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Carnaval de Oruro – The Bolivia’s biggest carnival

Tijana Radeska
Carnival de Oruro
Carnival de Oruro

Every year, on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, in the southern city in Bolivia, one of the greatest festivals on Earth takes place.

It’s not the Rio carnival, but the carnival in Oruro, and is unique in any sense of the word.

It dates back more than 200 years and was originally an indigenous festival that was later transformed to include a Christian ritual around the Virgin of Candelaria (Virgin of Socavón), which takes place on March 2nd. In 2001, the carnival became one of UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

The Diablada, the main dance of Carnival of Oruro, Bolivia, which has been a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity since 2001. Photo credit

The Diablada, the main dance of Carnival of Oruro, Bolivia, which has been a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity since 2001. Photo credit

 

Carnaval de Oruro in 1993. Photo credit

Carnaval de Oruro in 1993. Photo credit

 

Map of the sacred places in the city of Oruro, Bolivia, showing the location of the ants, lizards, toads, and snakes, animals considered sacred in Uru mythology. Photo credit

Map of the sacred places in the city of Oruro, Bolivia, showing the location of the ants, lizards, toads, and snakes, animals considered sacred in Uru mythology. Photo credit

18th-century painting of the Danza de Los diablicos de Túcume, region of Túcume, Peru

18th-century painting of the Danza de Los diablicos de Túcume, region of Túcume, Peru

The centerpiece of the festival is the traditional Llama llama or Diablada (“The Dance of the Devil”). It is a dance characterized by the mask and devil suit worn by some of the performers while all the dancers, dressed in extravagant costumes perform demonic dances.

The dance is a combination of religious theatrical presentations which were adopted from the Spanish, various religious ceremonies from the Andes, such as the Llama llama dance that honors the gods Uru and Tiw, and the Aymaran miners’ ritual to Anchanchu (who according to the Aymara mythology is a terrible demon which haunts caves, rivers, and other isolated places).

Devils of the “Diablada Ferroviaria”. Photo credit

Devils of the “Diablada Ferroviaria”. Photo credit

 

A Diablada dancer wearing a devil mask. Photo credit

A Diablada dancer wearing a devil mask. Photo credit

 

Diablada at the Carnaval of Oruro in 2007. Photo credit

Diablada at the Carnaval of Oruro in 2007. Photo credit

 

Diablada dancer from the Carnaval de Oruro. Photo credit

Diablada dancer from the Carnaval de Oruro. Photo credit

 

Diablada. Photo credit

Diablada. Photo credit

 

Diablada at the Carnival of 2 February 2011. Photo credit

Diablada at the Carnival of 2 February 2011. Photo credit

 

Wari, an Uru god who survived the onslaught of the Aymara, Quechua and Spanish, is the “Uncle of mine” (Tiw), the last incarnation of the old Wari in Oruro, Bolivia. Photo credit

Wari, an Uru god who survived the onslaught of the Aymara, Quechua and Spanish, is the “Uncle of mine” (Tiw), the last incarnation of the old Wari in Oruro, Bolivia. Photo credit

 

1880 Diablada patronal squad mask, from Paria, Oruro. Photo credit

1880 Diablada patronal squad mask, from Paria, Oruro. Photo credit

 

Different models of Diablada masks in an exhibition in the British Museum. Photo credit

Different models of Diablada masks in an exhibition in the British Museum. Photo credit

 

Music of the first Diablada de San José de Poopó, in Oruro, which is currently played and danced at the El Déjame ceremony. Photo credit

Music of the first Diablada de San José de Poopó, in Oruro, which is currently played and danced at the El Déjame ceremony. Photo credit

 

Carnival de Oruro

Carnival de Oruro

 

The Oruro Carnival, Bolivia. Photo credit

The Oruro Carnival, Bolivia. Photo credit

Archangel Michael leading a dance group at the Oruro Carnival. Photo credit

Archangel Michael leading a dance group at the Oruro Carnival. Photo credit

 

The “Story of the Diablada” first presented by the parish priest Ladislao Montealegre of the city of Oruro in 1818. Maintained and presented to date by the “Great Traditional Authentic Diablada Oruro” in the Carnival of Oruro. Photo credit

The “Story of the Diablada” first presented by the parish priest Ladislao Montealegre of the city of Oruro in 1818. Maintained and presented to date by the “Great Traditional Authentic Diablada Oruro” in the Carnival of Oruro. Photo credit

 

The Tinku dance is performed in a crouching stance, bending at the waist. The dance is also part of the Oruro carnival. Photo credit

The Tinku dance is performed in a crouching stance, bending at the waist. The dance is also part of the Oruro carnival. Photo credit

For 20 hours, there are 48 different groups of folk dancers that perform 18 different folk dances. The entrance procession is 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) long and features 20,000 dancers and 10,000 musicians. The parade is led by a brightly costumed San Miguel character. The most extravagant costume is worn by the chief devil, Lucifer. It is completed with an ornate mask and a velvet cape. All the dancers perform a pilgrimage the Shrine of the Tunnel.

As Oruro is a mining town, the miners keep the highest-quality mineral and offer it to El Tío. This is a demonic character who owns the whole underground of Earth, along with all the minerals and precious metals. Then a group of conquistadores and Inca characters follows, and among them are Diego de Almagro and Francisco Pizarro.

Sanctuary of the Virgin of Socavón during the festivities for the Oruro Carnival in Bolivia. Photo credit

Sanctuary of the Virgin of Socavón during the festivities for the Oruro Carnival in Bolivia. Photo credit

All the devils of the parade, along with an archangel, arrive at the city’s football stadium where they all perform a series of dances together which represent the battle between good and evil.

Read another story from us: A huge wall at Cal Orcko in southern Bolivia reveals more than 5,000 dinosaur footsteps …

And even though most of the performers are devils, at the end good triumphs over evil. At dawn, on Sunday, all the dancers arrive at the Santuario de la Virgen del Socavón where a mass is held in honor of the Virgin.