By Riley MacKenzie
The female condor was brought out again, and her legs were bandaged and lashed to the back of a black bull. The bull set off bucking across the ring, the startled condor flapping her wings and pecking at the bull’s back. The bull, racing helter-skelter under beating wings, looked as if it were flying.
After a while, it settled down and a toreador tempted it into charging with his cape. At that point, the bird and bull seemed less like adversaries than reluctant allies, and it was easy to imagine the condor whispering instructions into the bull’s ear about how to take on their human foe. After seven minutes, the bull was roped and the condor was cut loose.
The second condor’s turn came next. He had a feistier disposition and pecked repeatedly at the bull’s ear, but if he drew blood it was not visible from the grandstand.
In all, it was a largely bloodless Yawar Fiesta this year in Coyllurqui, one of the towns that celebrates Yawar in Peru’s Apurímac Region..
Some conservationists have called for a law that would ban the use of condors in the Yawar Fiesta, a month-long tradition that ends in mid-August. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, an environmental group, lists the Andean condor as “near threatened,” saying that its total population throughout South America is probably greater than 10,000 but is declining.
But the mayor of Coyllurqui, Carlos Bocange, said that the town would hold to its tradition, adding that without the condor the economic lift it gets from the festival would disappear. “If people come, it’s to see the condor,” he said. “If there’s no condor, there’s no fiesta.”
There is more than economics riding on the fiesta. If the birds are hurt or killed it is a bad omen. A good festival augurs a good year.
The mayor’s political ambitions are also in play. “You have to put on a good fiesta, good food, good bulls,” said Luis Bocangel, the mayor’s brother. “If you don’t, you’re a bad mayor.”
On the final day of the festival the condors were set free. The birds drank from cups of chicha, an alcoholic beverage, were paraded through the streets again and then were taken to a steep hillside, where hundreds of people gathered.
“Everyone in the community makes a wish, and the condor becomes the bearer of their wishes,” Professor Ossio said. After prayers and offerings, the ropes tied to the birds’ legs were removed. “Let them go! Let them go!” people shouted.
It was a tense moment. Were the birds hurt in the bullfight? Had they been held captive too long? Could they fly?
The birds stumbled down the slope, flapped their long wings, took off. Earthbound, they had seemed dusty, captive, sad creatures. In flight, they were majestic. Everyone watched as they became dots in the distance.
A pickup truck pulled up carrying a fresh batch of chicha, and women passed around brimming foam cups. The band played its free jazzlike tune. A red and white Peruvian flag beat against an azure Andean sky.
Riley MacKenzie is a travel writer specializing in the festivals and rituals of Peru.