Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cuy Shamans at the Craft Fair

August 11, 2011 – Cuy Shamans  
On Sunday I go with Katrina and Oswaldo to a Feria Artesanal (Craft Fair). Katrina is buying gifts to take home to her family and friends for when she visits the States in September.
Oswaldo is being a sport by enduring shopping and occasionally acting as model for the clothing items that Katrina is contemplating purchasing. And I’m tagging along. We’re in Jesus Maria, one of the many districts of Lima. This is where I’ll be living when I move into the Big City in September (in Jesus Maria, not at the Feria Artesanal).

The fair is hopping.
Down the right hand side of the walkway are booths full of hand and machine made chullos, jackets, shirts, shawls, pants, scarves, finger puppets, gloves, hats. Some of the clothing is indigenous to Cusco, some to Arequipa, some probably is made in China, and the rest is from places I can’t remember because I didn’t write the names down or take a picture.
Some of the wares are made from llama wool, some from lamb, some from cotton and some from synthetic materials. Much of the merchandise is made elsewhere, but a lot of it is also made by hand right there before our eyes.
One vendor sits in the corner of her stall and knits little animal figures. She’s using a printed out pattern for a long necked animal-type-something, I don’t think it’s a llama or a giraffe or even lochness, but Katrina and I both tell her it’s adorable.
In the basket in front of her booth are other animals I’m sure she’s made herself. There are llamas, lambs, serpents, octopi, a swan, alligators, and chickens. We pick them up and admire them. Katrina falls in love and buys a couple knitted chickens for her mother.
On the left hand side of the pathway are booths stacked up with natural foods and cure alls, with bins of flours, fruits, herbs--including the famous Ortiga (nettle) that Geraldine wanted to punish all her foes with--grains, seeds, nuts, maca, cacao, chocolates. There are several stalls set up with blenders advertising the Best Pisco Sours in Peru. One vendor entices me over to her booth with a strawful of honey. “Would you like to try?” she asks me. I most certainly would. I’m glad I do, because it’s good honey. I tell her so, thank her and move on.

We keep on going down the lane. This is when things get a little strange. Of course, who am I to call anything strange? But we’ll leave that alone for now.
“This is the shaman section,” Oswaldo tells me.

Here I could get my future read in Coca or Iman.

I could offer money to a golden frog for what purpose I’m not exactly sure.

I could even have my health checked with the power of the black cuy (guinea pig).

In the recent past, a friend of mine had sent me an email in which he said, “I saw the travel channel guy from Bizarre Foods do something strange in Ecuador. He went to a native shaman and the guy did a cleansing ceremony on him to get rid of evil spirits. Do they have anything like that in Peru?” Here’s the answer. Yes, they do. Peru loves its cuy. At least to eat and use as an X-Ray machine. I think I’ve mentioned that Cuy is a meat delicacy before.
Wikipedia says, “[Cuy] also plays a role in traditional healing rituals by folk doctors, or curanderos, who use the animals to diagnose diseases such as jaundice, rheumatism, arthritis, and typhus. They are rubbed against the bodies of the sick, and are seen as a supernatural medium. Black guinea pigs are considered especially useful for diagnoses. The animal also may be cut open and its entrails examined to determine whether the cure was effective. These methods are widely accepted in many parts of the Andes, where Western medicine is either unavailable or distrusted.”

Poor little guinea pigs, they may be seen as supernatural mediums, but that doesn’t save them from early deaths. If they survive life as an X-Ray machine, they might get their entrails trailed out, or end up on a dinner plate. It’s a hard knock life.

I pass a booth where a family has their little boy passing a black cuy over his body. My heart goes out to him, because it’s apparent he’s suffering from something and at the same time I’m also sad for the little cuy who I’m worried isn’t much longer for this world. Though in all fairness, I’m not sure if they cut open the cuys at these fairs or not. Next time I go to a Feria Artesanal I’ll have to have a conversation with a shaman about exactly how the cuy diagnoses illness and what happens to the guinea pig. And just how many x-rays can one cuy perform in a day? Do the shamans talk to the cuys? Do the cuys talk to the shamans? Do the guinea pigs scratch out their diagnoses in sand with their little tiny feet? Do they convey their medical opinions with body language? Do they talk like the squirrels in The Emperor’s New Groove with such lines as “Squeaky, uh, squeak, squeaker, squeakit.” I have so many questions.

The shamans also sell talismans and potions and all the other things I might look for from a witchdoctor, even a scary looking stuffed squashed armadillo thing. If it’s not witchcraft I’m after, no worries, I can buy candles and Jesus pictures too. This craft fair has it all.
Past Shaman Way are booths with all sorts of traditional Peruvian food. Most of it contains meat so I just walk on by.

We’ve made the full circuit and Katrina has bought some hats, a pair of handmade gloves, some knit butterfly pins, a flower hair tie, a hand painted owl that can double as a piggy bank, and a hand painted bull.  

She’s all set to go see her family now and I know just where to come if I need some medical advice from a guinea pig.

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