In my third week, I was lucky enough to experience the Fiestas de San Pedro, or St Peter’s festival. There were celebrations all week, with the main holiday being on the 29th June. This is a holiday for the whole of Peru, but it is particularly special for Huanchaco as a fishing village, because St Peter was the Patron Saint for fishing.
To celebrate St Peter the fishermen of Huanchaco built a big reed boat, called a Patacho. The fishermen have been building this boat for three weeks. Although Huanchaco has been celebrating St Peter for much longer, the tradition of the patacho began thirty years ago. However, there is evidence to suggest that in the Chimu era, 900-1470 AD, patachos were also built for various celebrations.
The celebrations began on Tuesday when the patacho was finally finished. Upon finishing the boat, the fishermen danced the marinera, a couple dance using hankerchiefs that is traditional in the Northern coastal regions of Peru. The following afternoon, the fishermen took part in a caballito de totora race, where they raced each other in their boats while the crowds cheered. In the evening there was a big street party, with a stage and a live band playing a mix of salsa, jazz and Latin fusion. The fishermen went out on the water in the caballitos with candle lanterns, creating a beautiful sea of lights like fireflies. The evening finished with a spectacular display of fireworks.
The next day was Thursday 29th June, the main day of celebrations. The day began with mass, and then the fishermen took part in a procession from the Church to the sea, with a model of St Peter with two caballitos de totora either side. The model was then placed inside the patacho. Hundreds of people gathered to see the patacho go out onto the water. Ten fishermen rode inside the patacho while the others followed in their caballitos de totora. The rest of the day was spent with families, bringing an end to the celebrations. Ceviche, Peru’s national dish made with raw fish and lime juice is traditionally eaten on St Peter.
Catholicism is the dominant religion among Huanchaco’s fishermen, and the religious element was a very important part of the St Peter celebrations, with several special masses at the Church throughout the week. In the St Peter festival, Catholicism and indigenous culture came together, which is representative of modern Peru.
The scale of the festival in Huanchaco, and the fact that the caballitos de totora were a major part of the celebrations reflects how culturally important the reed boat fishing is for the community. A young fishermen named Gustavo Huamanchumo explained to me “It’s a very important day for us. My favourite part is the fact that all of the fishermen work together as a team to build the patacho”
In my next and final post I will write about my experience riding in a caballito de totora, as well as reflect overall on my time here in Huanchaco.