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The Oruro Mask Dance Essay

Culture is usually expressed through different mediums. Values, beliefs, and aspirations of a particular group of people are imbibed in culture. Thus, in order for these cultural traits to be represented in what social scientists call “the world of cultural relativism”, people express it through rituals, dances, and songs. Generally, these mediums are called “festivals. ” Here in Bolivia, specifically, in Oruro, Santa Cruz, the Oruro Devil Dance is a famous festival. Eight days before the Ash Wednesday, people gather around the town’s plaza to perform a beautiful devil dance or diablada in Spanish (Hamre 1).

The devil dance is a commemoration of our ancestors prior to the coming of the Spaniards; a sort of tribute to the dead. The escolas de samba chooses a new theme each year. These themes have one direction: they ought to relive the days of our ancestors. For one, our commemoration of the dead is a symbolic gesture of respect and magnanimity to the dead. Also, we recognize the efforts made by our ancestors in fighting foreigners. Their blood was spilled in the country in order to protect it from invaders.

Thus, even with the prohibition of Spanish colonial officials from celebrating this dance, our forefathers danced it in the mountains, far from the contours of civilization. As one may note, diablada survived almost unchanged for many centuries. We, the Bolivians, are also proud of the colorful features of the mask dance. Hundreds of devils in monstrous costumes can be seen in the streets of the town. Some masks are heavy and to an American viewer “scary. ” Other masks have bulging eyes and long hairs, just like the characteristics of the devil in Hollywood movies.

I especially like devil masks wearing sparkling breastplates and golden spurs. Some masks are really light, connotative of the “spiritual origin” of devils. The devil dance is supplemented by a pacifying, rhythmic music from brass bands, pipers, and drummers. The colorful image of the festival as well as its solemn dedication to our ancestors makes it my favorite holiday here in Bolivia. Then the noise in the festival becomes loud and frenzied. Out of the devil dancers comes China Supay (Hamre 1). She is the devil’s wife who performs a seductive dance to attract the Archangel Michael.

By the way, this dance was modified by the Spaniards to suit the predominant religion of Bolivia (Roman Catholicism). Then, members of workers’ unions carry small symbols of their union. This is done to show their support for the festival. Dancers in Inca costumes, with headdresses and symbols of the sun and moon on their chests, dance with the dancers dressed as black slaves. These slaves were imported to Bolivia by the Spaniards from West Africa to work in silver mines (operated by the colonial government). Then, family members appear. They are led by matriarchs dressed in yellow.

The man of the household appears first (in red dress); then the daughters (in green dress). After which, the families go to the football stadium. Here the next celebrations take place. In the stadium, two plays are conducted (Hamre 1). The first play is about the conquest of Bolivia by the Spanish conquistadores. The second is about the victory of the Archangel Michael against the devil and the Seven Deadly Sins. Michael’s flaming sword is emphasized as the sword of light bound to defeat evil for all eternity. Then, the singing of the song of the Patron Saint of the Miners becomes the next event.

They are also expressed in dance using a Quecha hymn. The purpose of the plays is very clear. The plays are a protest to the abuse of Spanish officials and clergy during colonial Bolivia. Although the festival is mixed with Christian tales and concepts, it still adheres to the pre-colonial ceremony of giving gratitude to the dead and the mother earth Pachamama (Hamre 1). The struggle of good and evil are emphasized and made clear through the actions of early Catholic priests pacifying an “already civilized” nation. Thus, it can be said that the mask festival, specifically the devil dance, is a characterization of our nation’s history.

Such history is, of course, characterized by the struggle of good (justice) and evil (injustice by colonizers). The triumph of good signifies the break of our country from the bonds of colonialism, and its entrance to a new hope (the hope that the good will reign in the future). For days, the celebration of the carnival continues. The diablada dancers break into smaller group. Usually, huge bonfires are set to characterize the spiritual and physical unity of the country. Processions are then made and the church becomes a refuge for the homeless.

Then, men from different families jointly consume large amounts of Bolivian beer and the very potent chicha (Hamre 1). Chicha is derived from fermented cereals and corn and liquefied in high temperature areas. Usually as the celebration ends, many people sleep in doorways. Others fall (because of drunkenness) sleep in the town’s plaza. The mask festival, most especially the devil dance, is my favorite festival among the festivals in both Bolivia and the United States. One reason is the character of the festival’s message. The redemption of humanity (a Christian concept) from evil is likened to the separation of Bolivia from Spanish rule.

This festival presents the history of our country as it both experienced oppression and hope. My next reason has something to do with culture. Among all the festivals celebrated in our country, the mask dance is the most comprehensive; that is, it establishes the full personality of Bolivia. Note that in my description, the mask festival does not focus on one character of a Bolivian; rather it draws from past historical experiences to highlight the full character of a Bolivian. For example, Bolivians are known for being hospitable and diplomatic.

This is shown in the mixed dance of the devil dancers with the Incas (a sign of friendship). This festival is really the life and character of my country, Bolivia. Works Cited Devil Dance. (2007). Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. 30 October 2007 from http://www. britannica. com/eb/article-77638/Native-American-arts (accessed). Hamre, Bonnie. (2007). Oruro’s Devil Dance is unforgettable. 30 October 2007 from http://gosouthamerica. about. com/cs/southamerica/a/Carnaval_3. htm (accessed). Oruro Carnival. (2007). New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. 30 October 2007 from http://www. carnavalexhibit. org/bolivia. php (accessed).

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