Last updated: Tuesday August 21st 2018
An annual celebration combining Catholic ideals and Pagan expression, the streets are filled with people in costume, dancers and street performers, beautiful handmade crafts, and traditional icons during the Carnival Festival. Carnival is celebrated in many different places around the world, but Bolivia does it best. This celebration is world renown, and is Bolivia’s number one tourist attraction bringing in more than 400,000 people annually. Held during the days before lent, the typically quiet town of Oruro becomes the number one party in Bolivia.
Carnival was born in an effort by the Spanish to convert the native people from their original religious beliefs to Catholicism. The natives began disguising their traditional celebrations and rituals under the pretense of Catholic purpose, and celebrated in conjunction with Christian holidays. Gradually, the Andean rituals became Catholic celebrations, and the festival to honor the Ito became Carnival.
Through the forms of music, dance, and costume, the story of how the Spaniards conquered the Aymara and Quechua people of Bolivia is told. Carnival is also a celebration of the triumph of good versus evil, and the struggle of Archangel San Miguel against the Devil and the seven deadly sins. Unique to Oruro, Carnival is held in honor of Virgen de la Candelaria. It is told that the Virgin performed a miracle by bringing a fatally injured thief home before his death, and when the body was found an image of the Virgin was hanging above his head.
The main icon of Carnival is El Tio. El Tio is a malevolent character who oversees the mines, and during carnival becomes the Devil. In hopes that he will not become angry at the miners for taking the precious metals, they dance and leave offerings of beer, cigarettes, and cocoa. One dance in particular called La Diablada, has been performed sine 1904. Because the native people were told that El Tio was the Devil, they began to fear he would become jealous at the devotion of Carnival to the Virgen de la Candelaria. This dance was created to honor the deity. Dancers, called diablos, wear heavy metal costumes with horned masks and velvet capes.
The parade that takes place during Carnival lasts for three days and nights and features dancers from 50 folk groups, 150 bands, and 10,000 musicians. Leading the parade is Archangel San Miguel fitted with a sword and shield. He is followed by other iconic devils and symbols of the Uru mythology. The chief devil Lucifer wears the most elaborate costume, and dances with the devil women who attempt to seduce San Miguel. The seven deadly sins are also represented in the dance troop. The parade finishes at Oruro’s football stadium where two plays are then performed. The first play is about the Spanish conquest, and the second is about San Miguel’s battle with good and evil.
The festivities finish on the Monday after Ash Wednesday in the form of a massive water balloon fight. The end of Carnival begins the season of Lent.