OTARI NATIVO, Peru (AP) — Gathered in the middle of the Amazon forest, the participants in the beauty contest wear the simple brown dresses of the Ashaninka indigenous woman, their faces dotted in a traditional design with a red dye extracted from a spice called achiote.
“The little red dots are my happiness,” said Beysi Anaya, a 17-year-old who won last month’s competition after traveling three hours by car from her native valley community of Sampantuari. She was crowned with a small straw hat featuring a long red feather.
It was the fifth beauty contest held among annual festivities marking the founding of the Ashaninka community of Otari Nativo, which is in a valley near the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro rivers in the world’s largest coca-growing region. The Ashaninka people number in the tens of thousands and live mostly in the rainforests of Peru.
In addition to the standard Ashaninka dress, the contestants also showed off a shorter, midriff-baring summer version that can be used for swimming. Multiple strands of colored beads crisscrossed their chest like bandoliers.
Other activities included an archery competition for men and women as well as a contest for drinking the fermented juice of the cassava root. The community’s men smoked large amounts of meat for festival-goers to eat.
For Ashaninka men, a woman’s beauty is determined in part by her hair — the longer, the better — and whether she can cook a tasty cassava dish, said community member and translator Marishori Samaniego.
A sense of humor is also important in determining attractiveness, said psychologist Leslie Villapolo, who has worked with the Ashaninka.
Participants were each asked two varying questions about local geography and politics, such as to identify nearby rivers or to name Peru’s president, who is Ollanta Humala.
During the latest competition in late June, a few young men smiled and used their cellphones to take pictures of the contestants. Community members — some in Western clothing and others in native dress — danced to music from a local band.
Anaya was pleased with her win, but said she wants to study agronomy to help improve the cacao, coffee and achiote crops grown by her community.
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