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Reed Rafts
Mateo Valderrama Piminchumo pulls his <em>caballito de totora</em> onto shore. He is one of many who now also use the rafts for surfing.
Mateo Valderrama Piminchumo pulls his caballito de totora onto shore. He is one of many who now also use the rafts for surfing.
Photo by Cristina Díaz-Carrera, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

In Huanchaco on the northern coast, local fishermen are renowned for building caballitos de totora (reed rafts), a tradition that goes back five thousand years. Archeological vessels found in the region depict fishermen riding the raft like a horse (caballito) and paddling with a kayak-style double-bladed oar made of bamboo. Today, following the steps of their ancestors, Huanchaco fishermen continue to tie totora reeds to ride the sea.

Traditional fishing in Huanchaco is a demanding way of life, involving the whole family. From an early age, children learn how to fish, plant and harvest totora, build caballitos, and make reed homes, shelters, mats, baskets, and crafts. Many fishermen supplement their income by teaching tourists to use the rafts as surfboards. However, due to rapid urbanization, seaside totora pastures are increasingly at risk. The fishermen’s role in sustainable reed cultivation and use is vital to the local environment and economy.

Traditional Fishing

In Huanchaco, men fish with handmade nets and huaraqueos, or hand lines. The women collect shellfish and algae on the beaches and prepare the fish for sale at market. In their spare time, families make miniature caballitos (horses) and other souvenirs using totora reeds. They also carve dishware and ornaments out of gourds.

Huanchaco Fiestas

Huanchaco celebrates the feast of Saint Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, in June and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in December. Families prepare traditional regional dishes, including a variety of shellfish specialties and the famous northern coast ceviche with corn and sweet potato. They also prepare stingray jerky—in fact, “jerky” comes from the Quechua word for “dried flesh,” charqui.

Crisscrossed with paths connecting communities across geography and history, Peru boasts a stunning vertical landscape that integrates a diversity of ecosystems and cultures. Peru is one of the world’s most biodiverse nations, containing ninety microclimates across extreme variances of altitude. The coastal, rain-forested, and mountainous environments provide abundant resources, including major exports such as fish, copper, and asparagus. Many culturally and historically significant areas are popular tourist destinations that encompass complex layered histories.

The uniqueness of Peru’s diversity lies in the connectedness of its landscape in the form of rivers, roads, and pathways that existed long before the Inka Empire (fifteenth–sixteenth centuries) and Spanish colonization (sixteenth–nineteenth centuries). Across its different altitudes and climates, communities exchange commodities and practices, shaping deeply rooted but constantly changing daily customs and celebrations. The influx and movement of people between and beyond borders also influence and transform these exchanges.

The 2015 Peru program featured projects, organizations, and groups whose cultural expressions highlight these social, cultural, and economic exchanges. It demonstrated how the networks of celebration and community, crops and markets, textile and craft production, foodways and technology, and music and dance forge the diverse cultural heritage of the country.

Visitors to the Peru Festival program could experience these unique connections through cooking and craft demonstrations, music and dance performances, moderated discussions, ritual and celebratory processions, and other participatory activities. In addition, there was a robust involvement with Peruvian American and diaspora communities. The public had the opportunity to learn, to eat, to dance, to shop, to witness these vibrantly connected cultures, and to create their own connections with Peruvian artists and specialists on the National Mall and beyond.

Olivia Cadaval and Cristina Díaz-Carrera were Curators for the Smithsonian; Rafael Varón Gabai was Curator and Consultant to MINCETUR. Valentina Pilonieta-Vera was Program Coordinator; Alexia Fawcett was Community Engagement Manager, and Betty Belanus was Family Activities Curator. A Curatorial Advisory Committee included: Madeleine Burns, Marjorie Hunt, Mary Linn, Luis Guillermo Lumbreras, Giancarlo Marcone, Soledad Mujica, Diana N’Diaye, Luis Repetto, Marcela Ríos, Daniel Sheehy, Jorge Ortiz Sotelo, Milagritos Saldarriaga, Francisco Tumi, and Madeleine Zúñiga. A Community Advisory Group included: Catherine Cabel Chicas, Nelly Carrión, Billy Castillo, Kristy Chavez-Fernandez, Fabiana Chiu- Rinaldi, María del Carmen Cossu, Miguel García, Elmer Huerta, Vicky Leyva, Doris Loayza, Ana Noriega, Elena Tscherny, and Ricardo Villanueva.

The program was co-presented and co-sponsored by the Republic of Peru Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (MINCETUR). Additional support was provided by the staff of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, directed by Kevin Gover (Pawnee), coordinated by Amy Van Allen; Washington Dulles international Airport and the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. The program received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center. Special media support is provided by Telemundo Washington DC,, Latin Opinion Baltimore Newspaper, Orange Barrel Media, WAMU 88.5, El Tiempo Latino, Washington Hispanic, Washington Blade, El Tiempo Hìspano (MD-DE-PA), CTM Media Group, El Zol 107.9, Digital Conventions, and Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Support for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage's welcoming ceremony was provided, in part, by Avocados From Peru and Pisco Portón (in-kind).

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