Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mystery Fiesta in Sunset Park, Brooklyn

posted by baad lamb

Dear knowledgeable readers and QNY writing team: We need some information help in here!
After a Sunday morning excursion exploring the eerily quiet industrial park behemoth that is the Bush Terminal, I left the Southwest Brooklyn waterfront behind and headed east, up the hill to the blue collar neighborhood of Sunset Park and its namesake greenspace. At the crest of the hill on 57th Street, I turned left on 6th Ave and walked for about 10 minutes before entering into the middle of the the Park. Moments later I luckily stumbled upon this Mystery Festival.      (More pics and video after the jump.)

From the top of the second-highest hill in Brooklyn, none of this mini-fiesta was visible, but I could hear some music. All around were families picnicking, flavored ice vendors pushing carts and ringing bells, and young kids kicking soccer balls or just running around in purposely pointless Sunday afternoon circles. I paused to take in the amazing views; the immediate one right here in the park and the more distant panorama, stretching from Upper East Side luxury high-rises to the undulating hills of Staten Island. But why was I hearing the sound of  intermittent single firecrackers? Too early for even pre-Fourth of July revelry, I was intrigued, and followed the sound down the hill.
Well they weren't firecrackers at all, but the sound of long rope whips thwacking against protective leather calf guards; these "half-chaps" were only part of the elaborate and colorfully creative costumes worn by participants in this bizarre "ancient-dance-of-our-peoples" ritual and celebration.
I do not know the origin of the costumes and the dances, nor the meaning behind the pre-dancing whipping that the dancers participated in, each pair alternating between being whipper and whippee. Preliminary (google) research has lead to a few possibilities: The Festival of the Crosses as observed in parts of Central & South America, particularly Peru, or possibly a different name for the same festival: Señor de Choquekillka. The scant information I can find is in vague references to similar rituals, or some historical descriptions of indigenous "games", some stating that the whipping is done on bare calves and meant to be endured till blood is drawn. 
Completely mesmerized by the action, I never managed to video the whipping part, but here is some of the joyous dancing and music that went on for a very long time once the whips were put away.
If anyone can educate us on the meanings behind the costumes, the specific dance steps, the odd combination of women's and men's traditional garments, and the whipping ritual, it would be appreciated.

No comments:

Post a Comment