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The Oruro Carnival

Bolivia

The Oruro Carnival lasts for 10 days each year before Lent in the Andes mountains of western Bolivia. Featuring music, dance and crafts, it is highlighted by a ceremonial parade lasting 20 hours, covering 4 kilometres and involving 20,000 dancers and 10,000 musicians. The carnival reinforces the cultural identity of the community, and attracts more than 400,000 people.

Today's carnival has its origins in the great festival of Ito celebrated by the Uru people since pre-Colombian times. The Spanish forbade the Uru rituals in the 17th century, but they continued disguised as Catholic liturgy. Andean gods were integrated into Christian images, the Andean divinities were worshipped as Catholic saints. Aspects of the festival of the Ito have been appropriated and continue to be expressed through a Christian ritual celebrated at Candelmas (February 2).

Threats: The decline of mining and traditional agriculture, deforestation and migration threatens the culture of Oruro. Urbanization, an increasing generation gap and financial exploitation of the cultural heritage are other factors.

Action plan: A law protecting the national heritage and an intellectual property code covering traditional and popular culture are planned. A carnival museum is envisaged, along with festivals celebrating masks and costumes, and the winter solstice. A Carnival of Carnivals will bring together examples of carnivals from interested towns.