Peruvian Independence Day: Google doodles, Bing homepage feature ancient boats to celebrate

¡Feliz Fiestas Patrias Peruanas! Happy celebration of Peru’s national holidays. Every July 28th, the South American nation commemorates Peruvian Independence Day, when José de San Martin liberated Peru from Spain. On the following day, July 29th, Peru honors its National Police and the Peruvian Armed Forces. On July 28, 2013, two major Internet search engines also made note of Peru’s holiday: Google honored the nation with one of its Google doodles, and the Bing homepage highlighted the ancient boats of Peru, called Totora reed fishing boats (or caballitos de totora, which literally translates to “little reed horses”).

The tradition of the reed boats is far older than Peru’s independence from Spain. The totora boats — and the similar totora islands in Lake Titicaca — have long been made by the Uros and Mochica Chimu peoples, who have been crafting them for an estimated 3000 years.

Peruvian Independence Day

© Patrick Brandenburg/Tandem Stock, used on Bing.com for Peru’s Independence Day

Caballitos de totora

One of the reasons the caballitos de totora are named after horses — which arrived with the Europeans long after these boats were commonly used in Peru — is because the fisherman doesn’t sit inside the boat. Instead, he sits astride it like a horse. The riders use a kayak style paddle to propel and direct the boat’s momentum.

The reeds used to create the boats are common along the Pacific Coast. Boat builders let the totora grow for a year so that it becomes the appropriate length and height, then harvest it, letting it dry for a three-week period before making their boats. The long reeds are bound together in conical sections, which are then combined to form the boat itself.

Because of the limitations of their materials, the boats become waterlogged quickly, and many fishermen will own more than one so that they can alternate between a dry and a drying craft.

Fishing or surfing

Peruvian fishermen drop lobster traps from their reed boat, and typically fish with nets. According to Andrew Kolasinski, writing for How to Peru in “Caballitos de totora: Traditional fishing in Peru,” “The catch from these nets includes many small fish, such as anchovies, sardines or pilchard, as well as occasional larger predators. I witnessed a pair of fishermen bring in an eight-foot hammerhead shark: a remarkable catch to land in a woven reed vessel.”

But it isn’t just fishermen who are interested in the caballitos de totora. Surfers have likened the boats to the original paddleboards or surfboards. The 2010 Red Bull surfing team was so intrigued by the idea of surfing on the caballitos that three champions traveled to Peru to learn how to surf on them. They shared their experience in a video on the Red Bull site, “Queens of the Caballitos.”

Fiestas Patrias Peruanas

Aside from celebrating on the water, how do other Peruvians celebrate their national holiday? An article from the Manila Bulletin,Republic of Peru’s Independence Day,” contained some of the official holiday celebrations:

  • A 21-gun salute and flag-raising ceremonies begin Independence Day at dawn on the 28th
  • Peru’s president gives an address; if he is newly elected, he takes his oath of office
  • The 29th features a military parade
  • Streets are decorated in patriotic colors

You may not have access to a reed boat, but you can indulge in Peruvian culture by sampling some ceviche, a traditional seafood dish in which the fish is “cooked” in acid rather than baked or fried; reading a novel by Peru’s Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa; or just chowing down on some french fries, as scientists have discovered that the potato is native to Peru.

Have you ever traveled to Peru? Tell us in the comments.

You can learn more about Peru and Seafaring Lifestyles on Questia.

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