WHAT YOU WILL SEE
Each year in Oruro, just before Ash Wednesday, the city of Oruro hosts the Carnaval de Oruro, one of the most important folkloric and cultural events in all of South America. The festival features over 28,000 dancers, performing a broad variety of ethnic dances. Around 10,000 musicians accompany the dancers. Unlike carnival in Rio where a new theme is chosen each year, carnival in Oruro always begins with the diablada or devil dance. It is considered to retain most of the artistic expression coming from pre-Columbian America.
ong before Spanish settlement, the ancient town of Uru Uru (the pre-hispanic name for Oruro) was a religious destination for the Aymara and Quechua people of the Andes. Locals would worship Andean deities, praying for protection and giving thanks to Pachamama. The Uru people also revered their gods by celebrating Ito; the religious festival from which Carnival is thought to have originated.
In 1606 the Spanish founded today’s Oruro using the land, already being mined by the Indigenous population, as a base for obtaining the rich minerals in the surrounding hills. In conjunction with their land being taken away, the locals were used as laborers for the Europeans who encroached on their religion with the introduction of Christianity.
From the get-go, Spanish priests tried to ban the Uru Uru rituals and traditions. Not wanting to renounce their beliefs, the Indians observed their traditions under the guise of Catholic rituals in order to keep their new overseers happy. The catholic priests frowned upon this, but tolerated it in order to convert the Aymara and Quechua people to their religion.
Oruro’s fascinating history, diverse culture and religious influence is most apparent in the endless stream of folk dances performed during Carnival. Over 50 folkoric groups made up of around 20,000 dancers participate in the festival representing the various indigenous groups throughout Bolivia.
The most famous of the folk dances is without doubt La Diablada or Dance of the Devils, a ritual representing the victory of good over evil and one that has remained unchanged since colonial times.
Performed for the first time in 1904, La Diablada was born out of the Indigenous miners fear that El Tio, the god of the underworld, would be jealous of the attention they were paying to the Virgin, who was named the patron of Oruro’s Carnival. Since the priests had told the miners that El Tio was in fact the devil, they decided to honor their deity by performing in Carnival as diablos.
The department of oruro is in full high plateau, at 3706 meters above sea level, its predominant topography is flat, although much of the mountainous territory, where the majestic sajama rises with an elevation of 6542 msnm. Oruro has benefited from mineral deposits such as tin, wolfram, silver, lead, etc., located west of the republic of bolivia; it limits to the north with the department of la paz; to the south
with the department of potosí; to the east with the departments of cochabamba and potosí and the west with the republic of chile. It has an area of 53,558 km² and a population of 490,612 inhabitants (census 2012).