Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Urcupiña Street Party

Urcupiña - Nr. Cochabamba, Bolivia

At the weekend a group of us from the organization I'm staying with went to the annual Urcupiña street parade. The
event basically consists of lots of different dances and you buy a seat in the stalls overlooking the road. It is considered
to be one of Bolivia's most important cultural events. This year it fell on the 14th August and lasted from 12 noon to
around 8 or 9pm.

The event is a part of the celebrations surrounding the mystical story of a shepherd girl used to go every day
to the hills in Calvario. Legend has it that after befriending a strange woman with a baby, good things started
happening in the village. The villagers had seen the girl talking to this lady and wanted to meet her. One day
when the lady appeared the girl rushed back to the village to say 'orkhopeña' which is quechuan for 'she's here'.

When the villagers arrived, the woman was no longer there, but there was the image of a woman in the stone of
a rock. The villagers were convinced that she was the Virgin Mary, and called her Virgin Urcupiña.

then, once a year people go to a statue that was made of the Virgin to ask for good things, and to repent
their sins. They do this on a 14km midnight walk up to the hills she used to visit.

The actual dances and street parade on the day the day before the walk started over 40 years ago,
and consist of variety of dances, which all symbolize different periods of history and struggles that
have been overcome. For example, one of the dances called 'Tobas' shows masked characters
preparing to fight for their land. Another, called 'Caporales' depicts the era of Spanish colonization, which is an aggressive dance in which the guys wear Spanish style boots with bells on and create a beat as they go. The Tinkus dance depicts the history of violence in Potosi, and so on.

The celebration is just as much an excuse for many of the locals to have a good time, drink and dance. We were sat right behind a group of guys, who in typical Bolivian hospitality shared with us their drink, and who we joined in shouting 'Beso!' (kiss me) to the more attractive female dancers as pictured below.

Unsurprisingly, no besos were received with this method, but people kept on dancing to the music created by the parade regardless. I loved the relaxed attitude towards health and safety at the festival, somehow everything just seems a bit more fun without it. At one point we must have had twice as many people than we should have had on the wooden planks in stalls you view the parade from. There's no railings on the side or anything either, just a 10ft drop to the floor. Occasionally the police would decide to release tear gas too, which I found a bit bizzare because it effected everyone, despite the fact that there seemed to be no trouble anywhere at all. Perhaps it's just part of the experience though...

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