Carnival is a major event and season in Bolivia, as it is in many other Roman Catholic countries. It comes just before the beginning of Lent, a 40-day religious fast from that begins on Ash Wednesday and runs up to Easter Sunday.
Carnival events take place all over Bolivia, with some major parades and colourful cultural displays being centred in Santa Cruz. But the real fame of Bolivia’s Carnival is dominated by the small town of Oruro.
Literally hundreds of thousands of visitors crowd into the usually quiet, western highland town of Oruro on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. They come for a two-day party that can get very wild at times.
The Oruro Carnival features costumed folk dancers, some of them called “Devil Dancers”. It also is full of lively Latin music, local foods, and an abundance of unique hand-made crafts for sale.
The Indian population of the mining town of Oruro have blended Catholicism with their traditional pre-Columbus beliefs – and it shows in the Carnival costumes.
For example, “El Tio” (The Uncle) is supposed to be the owner of the minerals the community mines, and he is also referred to as the Devil. People leave appeasement gifts to him during Carnival, such as beer or cigarettes, to keep him from getting angry about the townspeople “stealing” his minerals.
And “Pacha Mama” (Earth Mother) is blended in with the Virgin Mary, and she also looms large in the Carnival dances.