THE WATER FESTIVAL IN
SAN PEDRO DE CASTA, PERU
By Luis Miguel Silva
View of the village San Pedro de Casta
"Champeria" is the name given to the water festival in the peasant community of San Pedro de Casta, located in the highlands of Lima, Peru, at 3,200 m.a.s.l.
During this festival, the members of San Pedro de Casta community conduct a physical and ritual cleaning of their canal irrigation system. This canal system is approximately 50 km long, and extends from 4300 m.a.s.l., where the water intake of the canals is located, to 1500 m.a.s.l.
The festival serves as a framework to encourage the great deployment of energy needed to give maintenance to this mayor water infrastructure.
Section of San Pedro de Casta irrigation canal system.
The canals maintenance work is divided among different groups: the “Paradas”, the mythical original builders of the canals; the “Lamperitos”, young men who are not yet officially integrated into the community; the “Mayoralas”, the "lonely women" (single girls and widows); and the “Mayores”, elderly men and women who have already passed all the public offices in the community.
Parada Carhuayumac accompanying the arrival of water through the clean canal.
“Paradas” groups organizing the canal maintenance works.
The festival also works as a space in which the institutions and knowledge required to operate and maintain this water infrastructure are transmitted to the next generation. Before the maintenance work begins, the new authorities of the community are elected, renewing and re-legitimizing two intertwined politico-administrative systems: the governmental apparatus at the local level and the traditional institutional system governing the community affairs. By performing these public positions, community members become competent in the management of different aspects of community life, such as the administration of natural resources.
Finally, the water festival is also a space for updating the identity and traditions around the irrigation system and the community: the myths are once again told to the youngest; old and new typical songs of the festival are sung, and a series of rituals are performed to communicate with the spirits inhabiting the territory.
One of the ritual characters of the "Camachicos" whipping the water "so that it does not delay on its way to the village".
The irrigation canal system of San Pedro de Casta allows the community to sow before the rains and to harvest before the frost. It is an artefact designed to mitigate the great climatic variability of this geographical region, helping to reduce the uncertainty that peasant communities face. But this water infrastructure is also the materialization of particular social, economic, and political relations: between the members of the community and their ecosystem -which is perceived as inhabited by a myriad of living entities among whom water play a central role- and between the community and the larger national society.
Traditional authorities accounting for this year's festival organization and leading the ceremony of the election of new authorities for the next year
The water festival of San Pedro de Casta was a sort of window that allowed me to have a glance of this particular way to experience water and its social, economic, political, as mythical dimensions.
Celebration banquet offered by the festival's organizing authorities.
“La cajera y el chirisuyero”, two traditional musicians interpreting the ritual music of the festival.
Luis Miguel Silva-Novoa Sánchez is a Peruvian anthropologist specialising in water governance and is conducting his PhD at Koblenz•Landau University, Germany. His work approaches water infrastructure as the materialization of particular socio-nature and socio-technical relations in Peru, Mozambique, Uganda, and Morocco.