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LA PAZ, Bolivia – The main streets of La Paz were filled with color, rhythm and merrymaking on July 26 during the 22nd Folklore Festival of the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA), one of the most important Andean music and dance events. More than 15,000 young people in 75 groups danced for more then 16 hours along an 8-mile route through the Bolivian capital.
The university festival is held to commemorate university independence, reported Red Erbol, which comprised a student victory allowing the country’s universities to administer their funds and define their educational programs without interference by the political group in power.
The folk parade was first held in 1987 with 12 groups taking part, but soon became an official contest just two years later. Now the dancers compete for prizes of up to US$2,000 and start to prepare choreographies early on in the year.
The contest has become more specialized with each new edition, says Red Erbol. The categories are defined by the types of costumes worn by the dancers. The “light dances” category brings together rhythms such as Tinku, a musical production which symbolizes the ritual confrontation of tribes from the Bolivian altiplano, who fight until they bleed to fertilize the earth; Chacarera, which is shared by Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay; and Caporal, which depicts the forefathers of the Afro-Bolivian groups.
The “heavy” category includes the magnificent costumes of the Morenada, which can cost up to US$2,000 for each dancer; and the multicolored Diablada, which includes masks of the devil in honor of the “Uncle, patron saint of the mineshafts. These categories are accompanied by enormous traditional wind and percussion bands with up to 80 members who take turns playing the instruments during the parade.
The third category is devoted to native dances, which stand out for their originality and the music performed by the dancers themselves. Particularly impressive in this section are the Tarkeada, the Sicuris and the Afro-Bolivian Saya with their mixed choirs from the region of Los Yungas.
In spite of the huge number of participants, this is only the third largest expression of Bolivian folklore, reports ABI, after the Oruro Carnival and the Señor del Gran Poder Festival held annually in La Paz.