The stories behind the Oruro Carnival dances

Vanesa Zegada | Live the World

November 23, 2022

No doubt that the Or[uro Carnival]( is an impressive event, with lots of colors, live music, remarkable costumes, and typical dances. But, further than that, each representation performed has a meaning with roots in different points of history – from pre-colonial times to a few decades ago. Do you want to learn about the origin of these performances?

© Ministerio de Culturas y Turismo/Angie Salgar Caballero

Diablada” is the central dance of this festivity and has its roots in the following pre-colonial story. The Uros were the ancient inhabitants of Oruro’s territory. They used to worship Wari, that is considered the universal spirit, though, later, they started to give their favors to a deity called Pachakama. Furious, Wari sent four plagues to the Uros, but Ñusta, Pachakama’s daughter, fought them, saving the Uros, who named her as their protectress.

The Spanish conquerors, who were aiming to bring the Catholic religion, associated Ñusta with the Virgin Mary. This combination resulted in the creation of the current Virgin of the Socavon; at the same time, Wari got related to the devil.

Diablada was born as a representation of the devil’s (Wari) army, marching towards the Virgin of the Socavon (Ñusta). Accompanying this army of devils, there is a mix of characters from both cultures. For example, the Archangel Gabriel – catholic – dances together with the Condor – a sacred Andean animal related to the upper world.

© iStock/JeremyRichards

Miners are the first ones enlisted to dance the Diablada. They have big respect for the guardian of the underworld – no matter if he is called devil, Wari, or el[ Tío]( Thus, they dance to keep him satisfied. That way, he keeps them safe while they work down in the mines. Then, after performing, they march on their knees towards the Virgin of the Socavon, their protectress on earth.

© Ministerio de Culturas y Turismo/Angie Salgar Caballero

Morenada” represents the African slaves brought to Bolivia for mining. Its masks with bulging eyes and the tongue out show their indescribable physical and inner fatigue. Also reflecting the exhausting work, heavy costumes - of 10 to 30 kilograms - dress the dancers who develop a heavy and slow but rhythmic dance: it seems that they are falling sideways.

© iStock/JeremyRichards

Saya afro-boliviana,” on the other hand, is a joyful dance, with a contagious rhythm of percussion, born in the Yungas region of the country. It was created as part of the culture of the African descendants who escaped from slavery, finding a safe refuge in the tropical lands of Bolivia, where they did create their own communities.

© iStock/rchphoto

"Caporal," inspired by the Afro-Bolivian rhythms, was first presented to the world in Bolivia, in 1969. Its 'male character' is presented with a husky and good-looking mixed-race slave overseer who can "shake the earth" with his strong steps.

© Caporales San Simón de Sucre

The pair of this character is a coquette female, who mixes a strong hip shake with graceful arm movements.

© iStock/JeremyRichards

But women can also perform the potent male dance, dressed up as a character called "macha".

© iStock/JeremyRichards

This particular dance has achieved such popularity abroad that currently is being performed in international carnivals and festivals in countries such as Peru, Argentina, Chile, Spain, and the United States, among others.

Tinku” comes from a pre-colonial ceremony, in which male fighters from different communities of northern Potosí and southern Oruro used to fight to death. Nowadays, the fights are not that extreme, but they keep happening, while regional music is played live. The attendants perform a fun dance surrounding the fighters.

© iStock/JeremyRichards

Even though more than 30 representations make up the Oruro Carnival, now that you know the main ones, you might understand how ancient the roots of this festivity are and how historical facts and different cultures have shaped this event, making it unique!

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