebrations over the rest of the weekend were enjoyed by all.

Visitors Arrive, Soccer Tournament Begins


On Friday, Culinas from downriver in Brazil started arriving for the holiday. Two boat-fulls of people came up from the villages of Apohui and Santa Julia, traveling five days to get to San Bernardo. Other Culinas from downriver passed by going to the village of Alberto Delgado upriver from us. On Saturday a soccer tournament started, with teams from the different village playing against each other. Women played women, too. The soccer field had been newly cleared and leveled, so there was very little grass and there had been no rain to wet it down. So it was a real dust bowl!

Lantern Parade


While a lot of people were playing or watching the games, others were at home making balsa wood structures for tissue paper lanterns that the kids would parade with that evening. Jim had given out the colored tissue paper the day before to all who wanted it.  In the evening when it got dark, we called everyone to our yard and passed out the candles to put in the lanterns. Once everyone’s candle was stuck in place, we lighted them all and the parade began. It was a joyful parade with lots of whooping and hollering! Every now and then some kid’s lantern would catch on fire and burn up! After traversing from one end of the village to the other, everyone gathered on the cement and a bunch of winners were proclaimed.

The Music Begins


Right after the parade, everybody gathered on the cement where lights, loudspeakers and a keyboard were set up. Chairs had been brought out from the high school so everybody found a place to sit and the next celebration began. Benito and Fermin played songs on the keyboard and sang while Dani did the MC’ing. Dancing groups from San Bernardo and the other villages did their choreography while we all watched. Then everyone was invited to get up to dance and sing along. I got the kids going in a circle and then stepped out to take pictures after we pulled Pepe into join us. Everybody seemed to be having a good time. Sometime before 10 p.m. the program ended, so that everyone could get some sleep and have energy for the next day’s activities.

Sunday Morning on the 28th


The first activity of the day was a ceremony in the patio of the high school. All the elementary students turned out wearing uniforms and shoes! (They usually don’t wear them to school, so we didn’t know that they all had them.) There was the flag raising and national anthem, a speech by the chief of the village and then a parade. The students had tissue paper flags they had made the day before to carry in the parade. They marched down a dusty path keeping time with a big drum. Adults also marched in groups, and one impressive group of men had painted their faces, dressed as soldiers and carried their shotguns. By the end of the parade the big drum fell apart in pieces!

Shortly after the parade the bell was rung for church. We carted all the benches of our house over to the church to add extra seating. The building completely filled up with all the downriver people coming in too. Benito played the keyboard and the girls danced up front while everyone sang. Some people from the neighbor village of Salon had previously asked that we serve communion, since they hadn’t taken it for a long time. So Jim and I prepared it and Ahuano led the ceremony. Noba preached too. Then we dismissed and went home to prepare for lunch.

Potluck in our Patio


The day was very hot, and there wasn’t much shade anywhere midday. So the people decided the best place to serve the food would be under a bit of shade in our patio. That way we could pull out some of our tables to set the pots on, too. God had provided a tapir for Alan and a deer for Mesia when they went hunting on Friday, so there was meat to go in the rice and noodles Jonatan had given out to be cooked for the meal. People also brought yuca, bananas, fariña and drinks. There was enough food for all, and some people even came back for seconds or to scrape the pots clean.

Afternoon Soccer games and All-night Service

While the adults continued their tournament in the dust bowl, the kids played soccer on the grass airstrip. No one had organized any other games for the kids, which probably would have been done in the morning had there been no church service. But nobody complained. I was happy that I didn’t have to attend to sick people the whole weekend, as I remember doing on one 28th holiday years ago. Jim and I were able to go out and take pictures, visit with people and watch the soccer games.


In the evening a gathering was called on the cement again, for more singing, dancing and presentations. Ahuano preached a good message and Cossohui, a chief from downriver, gave a talk. The Brazilian Culinas kept setting off firecrackers in the middle of the cement and all the people. Not a San Bernardo tradition and not really appreciated by all those around! After awhile, Jim couldn’t stay awake anymore so he went home. Pepe and I left just before midnight. They kept up the music and celebrating all night long. It got cold and foggy and some people went home, but a lot stayed up until daybreak. In the early morning towards the end of the time I could hear Benito playing the same song over and over again. Maybe he was too tired to change songs by then!

Saying Good-by to the Visitors

The Brazilian Culinas had brought items to be given out as prizes for the soccer tournament, like shampoo, underwear, soap and perfumes. They had some leftover so someone suggested there be a volleyball game in the morning on Monday before the Brazilians left for home. Not too many turned out for it, though, because some people were probably already taking naps to catch up on their missed sleep! After an hour of attempting to hit the ball back and forth, they gave up and decided it was time to go home. After saying good-bye, they loaded everybody back up in their boats, set off a few firecrackers and were off for downriver. The rest of the day was very quiet! Lots of ZZZzzzzz’s going on!




The Command Party “Dosseniji”

Independence Day was to fall on Sunday, July 28th. The Tuesday before at an early morning town meeting the people decided to start celebrating early with a traditional command party they call “dosseniji.” The women and girls picked up sticks and went from house to house singing to the men and pounding their sticks on their houses telling them to go fishing. The men got their gear together after breakfast and took off together in several canoes to a favorite fishing spot upriver. At some point along the way one of them shot and killed a large paca whose organs were used as bait. They fished all day long and didn’t return until late afternoon.

While the men were off fishing, the women and girls got their carrying baskets and machetes and took off in canoes to a field upriver. There they dug up a lot of yuca, filled their baskets and came back home. During the morning, a cold storm blew in and the temperature dropped quickly. By the time the men returned, they were half-frozen! They started calling “Jo, jo, jo!” as they approached the village in the canoes, giving a signal to the women so they would know it was time to get together to receive them. The men arrived at the port, got their strings of fish ready and then paraded up the hill to the village single file.

The women and girls had gathered on the cement soccer court and they lined up and began singing. As the men walked up to them they dropped their strings of fish in a pile in front the women. Then they went on home. After the last man left his string, the women rushed up to the pile and each grabbed a string of fish. Then they went home to cook the fish and get plates of food ready with fish and yuca to serve to the men. Or so we thought.

Everyone waited for the call to get back together to eat but it never came. The chief must have thought it was too cold to gather back at the soccer court to eat. We went out to check what was going on and discovered that everyone just ate at home with their families, sitting around their fires to keep warm!

The girls singing to Cesar in front of his house

The girls singing to Cesar in front of his house

The paca rodent Alan shot

The paca rodent Alan shot

Women returning with yuca

Women returning with yuca

The men returning home with fish

The men returning home with fish

Women with fish to take home to cook

Women with fish to take home to cook

Eating the fish around a patio fire

Eating the fish around a patio fire