The Typical Peruvian Christmas markets and “El Niño Manuelito” or “the child Jesus Manuelito”
As you walk around in the streets of Cusco the days before Christmas visiting the typical Christmas markets, you will notice something that characterizes all Peruvian Christmas handicrafts: you will see many stands with the images of a baby, or a young boy, mostly with tears in his eyes and a sad expression, called “Manuelitos“. And it’s more, there are also stands that ‘repair’ “niños Manuelitos” and others, where you can buy different clothes for him!
According to the seventeenth-century chronicles, the Spanish priests taught the Indian people of the Peruvian highlands that the prophet Isaiah announced that a virgin would give birth to a child named Emmanuel (God with us). Throughout the years the phonetic degeneration was responsible for the transformation from Emmanuel to Manuel, a name which prevails until the present days.
The Peruvian sculptor Antonio Olave Palomino is one of the most famous cusquenian artisans of the 20th and 21th century and he is actually the creator of “the Manuelito Child” or the “Thorn Child“. Manuelito became his most outstanding work.
The sculptor tells that the inspiration of the Manuelito Child came to him in 1975, after he’d heard the following story in the highlands of Vilcabamba.
Q’alito was a shepherd boy who liked to play with other shepherds. One day one of those kids burst into tears because a thorn had been embedded in his foot. Q’alito, on seeing the child crying, put a thorn in his own foot and told the other child: Don’t cry, I also have a thorn! “
This story moved to the sculptor in such manner that it became his inspiration for the creation of ” El Niño Manuelito “, an image that adorns the vast majority of the “nacimientos” (nativities) in Peru, both in the people’s homes as in the churches.
El niño Manuelito has red cheeks, white or copper-skinned, glass eyes, teeth made with the base of the condor feathers, natural curly hair, mirrors on the palate and some of them finely crafted crystal tears. The artisans imagine him in different ways: tired, thoughtful, smiling, with sly and suggestive look, with open arms, crawling, etc. They use wood, maguey, plaster, sticker cloth and techniques past from generations to generations.
The cost of a “niño Manuelito” in the workshop of the sculptor Antonio Olave (where the whole family works) fluctuates between 600 and 35,000 soles ($ 222 – $ 13,000). Fortunately there are much cheaper ‘niños’, at the local Christmas markets in Cusco in case you want to buy a ‘niño’, and take it home as a souvenir.