Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Carnaval!!! Oruro, Bolivia (2/20/04 - 2/22/04)

Carnaval in Oruro is the second largest carnaval in South America. There aren't the Samba rhythms or naked women associated with the Rio carnival in Brazil, but it is intermittently proud and wild in its own way.

The pride can be seen in the elaborately decorated costumes and on the dancers faces. No matter which of the 4 traditional dances were being performed, the dancers all performed with great energy and intent, they had BECOME the dance.

The women with the least amount of clothing were those dancing the "corporales." Neither their breasts nor midsections were exposed, but they wore miniskirts which rose when they twirled (the main motion in their dance). However, since they wore leotards over their stockings there really wasn't much to get excited about.

Something about their Colonial Spanish costumes and white faced masks reminded me of a quote by Gibran which reads "If it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne within you is destroyed." Needless to say, this was not my favorite dance.

The "Morenadas" are considered a tribute to the Africans who were among the first brought here to work the gold and silver mines. But the costumes and movements are so huge and exaggerated that I found it hard to imagine how any of it could be associated with Africans or slavery.

My favorite dances were the "tinkos" and other tributes to indigenous cultures. The brightly colored costumes replete with feathers, streamers, and intricately woven tapestries paid tribute to pre-conquistador cultures and traditions. It was good to see that many within this country take pride in their indomitable roots.

Speaking of conquistadors (you know those in power who would invade another country, destroying their cultures and ways of life in order to steal what they want), can you imagine GW Bush appearing in public amid hundreds of thousands of onlookers in anything but a tank?

Not only did Carlos Mesa, the new DEMOCRATICALLY elected president of Bolivia appear at the parade, he actually danced in it – SEVERAL TIMES - at the beckoning of dancers passing by his seat! It was incredible! You'd hear the crowd cheering him on as he danced for blocks at a time.

It seems the previous president was exposed for his corruption and was run out of the country by popular protests. Any guesses as to we're he ran with a fist full of dollars in hand? That's right, poor Haitians can't get political asylum in the US, but corrupt heads of state who did US biddings can... but I digress. (BTW, would you fill me in on Free Speech Radio News’ take on the Aristide affair? Can’t trust Bush loyal media)

I don’t know if the carnaval raged for 48 hours straight, but I was awakened by the bands at 8:00AM Saturday morning. It was STILL going strong when I passed out at 2:00AM the next morning, and they were still parading when I woke up to catch the bus to Cochabamba at 9:00AM Sunday morning. But what really makes carnaval in Oruro (and Cochabamba) wild are the water fights.

Any time there was a gap between performers the crowds occupying bleachers on either side of the parade route would start hurling water balloons and firing super soaker water canons across the street. Anyone but the performers was a target anywhere in the city. Actually that’s not true. If a performer fell behind his or her group he or she would be sprayed with foam (like shaving foam, but with more reach) or soaked with water balloons, etc until they caught up. It was pandemonium! I walked the city in my rain gear, my can of foam at the ready in one hand, a water gun in the other, and a few water balloons in my pockets. I guess the “big” Black guy (most Bolivians are under 5’10”) looked a little scary because I wasn’t targeted too much, but the girls came back to the hotel looking like drowned rats anytime they ventured out onto the street.

I’m not sure how the water fights became a part of carnaval, but it might have something to do with the spiritual side of the celebration. This is also the time of year that they make “challas” to “Pachamama,” Mother Earth. Everyone burns various minerals (e.g. coal, incense, etc.) for several hours on miniature grills while offering Pachamama food and libations to thank her for past blessings and beg her generosity for the year to come. Perhaps having all the water on hand in case of an accidental fire was how the water fights got started…


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has been a pleasure reading your blog. I finally get to see the pictures that go along with your many travels. Thanks for sharing your stories. I look forward to reading more.

--your girl,

12:55 AM  

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