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Carnaval Around the World

© Tunnel of Arches,
Oruru, Bolivia 1997
Photograph by Barbara Mauldin

Oruro is a mining town in the stark altiplano region of Bolivia, 12,144 feet above sea level. It was founded in 1606 by Spaniards as a base for exploiting rich mineral deposits in the surrounding hills. Aymara and Quechua people of this area were already working the local mines and became laborers for the Europeans. Spanish priests introduced Christianity, encouraging Indians to perform their traditional dances and songs for the Catholic saints' feast day observances. By the mid-18th century carnaval became an annual event in Oruro. As Indian laborers joined the celebration, city officials made efforts to control rowdiness by naming the Virgin Mary patron saint of the festival.

After Bolivia gained its independence from Spain in 1825, upper class citizens of Oruro largely ignored the indigenous population and each group had its own Carnival celebration. In the 1940s, with the rise of a socialist movement in Bolivia, members of the upper class came to view the Indian lifestyle and culture as the model for an idealized society. The Indians' processional dance dramas and masquerades were now seen as national folkloric pageants. Upper and middle class citizens began to form their own dance groups modeled after those of the Indians and the two separate Carnival celebrations in Oruro were combined into one. Today the costumes and performance themes of the various groups reflect diverse aspects of the cultural history of the region, making Oruro's Carnival one of the most impressive festivals in all of Bolivia.

© Diabladas,
Oruru, Bolivia 1997
Photograph by Barbara Mauldin

A number of Oruro's dance troupes are known as diabladas or devils. The origin for this type of masquerade dates back to 1790, the year after the Virgin of the Mineshaft was named the patron of Oruro's Carnival celebration. The Indian miners feared that their deity of the underworld, Supay, would be jealous of the attention being paid to the Virgin so they decided to honor him during the festivities as well. Since Catholic priests had told them that Supay was the devil, the miners joined the Carnival procession dressed as diablos.

© Morenadas,
Oruru, Bolivia 2003
Photograph by Robert Jerome

The processional dance drama known as the morenada, began in 1913. It commemorates the sacrifice of enslaved Africans who worked alongside Indian laborers in the Bolivian mines and later on lowland plantations. Different characters appear in the groups including black slaves, slave drivers, and Spaniards, each with their distinctive mask and costume. As seen here, the masks of the black slaves are fashioned with accentuated African features. Dancers do a lugubrious sideways step, said to imitate the men dragging chains bound to their legs.

© Caporales Dancers,
Oruru, Bolivia 1998
Photograph by Cynthia Le Count Samaké

Caporales take their name from the corporals or foremen who brutally oversaw the gangs of African and Indian laborers during the colonial period. The aggressive, highly choreographed performance of the male and female dancers reinforces this role, using music derived from Afro-Bolivian percussion rhythms. The beat is accentuated by strings of bells worn on the men's legs, a practice also borrowed from Afro-Bolivian traditions.

Pujllay, a Quechua word for play, is the name of a large festival that takes place in mid-March in the Indian community of Tarabuco, located near Sucre in the southern part of Bolivia. The beautiful festival clothing and traditional dances associated with the pujllay festival have been adopted by some of the Oruro Carnival groups who create an impressive sight as they move down the procession route. A few performers also play four-foot long wooden flutes.

© Pujllay Dance Group,
Oruru, Bolivia 1997
Photograph by Barbara Mauldin

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