5 facts about the Wititi dance, a traditional dance from Arequipa

In the Colca Valley, there is a wide variety of attractions and traditions. One of the most colorful and recognized is the dance called Wititi. This Arequipa dance is quite particular, beginning with the masculine costumes that are very similar to the feminine ones. In addition, this dance was practiced since, long before the Incas. An important fact is that since December 2, 2015 it is considered as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco.

Danza Wititi
Wititi Dance – Arequipa

This dance is practiced mainly in the province of Caylloma, although it is currently widely danced in other districts and provinces of Arequipa. The dance represents joviality and romance between couples. Traditionally it was danced during the carnival season when emotions take over reason and falling in love occurs between young people between multicolored dances and fierce songs. Let’s find out five interesting facts about this dance.

1. The origin of the Wititi dance

Some studies place the origin of this dance in the district of Tapay, descendants of the ancient town of Ccaccatapay. This ancient tribe started these dances in the form of rituals and ceremonies related to fertility. It comes from a local voice, the word “Wititi”, would mean romantic dance referring to courtship and mating that leads to love.

This dance was danced in the Colca Valley during food production or when the crops and fruits were ready to be harvested. It is narrated that this dance was adapting and changing as it was inserted in more populations or other ethnic groups arrived in the valley areas. For example, when the Quechuas arrived in these lands, they mention some traditions, that they understood the term “witir” as “making love”. For many, this connotation has nothing to do with the Wititi dance, because the dance also has a warlike allusion between two neighboring towns.

An interesting story, regarding the origin of the dance, is the one whose protagonist is the Inca Mayta Cápac (Fourth ruler of Tawantinsuyo), which is somewhat related to what we have just finished to mention. It is said that when this Inca married the daughter of the curaca of the Ccaccatapay. In the ceremony, in order to celebrate and favor the acceptance of the union, they danced this dance to celebrate and exalt the love between the new couple. However, as we mentioned, some refer to it as an entirely warlike dance. It is narrated that the inhabitants of this district to avoid being attacked or when a war broke out, seeing that their lives were in danger, decided to dress in women’s clothes with the intention of avoiding death. Something that would take away the splendor of this beautiful dance.

After the conquest and during the colonial period, attempts were made to censor the Wititi dance. This attempt prevailed until the republic. During this censorship process, the origins of this dance increased. One of these refers to the fact that this dance had its origins during the Inca expansion. It is narrated that a group of soldiers approached the territory of the Collawas, dressed in women’s costumes from this place, with the intention of making them fall in love. This oral tradition would show the historical encounter between the first peoples of Arequipa and the Incas. At the same time, it would refer to the marriage between Mayta Cápac and the princess, as we mentioned above.

With the passing of the years and avoiding the censorship or prohibitions that were attempted. She began to dance on religious festivities and more vigorously at carnivals. During these performances they chose to represent some factions or factions that existed within the Inca government. The main parties are the Hurin and Hanan, both groups compete to conquer or dominate the central square with their dances and choreographies. At the same time, during the choreographies, the men are represented as Inca soldiers and the women represent the court of the princess and future wife of Mayta Cápac, Mama Yacchi.

2. The importance of the costumes in women

Wititi Dance
Couple dancing Wititi – Arequipa

The typical costumes of Caylloma are the most used in the entire Colca Valley. These suits are artistic representations, their embroidery covers almost the entire suit. The skirt and the vest have different embroideries and embellishments in bright colors with symmetrical patterns. All these decorations have a style and technique very similar to the Andean Baroque, in their representations the flora and fauna of the area are shown.

In some contests on the elaboration of typical costumes, the Wititi costume has managed to receive great recognition as the “Most Luxurious Typical Costume in the World”, for the quality of its embroidery and making accessories. Some garments can have up to fifty different figurative designs, all of them attached in a complex way in the main bands. To cover spaces without embroidery, they use decorative figures in a simple style with bright threads.

Some representations found in embroidery are local plants. However, in some cases, some plants from other places are prioritized that obviously do not clash with the rest of the work. In some cases, fauna or symbolic representations of other places are also used, which are often the inspiration of the most experienced artisans. There are also national motifs such as the Peruvian flag or the shield of the nation. Something that has been maintained since the first costumes are the representations of natural landscapes that can be seen in the places of this valley. You can also appreciate embroidery that represents the Andean worldview as stars on dark backgrounds with the presence of the moon and the sun.

The artisans of these folk costumes are quite capable. You can make some shapes only by viewing the rendering once or you can stitch other renderings without a pattern. In some cases, the artisans have some quarrels because they coincide in the embroideries and figures they design. However, it is normal for these similarities to occur, this occurs due to the same technique they use for their work, since minor coincidences will show a great similarity.

As we already mentioned, this dance consists of a couple dance. Both couples use a similar suit, but differing in some aspects. Something that also characterizes them, this dance is the skirt in men and women, and the dance that pretends to be a dance for only women. Let’s get to know a little more about these suits that are quite striking.

3. The importance of the costumes in men

  • The women’s costume begins with a hat that can be made of straw with a white finish or it can be a fine corduroy hat. The different hats help to differentiate the district of origin of the dancers. The first hat refers to the snowy Collawata of the Cabanas district, this hat has thread decorations of some flowers or animals typical of the area; In some cases they decorate it with rosones, when a single woman wore two and a married woman only wore one.
  • On the other hand, the corduroy hat represents the ladies of Tapay. These hats have fine finishes with inlaid thread; It is normal to find an embroidery with the eight-pointed star at the top, typical of the Wari culture.
  • As for the blouses, they are long-sleeved and white, with some minimal embroideries, but with exquisite, rather bright threads. They present some more elaborate figures in the chest area and sleeves.
  • Above the blouse is a bra, a little jacket that stylizes the female body. It features lots of bright, colorful thread embroideries. And over this garment they wear a doublet, this doublet is nothing more than a sack. This garment is one of the most elaborate, it has embroidery in almost 80 percent of its composition, only the sleeves do not have details, but they have different colors. The embroideries are centered on the cuffs of the sleeves and the chest and back of the jacket.
  • Skirts are the main garment of the costume. In the beginning, the skirts were made of wool from local auquénidos, they were black and less light than the current ones. Something that always characterized these garments was their embroidery. The embroideries were formerly less worked than today. Now the skirts have different embroideries that cover a large part of them. In it, different symbolic figures that the dancer wishes are expressed.
  • Finally, they carry a tijma or bag, these garments are located in the front to carry the sweets or some gifts that the dancers give as a brotherhood to the public.
  • Ladies adorn their braids with “pitunas” which are thin ribbons with a beautiful finish. These ribbons hold the braids and also the skirts, they are woven by hand and have different aesthetic finishes.

4. The representation of embroidery in traditional costumes.

  • The male dancer wears a montera. In a first instance they were made of pressed straw, this in order to make them resistant and withstand blows. During some conflicts, fruits were used as projectiles.
  • When two men entered into a dispute over a woman, these projectiles were sent by a huaraca or sling that they still wear among their garments when they dance.
  • These monteras are decorated with very colorful and angoña fringes, these ornaments are not free, they help to cover the man’s face. The bangs hide the eye area, while the angoña that doubles as a bra covers the face from nose to chin.
  • Farther down the chest, they wear two llicllas crossed from the shoulder to the waist on both sides. They have beautiful finishes and in many cases deep colors such as black and brown.
  • At first these llicllas had decorations and embroidery that showed the representation of the dance and what happened in it. They carry two llicllas so that the projectiles are not scarce during the fights to huaracazo.
  • The slings or huaracas are worn crossed between the shoulders and the waist. These weapons were used in case of confrontation or contention in case an opponent appears for the conquest of women. The chumpe or girdle, this garment is used to support the llicllas and the load that is in them.
  • The polish is a garment of military influence. They do not have a traditional use. These garments were awarded during compulsory military service, so men returned wearing these garments to the festivities. It is used to further protect the fruits that are carried. Wraps the chest area over the llicllas.
  • The skirts have many similarities with those used by women, perhaps the only difference is their size. However, in the case of men, the tijma brings gifts and sweets to achieve their conquests. According to some, the skirts were used to protect the intimate parts during the confrontations. These skirts were normally lent by the sister or the same couple, all this in order to achieve the sexual act.

5. The Wititi dance and its persistence in Arequipa’s tradition.

Although throughout history there have been attempts to censor Wititi, it managed to position itself as a cultural reference in a multicultural region such as Arequipa. This dance that was born many years ago persisted due to the particularity of its steps and the story it tells. In addition, since its inception it had a strong relationship with the courtship process, a human action that will always be present in the imagination of any culture.

We must also emphasize that dance and costume are considered cultural heritage. The making of these beautiful costumes is due to a long tradition where the particularities and details of the embroidery were transmitted from grandparents to grandchildren in some cases. Another important aspect that stands out in the textiles of these clothes is that they show the figures of the fauna and flora of the place. This with the intention not only to embellish their costumes but also to show the biodiversity that the Colca Valley contains.

The conservation of this dance and the same costume is considered for the province of Caylloma as an axis of identity. For many of the residents, the technique of making the costumes is considered an invaluable treasure, the same with the music they represent and dance with pride in the festivities. The original music was based on instruments such as quenas and bass drums.

This typical dance is used by cultural associations or folkloric groups, many times, to participate in dance events or festivals both nationally and internationally. For many experts, expressing something as intimate as the desire that couples feel, interpreted in music and dance, is to show an entirely human side, this being the main source of its importance.


By Machupicchu Terra – Last updated, August 28, 2023

More guides that can help you

Details of the famous Arequipa passport

The Arequipa passport is currently a rather controversial souvenir. For some detractors, it is a sign of antipathy, causes disunity and puts up certain barriers in a country that should be more united. However, for others it is a document that enhances the pride of being from Arequipa and how special it is to be born at the foot of a volcano. Based on these positions and the different historical events that cultivated the figure of an independent region, we believe that it is important to know the events that marked this city so that it currently holds this peculiar satirical souvenir.

Details of the famous Arequipa passport

What to do for free in Arequipa?

Arequipa is one of the most touristic cities in Peru. The historic center of the city is home to some of the most visited tourist attractions. Many of them are free for all the public. To get to know them, you only need to walk and enjoy their history, architecture and enchanting landscapes. Learn about some of the free destinations of the ‘white city’, its location, history and more.

What to do for free in Arequipa?