The first two weeks of May are notorious for the sound of flutes and drums, and the dancing feet of the Shacshas as they make their way through the streets of Huaraz. This traditional festival began yesterday, and since I want you to experience it with us, I’m posting a story that I wrote for a newsletter several years ago. It might be an “old” story, but nothing has changed in the 15 years since I wrote this, and actually, probably not much has changed since the pre-Hispanic days when native Peruvians originally danced this dance. Scroll down for pictures and my account of the “Lord of May.”
The Lord of May
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
The haunting melody of wooden flutes rises up into the air. A steady, throbbing drumbeat seems to imitate the very pulse of the teeming crowd filling the plaza in front of the Lord of Solitude Catholic church. But this lord is definitely not experiencing solitude today!
In the center of the plaza, a group of Quechua men and boys imitate through Shacsha dance the history of their ancestors being conquered by the Spaniards. Another Shacsha group dances in the street, while a third troupe jostles for position on the cathedral steps, waiting their turn to enter the church and pay homage to the Lord of Solitude, who during these two weeks is known as the Lord of May.
I also jockey for position on the church steps, because I want to experience up-close the religious ritual that has taken place in this very spot for thousands of years. As the drumbeats pull me inside, I am unprepared for the sight that meets my eyes. In every corner of the church, people are lighting candles and placing flowers in front of ornate altars. Hundreds of people line the benches, watching with rapt attention as the dancers twirl and bow in front of the Lord of May. The soaring melody of the flutes draws my eyes upwards, where a beautiful face takes me by surprise. Jesus gazes down on the crowd from a huge canvas, the plea “Illuminate Us With Your Resurrection” carefully printed underneath. Suddenly the throbbing drumbeat and the heat of hundreds of bodies begins to suffocate me, and I imagine that I see tears in the gentle eyes of the painted Jesus. For he knows that the ritual taking place before him, in his very house, is not really for him.
The rhythm of the music and the movements of the dance were carefully orchestrated by these dancers’ ancestors to honor a puma god, and nothing has changed over the past two millennia except for the name of the god. I sense Jesus looking down from his painting on the crowd below with tears in his eyes, silently begging each us to allow the illuminating light of the resurrection to fill our souls. For these people as well as for each one of us, Jesus does not want to be just our “Lord of May.” He wants to be the Lord of our lives.
Originally written for a newsletter in May, 2004