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Dancing for the Christ Child, Peruvians continue to celebrate Christmas

Hatajo de Negritos


John Burger - published on 12/30/19

Hatajo de Negritos and Hatajo de Pallitas were recognized as a cultural treasure by UNESCO.

Okay, Christmas is over, right?

Not if you ask folks on Peru’s south-central coastline. There, people are still carrying out a centuries-old tradition that was recently recognized by the United Nations’ cultural office as a treasure of “intangible cultural heritage.”

The traditions are dances called Hatajo de Negritos and Hatajo de Pallitas. Hailing from the central department of Ica in Peru, the music and dance depict the visit of shepherds to the newborn baby Jesus and the arrival of the Wise Men.

“Both expressions combine pre-Hispanic Andean values with European Catholicism and rhythmical inheritance of African descendants arriving in the Americas in colonial times,” said UNESCO. “This complexity has allowed both expressions to become representations of the mestizo and Afro-descendant identity of the region.”

The dance of the negritos is mostly performed by men to the tune of a long fiddle, along with singing, shoe-tapping dance and bells. The dance of pallitas is performed by women to the sound of the guitar or fiddle, accompanied by a zapateo and singing. Both dances are performed by groups of up to 50 people in town squares and churches in December and January, as well as in family homes. Groups of performers also visit homes where residents have arranged Nativity scenes and offer the dancers food and drink.

Both dances are taught to the younger generation from early childhood, with elders encouraging children to learn a large variety of Christmas carols, zapateo rhythms and dance sequences as a sign of devotion.

This video gives a good taste of these age-old traditions.

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