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Traditional Pre-Hispanic Peruvian Dance Declared Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO

Wititi, la "danza del amor", Yanque, Valle del Colca, Arequipa, Perú. Imagen en Flickr del usuario Jorge Gobbi (CC BY 2.0).

Wititi, the “dance of love”, Yanque, Colca Valley, Arequipa, Peru. Image on Flickr by user Jorge Gobbi (CC BY 2.0).

On December 2, 2015, UNESCO inscribed the wititi dance on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The dance, where the main figure is a male character known as witite, is the most characteristic cultural expression of the people that live in the River Colca valley, in Arequipa, Peru.

According to the legend of its origin, wititi is an expression closely tied to the historic memory of the Inca conquest:

Los collaguas, ancestros de la población actual del valle del Coica, intentaban evitar la conquista Inca y, dado que el soberano cusqueño quería casarse con la hija del gran curaca local, él y sus huestes se disfrazaron con trajes femeninos locales para acercarse a esta mujer de la nobleza. Siguiendo esta estratagema el Inca logró no sólo comprometerse con ella, sino obligar a la población a una alianza con los cusqueños, lo que los pobladores reconocen como una conquista pacífica.

Sería entonces rememorando la estratagema del inca que los varones usan una vestimenta especial, parcialmente femenina, conformada por dos polleras bordadas al estilo regional, y ligeramente levantadas por delante, como es usual en las mujeres de la región, sujetas con los alfileres andinos {tupus o kipkis).

The Collaguas, ancestors of the population that currently lives in the Coica valley, tried to avoid being conquered by the Incas and, as the Cuzquean sovereign wanted to marry the daughter of the great local priest (the curaca), he and his troops dressed up in female clothes to approach this noble lady. Following the plan, the Inca not only managed to get engaged with her, but forced the [local Colca Valley] population to be allies with the Cuzqueans, something locals acknowledge as a peaceful conquest.

In memory of the Inca's scheme, men wear special clothes, partially female, made up of two regional-style embroidered skirts with a slight lift on the front part, held by two Andean pins (tupus o kipkis) as is the custom for women in the region.

Website en Perú describes the typical male dress during performances of the wititi:

los varones son la principal atracción, por la colorida vestimenta que traen consigo […].
Chumpe: es como una Especie de faja alrededor de la cintura, que servía antiguamente para asegurar las dos Llicllas. Eran tejidos con finos hilos de vicuña, y adornados con finas piedras preciosas.
Llucllas: Son mantas de carga. Eran tejidos con finos hilos de vicuña o alpaca , era para llevar las frutas usadas como proyectiles, pero que también eran para compartirlas durante la danza o la fiesta.
La Montera: Es un casco protector hecho anteriormente de Paja de Puna. Sirve para proteger los proyectiles lanzados por el contrincante con la honda. Es adornado con flecos coloridos y sujetadores llamadas ”Angoñas”, que eran tejidos con finos hilos de vicuña o alpaca.
Honda: Es el arma con el que se lanzan las frutas.

The men are the main attraction for the colorful clothing they wear […]:

Chumpe: A kind of girdle around the waist, fastening the two Llicllas. They were woven with fine vicuna thread, and decorated with fine gemstones.
Llicllas: Blankets for loading. They were woven with fine vicuna thread, and were used to carry fruits to be used as projectiles, but also shared during the dance or the celebration.
Montera: A protective helmet that used to be made out of Puna hay. It is for picking up the projectiles thrown away by opponents with the slingshot. It is decorated with colorful tassels and clips known as Angoñas, woven with fine vicuna thread.
Slingshot: The weapon used to launch the fruit.

Some chronicles note that wititi was initially a competitive dance, but as the dancers sometimes got dangerously injured during performances, this feature was phased out over time.

This video shows a modern version of wititi:

The Peruvian Ministry of Culture laid the groundwork for the inscription on the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. The preparation of the dossier took two years and was finally submitted to UNESCO in March 2014:

El comité evaluador tuvo palabras de elogio para el Estado peruano, felicitándolo “por haber preparado una candidatura que puede servir de modelo, con plena participación de todas las partes involucradas, teniendo como resultado un expediente exhaustivo y bien concebido”.

The evaluation committee praised the Peruvian state, and congratulated it “for having prepared an application that can be used as a model, with full participation of all involved parties, resulting in a comprehensive and well conceived file.”

According to UNESCO “cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants” and its importance “[…] is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next.”

Both the region where wititi is a customary dance and Twitter celebrated UNESCO's decision.

The joy of wititi. Celebrations in Chivay [Arequipa] after its inscription on the list of Heritage.

What's the origin of the wititi dance from Arequipa? This afternoon, locals will represent…

Wititi Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Thanks to UNESCO, our wititi dance was inscribed on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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