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Monday, April 8, 2013
By Maya Cueva, '15
Throughout my time in Bolivia, Carnaval has been one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had. To witness this grand celebration I traveled to Oruro, a small city in Bolivia known for its exemplary display of costumes and dances during Carnaval, and for being the birthplace of President Evo Morales, who was born in the outskirts of the city. Carnaval is an annual celebration in Bolivia, which honors the many cultures and traditional dances of the different regions of Bolivia. The weekend was filled with vibrant colors of costumes, music, and dances—not so much a performance, but a retelling of history of oppression, colonization, and spirituality that once was and is Bolivia. From the dance of Las Morenadas, which represents the struggle of the Africans who were enslaved by the Spanish and forced to work in the mines to extract silver in Bolivia, to the China Supay, considered La Diabla or “the devil’s wife” and the essence of the Carnaval—each mask and movement tells a story and represents a different region of Bolivia.
Even before the birds were chirping and the sun made its appearance, we heard the trumpets, symbols, and drums of La Banda, “the band”, as they marched through the streets. We drew open the curtains of our hotel room window to a sea of bright yellows, blues, greens, and oranges, grinning women with short skirts and hats shaking their hips and waving their arms by their sides, dancing the famous “caporales”. We anxiously ran outside to the stands to watch what felt like a million different groups of dancers passing by; their dances from a mix of different cities and areas in Bolivia: Potosí, Santa Cruz, La Paz, Las Yungas, amongst others.
While we were entranced by the marches of dancers, we simultaneously had to avoid being sprayed by the wet foam of espuma from the crowd next to us. During Carnaval season, it´s a tradition for Bolivians to carry cans of espuma, which is soapy foam, and water balloons to hit any open target. Being gringos or Americans meant that we were easy and obvious targets, and the day turned into a game of duck, roll, and cover to prevent from being hit. It got so bad we had to buy espuma to arm ourselves. It was war.
Although I will probably be scarred by espuma forever because how much got in my eyes and mouth that day, the night was amazing. After hours of standing behind a metal barricade watching the dancers, we finally got the opportunity to jump over and dance with them as they marched! It was an exhilarating feeling standing next to caporales dancers, who are highly idolized in Bolivia. One of them smiled and took my hand as I mirrored the movement of her feet (which was, might I add, far from easy). We danced and marched with the dancers late into the night, when the masks of the diablas started to light up and other dancers juggled fire.
When I returned from Oruro to Cochabamba and my home stay family, the celebration of Carnaval wasn’t over. During Carnaval, it is a tradition in Bolivia to make and celebrate La Q’OA, which is an offering of coca leaves, color paper, sweets, herbs, and other tokens of appreciation to La Pacha Mama to bring good fortune. La Pacha Mama is a word in Quechua that means La Mama Tierra, or “Mother Earth”, and is one of the most commonly honored aspects of Bolivian ritual and tradition. After Ecuador, Bolivia was one of the first countries to ever grant ¨mother earth¨ rights.
Written in the constitution in December 2010 as ¨La Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra¨, the law vowed to take legal action to protect and defend the environment for all living creatures. For example, a person can sue in the name of “La Madre Tierra”, if a person or a corporation is some how infringing on the “La Madre Tierra’s” rights. Of course, there are inconsistencies and contradictories with Bolivia´s ¨environmental policies¨, but just stop and think for a moment about what it means to actually have something stated in the constitution that you recognize, as a country, the rights of mother earth and the ability of any person to take legal actions to defend the rights of a healthy environment. How come this idea seems so simple, so ¨matter of fact¨ for Bolivians, but in the U.S. the majority don´t even believe in climate change?? I don´t get it.
I think I can definitely say I am in love with Bolivia, and my experience in Oruro and celebrating carnaval with my family was incredible. The history of social movements, cultures, and languages that I am learning about every day never cease to amaze me. My host family is bi lingual in both Quechua and Spanish, a common trait for most Bolivian families (either Quechua or Ayamara is the older generations’ first language). I can even say some words in Quechua thanks to my host family—but I guess I should wait until I am truly fluent in Spanish before I really start to practice. One language at a time.
So as they say in Spanish: “ Nos Vemos”
Until Next Time.
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