Devil gets his due at Bolivia's raucous Carnival

Brazil's famous Carnival celebration may steal the world's attention, but an equally riveting spectacle in Bolivia this week melds indigenous and Christian traditions, and has the devil at the center of the action.

Bolivia's Carnival of Oruro is second only to that of Rio de Janeiro among the world's riotous celebrations in the days preceding Lent.

A kaleidoscope of song, dance, music, masks and textiles, the celebration is held each year among indigenous people of Oruro, a mining town of some 230,000 inhabitants nestled in the mountains of western Bolivia.

The procession falls on March 5 and 6, with some 30,000 singers and dancers taking part in a raucous parade that at its highpoint will stretch for some 10 kilometers (six miles).

Bracketing the parade is a communal celebration spanning several days of dancing, singing, drinking and bacchanal merry-making.

But the most distinctive feature of the Carnival celebration here may be its focus on the netherworld and its inhabitants.

Throughout the celebration, the ubiquitous grimacing image of the devil is found everywhere, most notably on the colorful, fearsome horned masks worn by thousands of Carnival participants.

And among some 17 elaborate and intricate dances, the highlight is the "diablada" - the dance of the devil - a mock battle between good and evil, between Satan and his attending demons versus the Christian Archangel Michael.

The devil, referred to euphemistically here as "El Tio" or the uncle, is a central figure marrying elements from the indigenous and Christian cultures - not just during the Carnival celebration, but in everyday life.

As with his counterpart in Christian theology, the devil in this Andean belief system lives in an underground realm.

But rather than being seen as a fallen angel to be shunned or feared, he is something akin to a patron saint of mine workers.

"When they enter the mines, workers venerate the devil - known here as the 'uncle' of the mine - to coax him to yield up more of the precious metals," Juan Aguirre, curator at Oruro's museum of anthropology, told AFP.

Aguirre said some miners even pray to him - known familiarly as the demon "Supay" in this Andean culture - asking that he keep them safe while they work underground.

So central is the devil to annual festivities that he has his own museum at Oruro, filled with masks, embroidery and art objects created in his honor.

Even the Virgin Mary has a netherworld incarnation here, where she is referred to as the "Virgin of the Grotto."

Richard Vega, 25, is a member of the Tinkus dance club, who works by day as an electrical engineer, but said he performs in his spare time for the Virgin of the Grotto, whom he credits with helping him complete his university studies a year ago.

"I am dancing out of devotion to "Mamita del Socavon" - the Virgin of the Grotto," he said, or "kjachamosa" as she is called in the Quechua language.

Spanish invaders who conquered this land in the 17th century forbade the native Uru Indians from practicing many of their indigenous rituals.

But native people stealthily continued to worship indigenous gods in the guise of saints venerated by the Spanish conquistadors.

To this day, Andean deities and Catholic saints remain interwoven in the unique folklore that is put on dramatic display here each year at Carnival.

So remarkable is the annual celebration that in 2001 the Carnival of Oruro was designated a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Oruro's central plaza has been taken over a few evenings each week by participants rehearsing ahead of this week's procession, jumping, twirling, shouting and singing as they rehearse for the carnival procession, expected to draw hundreds of thousands of tourists.

And generally no expense is spared, even though Oruro is one of the poorest towns in one of the world's poorest countries.

Participants say it is not unusual for people to pay 300, 400 dollars or more for their extravagant and colorful costumes - an extravagant sum in a country where the average per capita income is 1,300 dollars.

"We're talking between a thousand and twelve hundred dollars for one person
- sometimes even more - to take part," anthropologist Juan Carlos Anez told AFP.

"That's a lot of cash for a country in the middle of an economic crisis,"
he said.

jac-bur/sg/jkb

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor