CATACAOS- THE CRAFTS CAPITAL OF
THE GRAU REGION
The district of Catacaos is located on Peru's north coast in the Province of Piura at 25 meters above sea level, in the Grau region, and only 12 km from the regional capital and 1h 15' by commercial flight from Lima: it is famed for its crafts, gastronomy and its chicha de jora (locally made spirits); the town, with over 54,000 inhabitants, has a predominantly farming and crafts economy, since it is surrounded by one of the most fertile valleys in the Grau region, whose cotton textiles are prized in the country and abroad for their fine texture and long fibers. This town built its economy on its industry and railroad, on locust-wood furniture and fine straw hats, and on its gold and silver filigree work.
Etymologically, the word Catacaos derives from the Moche "CATAC" (grain) and "CAOS" (exuberant): this area was populated by the Tallan, who probably hailed from Central America (Mayas or Aztecs), who after settling the area under their leaders Mecnau and later Nariwalac, organized to form the Tallan nation (originally Tacllan after the used of the taclla, a farming tool). Their god was Walac, in whose honor they built an enormous sanctuary that is at present in the process of restoration (Templo Narihuala). Some time later, they were invaded by the Mochica and the Chimu. During colonial times, Catacaos was an "Encomienda de Indios" (Indian slave settlement), receiving the name of "San Juan de Catacaos". During the struggle for Peruvian independence, many contingents of soldiers were recruited here for the liberation army.
To get to this community, one must leave Piura for Catacaos by regular bus, and after a 15-minute ride through grassy plains, you will arrive at the town, where you will find restaurants serving typical local food that is very well-prepared and tasty; as a matter of fact, Catacaos is famous for the quality of its food and its picanterias (local restaurants) that are frequented both by the locals and all seasoned travelers to these beautiful and sunny lands. Among its most famous dishes are: "cebiche", raw fish marinated in bitter lemon, onions and salt - the fish can be mero, cabrilla or cachema , accompanied by a good "trama" (this can be camote, yuca or zarandaja), "Malarrabia" (a dish based on steamed and boiled banana accompanied by cheese and olives), "Seco de Chabelo", this being cooked, mashed bananas with pemmican (jerky) and dressing, and obviously, the famous "Chicha de Jora", a spirit fermented from a variety of frijole bean, and prepared with age-old recipes, including sealing the jora in clay pots after boiling it, then burying them in the warm sands of Catacos for the required fermentation time. It is drunk in pitchers, locally called "potos" or "cojuditos". The picanterias usually have a white flag in their doorway. When the flag is at half-mast it means that the chicha is still fermenting, and when it is at full mast, the spirit is at its strongest.
The crafts made in this town are both locally and internationally recognized as being of prime quality, to the point that it was officially recognized as the best made in the country by Law 25132, in 1989. Its craftsmen have an uncanny knack for making fine jewelry in gold and silver filigree (fine threads of the metal), with which they decorate necklaces, wedding bands and any other metal article one requests; another noted craft is woven toquilla straw, famous for its quality and refinement; their hardwood crafts (hualtaco), are also amazingly beautiful and of perfect and flawless design: all of this local talent is on display on "Comercio" street, the historical and beautiful main street of the town, whose two-century life has seen the comings and goings of thousands of artisan-merchants. Here we will find marvels in silver and gold, and even in humble straw, wood, leather and clay, the work of born craftsmen whose age-old skills are eagerly sought by hundreds of local and foreign tourists who come to these sunny lands. Their art is also found in the outskirts of the town - five minutes out of Catacaos lies the village of Simbila, land of potters famed for their pitchers, pots and vases, who make their delicate and varied ware in full view of the tourists, using only two paddles, a jug of water, a stone from the river, a piece of cloth and a sealing product, sitting or kneeling on the ground.
This Region possesses archaeological sites such as the fortress and sanctuary of Narihula, located 3 km from Catacaos at "Cerro de Narihuala"; its buildings form 4 groupings of adobe and clay platforms. The total area is 6 hectares. Currently restoration work is being done at this site, which is considered to be the capital of Tallan culture; this complex is one of the most important architectural remains left by these people.
San Juan Bautista church, is an interesting place to visit. It is built over the site of the Tacllan Council House of the Curacas and Capullanas. This temple was the third built; the first one, built in 1547, was destroyed by the 1912 earthquake; its successor, built as from 1915, was destroyed in 1983 by flooding from "El Niņo"; today's temple, whose construction began in 1995, has been called a replica of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, due to its beauty and the similarity of the frescoes, painted by the local craftsmen.
An important attraction in Catacaos is the "Holy Week Pantomime"; This starts on Easter (Palm) Sunday with the procession, led by a rider on a little white donkey known affectionately in the area as the "Little Palm Sunday Donkey"; from Monday through Wednesday the processions continue, carrying images of Jesus and the saints; on Thursday and Friday solemnity reigns and the only food allowed are the "Seven Dishes of Porridge" offered by the villagers to all the inhabitants and visitors alike. Finally on Holy Saturday and Sunday religious services and great celebrations are held. Every year on Holy Week the town receives a great number of local and international visitors, and the processions take place along the main streets of the town with great solemnity, led by bands of musicians and presided over by the local authorities.
The town does not have a large hotel infrastructure, but as the city of Piura is only 15 minutes away, this is no obstacle for visitors who wish to attend this event.