Carnaval de Oruro, Bolivia

One of the most unique and interesting Carnivals in South America takes place in the mining town of Oruro, in central Bolivia.
by Peru for Less

This past month we have looked at how Carnival is celebrated in Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador, and now we turn our focus to Bolivia.

One of the most unique and interesting Carnivals in South America is La Diablada Carnival which takes place in the mining town of Oruro, in central Bolivia. Two famous icons have popularized the festival, namely the earth-mother Pachamama and the Uncle/God of the mountains Tio Supay, who transforms into the devil for these festivities. This malevolent devil character has single-handedly contributed to the charm that attracts visitors annually to Oruro to celebrate their version of Carnival.

Oruro Carnival, Bolivia

Costumed devils dance to appease the spirits and offer sacrifices, beer, food and coca to the Tio

Photo By: OVRL – Flickr

Be prepared to be captivated by the diablada or devil dance during the carnival in Oruro. These symbolic dances are representations of the battle of good over evil. The entry of Lucifer Tio Supay commences the entire event. He is followed by large groups of dancers, each representing a different form of Bolivian dance. Parading around for a total of three days and nights, these devils stand-out in their pink tights, red and white boots decorated with dragons and serpents, velvet capes sewn with silver thread, coins and small mirrors. They can be seen sporting long, golden-haired wigs and their signature frightening masks and feature great horns, bulging eyes and jagged teeth.

Oruro Carnival, Bolivia

Locals believe that dressing up like devils will ward away evil spirits – kind of like Halloween in the US

There are many notable characters that attend the festival such as the Devil’s wife China Supay who seductively dances to entice the Archangel Michael. Encircling her are intoxicatingly dancing members of the local worker union, each carrying a small union symbol such as a pickax or shovel. Dancers dress as Incas with condor headdresses, dancers with suns and moons on their chests along with black slaves that represent those who were once imported by Spaniards to work in silver mines.

The processional dance melodrama known as the morenada commemorates the sacrifice of enslaved Africans who worked with Indian laborers in the Bolivian mines and in the lowland plantations. Different characters appear in the groups such as black slaves, slave drivers and Spaniards, each bearing a distinctive mask and costume. Dancers do a mournful sideways sweep to imitate men dragging chains bound to their legs.

This festival is filled to the brim with Bolivian culture and tradition. Numerous plays are enacted throughout the festival. One in particular is a festival highlight that centers on the theme Good vs. Evil. The procession is directed towards the church where both angels and devils are forced to sit side by side. The priest blesses each angel and assigns them the task to kill seven devils each, representing the seven deadly sins. Pachamama emerges and the angels try to kill her as well, but Pachamama begs for forgiveness and is ultimately liberated.  In the background are Las Bandas playing traditional folk songs, filling the air with their music.

Oruro Carnival, Bolivia

The Grand Finale

The procession ends inside of the Socavon Cathedral in the center of town. Participants crawl on their knees to honor the town’s patron saint, the Virgin of Socavon. Although this may seem like the end to the party, there are still three more days left until Ash Wednesday. These final days of celebration, las bandas can still be heard and locals and tourists alike take to drinking Bolivian beer and chicha, a fermented corn beverage.

Like Carnival in many other South American countries, water fights are prominent in Oruro. It is nearly impossible to stay dry during this time which makes it difficult to capture the moment through pictures. Beware that in Oruro, spray foam is often used to bombard Carnival onlookers. Here are some other tips that every traveler needs to know during Carnival.

Carnival in Oruro, Bolivia is one of the most fascinating, especially for those travelers who have an interest in understanding the mixture of indigenous and European traditions. For other tips on travel to Bolivia, be sure to look at our other Bolivia Destinations. Also read our Bolivia Tours for more detailed information to help plan your trip to Bolivia.