Overshadowed by the more well-known Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the town of Oruro, Bolivia hosts its own lively event each February. Over 100,000 people come each year for the festivities. Carnaval in Bolivia is an annual “communal celebration of life” which happens right before the Catholic season of Lent. This time also happens to line up with the seasonal celebration of the awakening of new life; when Bolivia’s altiplano turns from brown to green. The celebration itself is a wonderful time of dancing, drinking, feasting, parading, and is “a chance for the poor to be rich…”
The town of Oruro was founded in 1606 for mining silver. When the silver supply was depleted in the 17th century, mining ceased. Miners returned to mine tin, lead, and copper in the 19th century. The Carnaval celebration was supposedly started by the miners in 1789 in order to pay homage to the Virgin of Candlemas (Candelaria), compatible with the image of the Virgin of the Mineshaft.
The mythology states that a petty thief namedChiru-Chiru prayed to the Virgin for protection every night. He normally acted as a Robin Hood of sorts, robbing from the rich, but one night he tried to rob a very poor family of their only possessions. The Virgin tried to tell him not to, but he didn’t listen so she removed her protection from him. The poor man he robbed wounded Chiru-Chiru and the Virgin discovered him, took pity on him, and cared for him. He repented on his deathbed and was grateful. The townspeople noticed that Chiru-Chiru was missing and found him in his bed with a life-sized image of the Virgin on the wall above his head. The people buried the thief honorably and they honored the Virgin as their protector. The miners decided to celebrate the Virgin every year for Carnaval but they vowed to dress as Devils since they did not want the Devil to be jealous.
Supay is an indigenous figure, the spirit or god who lives in the depths of the earth. When the miners began to work, they disrupted his realm. He has control of the mineral resources and his attitude depends on the offerings he’s given. Thus, there are shrines of him in all the mines and he is honored during Carnaval through the costumes. Conveniently, Westerners associated this underground figure with the Christian Devil. Though they are associated, they retain their separate mythical identities to Bolivians. This is a syncretic belief system, one that balances the indigenous beliefs of spirits and mother earth, and the modern Catholic ones of a singular God and patron saints. Though the dances and other activities have merged the two, the believers consciously keep their loyalties separate, thought they believe in both.
Today there is a large parade that spans 35 blocks down the Avenida Folklore. Dance troops prepare all year in order to honor the Virgin though they dress as Supay. They perform a dance called theDiablada, which they dance for fun, devotion, and ostentatiousness. Marching bands beat their drums and blow their horns all the way down the parade route. Floats with religious statues (the Virgin and other saints) are venerated. There are bleacher seats set up for spectators and the event occurs rain or shine. On Saturday morning the opening ceremony takes place (known as the entrada). Important figures such as priests, educators, officials, and the president lead the parade to La Iglesia del Socavón (The Church of the Mineshaft).The priests thank each dance group individually for their sacrifice to the virgin. Why is it a sacrifice? This is a very long parade and each dancer dedicates themselves to it for three years in a row. The last dance group doesn’t even reach the church until about 1:30am on Sunday. Then the parade begins again on the very next morning and the festivities continue merrily throughout the week.
"In Pictures: Bolivia's Colourful Oruro Carnival - BBC News." BBC News. N.p., 29 Jan. 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-35400563
Lecount, Cynthia. “Carnival in Bolivia: Devils Dancing for the Virgin”. Western Folklore 58.3/4 (1999): 231–252. Web.