Jorge Jimenez Sanchez strongly hammers the piece of metal at one end while his wife Marisol Hernandez Castro holds and pushes the small anvil at the other corner. After the last blow, he has the wooden circles revolved around this axis. The truck is finally finished once I adjust the wheels even though I also have to paint the word Cusco above the windshield and that’s it, says he. During Christmas days the living room of his house becomes his workshop. Here I can watch trucks, cars, trains, and airplanes made entirely out of hardwood. Mr Jimenez and his family is just one of the dozens of craftsmen who have attended the 2009 edition of the popular handicraft fair Santurantikuy held on the Qosqo´s main square every december 24th.
Mr Jimenez´s voice mingles with the hammering noise as he tells me his story. When I was a child I used to live between Santa Teresa and Quillabamba and I remember that by that time I liked to collect anything made of wood. By the way, Santa Teresa village is the brand-new point to enter Machu Picchu. Little by little I learned how to work the wood because my father was a carpenter and he shared his knowledge with me.
After moving to Qosqo city, Mr Jimenez achieved an accountant bachelor’s degree but at the same time I kept on working at my own mechanics workshop at the basement. One day I made a small wooden truck and I happened to sell it at Santurantikuy. That was 15 years ago and Mr Jimenez and his family has never failed to attend the fair.
Marisol Hernandez asks me whether I know Quechua. As I confide her that I would like to learn it, she begins speaking in her mother tongue. I honestly understand nothing. Mrs Hernandez was born in the Sacred Valley at Lamay town. She is breastfeeding her newborn while she helps her husband. We have to get up at 5am in order to straighten up our spot at the main square, but people often begin showing up around nine. If it does not rain, we might sell up to six large trucks at 120 nuevos soles each (less than US$40), remarks she.
Dalia, Mr Jimenez´s daughter, laughs as she recalls one year it rained in the very afternoon where there were more people around the square. We literally got soaking wet but we stayed over there and people came back after the rain stopped, fortunately.
Mr Jimenez recognizes that the star of Santurantikuy fair is the carving of sacred images such as Virgin Mary´s and Niño Manuelito´s. The most famous ceramists, who used to live at San Blas neighborhood, were Hilario Mendívil, Antonio Olave Palomino, and Santiago Rojas. Others less known but also important artists were Edilberto Mérida, Sabino Túpac, Luis Acosta, Nemesio Villasante and Maximiliana Palomino de Sierra. Their works of art are showcased at the Popular Art Museum.
In addition to San Blas´s craftsmanship, this year the fair also displayed the works of craftsmen from Qosqo´s provinces as well as Pucara, Puno and Ayacucho. It is said that there is a contest but the mere truth is that the museum takes advantage of this fair to acquire the most original handicrafts in order to increase its popular art collection.
Before the arrival of Spaniards in Inka´s land, andean people traded their produce at qhatus or fairs using the rantiy system or barter. From 1689 some religious orders pitched nativity scenes at churches in order to spread Catholic doctrine. Local people might want to mimic this custom at home, so craftsmen began selling paste figurines on the steps of the Cathedral. Eventually, this tradition faded until 1950 when due to an earthquake most Qosqo´s craftsmen were gathered to repair damaged catholic images. All in all, this fair was declared Peru´s Cultural Heritage in september this year.
Santurantikuy means the buying of saints, says Mr Jimenez. Without any doubt, the most venerated saint during Christmas is the Niño Manuelito or Jesus Christ. It is said that Qosqo´s peasants believe that the Apus or mountain gods appear among people as children. Mr Jimenez shares his own childish spirit with any kid who happens to climb his wooden truck.