Latin America’s religious syncretism can often be confusing to the outside observer. Like for instance, why would residents of Cusco’s Paucartambo municipality venerate the Virgen del Carmen by dressing up like the devil? It’s a natural reaction to the grotesque demonic masks and elaborate, colorful regalia that characterize the community’s Saqras ritual, but it turns out this pre-Columbian tradition has absolutely nothing to do with the fallen angel of Biblical lore.
A short documentary from director Cristián Pino sheds some light on the origins of this celebration through interviews with local participants and footage of the actual event in all its idiosyncratic splendor. The demonic masks, it turns out, are actually stylized representations of local fauna, which embrace the region’s topographical diversity in its straddling of high sierra and cloud forest climates. The colorful designs of the costumes represent the unmistakable explosion of color that characterizes the Andean sunset, while the short staffs they carry are the defining symbol of the regalia, generally used to engage spectators.
Saqras. Virgen del Carmen de Paucartambo delves into the significance of these ritual elements as well as the history and development of the tradition from its modern origins in the early 20th century to its eventual inclusion of women, culminating in a moving procession in which the tears and ecstatic faces of devotees make clear the personal significance of this otherwise exuberant expression of affection for Paucartambo’s beloved Virgen.