Issue - February 2008

February 2008

In this special edition, we want to offer you a closer look at Carnival by Walter Sanchez, Luis Fernando Terrazas describes the architectural style of Laguna Carmen, Emma Luna gives her experienced knowledge on The Tropics of Cochabamba and Amy Stillman tells about cochabanner more...

February 2008

Carnival Chaos

Carnival is a playful festival which takes place between two major Christian religious holidays: Christmas and Lent.

Walter Sánchez Canedo
Archeological Museum, University of San Simón

If Christmas and Lent affect spiritual retirement, Carnival is linked to carnal excess expressed through the abundance of eating, drinking, playing and dancing. In Carnival, daily life reaches another dimension. The satire, mockery and popular laughter become cultural devices that can be dangerous if they are not controlled.

In Carnival, wildness and control are the two sides of the same coin. The first belongs to common people, the second to the authorities. Following this idea, it can be pointed out that the history of the Carnival is also the history of its prohibitions.

We do not clearly know how Carnival was celebrated in the early decades of the Republic; however we do know some of the mechanisms used to control the potential acts of wildness. Since 1872, the City Council of Cochabamba regulated the use of masks and costumes from Sunday through Tuesday of Carnival, prohibiting “the use of costumes, music and canteens in the streets, including Ash Wednesday, under the penalty of four pesos”. In order to restrict the proliferation of masked people, the City Council also stipulated the payment of a patent provided by the Police Commission, upon payment of one Boliviano and presentation of a guarantor, which must be worn on the chest. In 1876, while maintaining the spirit of the previous ordinance allowing the restricted use of masks and costumes on Carnival, it also prohibited its use during the days following Lent with a fine of Bs. 4. For this purpose, the municipal police, who were responsible for controlling this, had the obligation of keeping a “secret register of individuals who obtained patent, and the respective guarantors.” Such control was effective on public roads of the city. In 1879, the City Council launched a new ordinance that extended this control to public places where the dances were performed.

Because of this, a Municipal Commission was established whose “orders must immediately be obeyed” by the turnout. The ordinance stresses that “everyone has the right to attend the Theatre with or without a costume, but neatly dressed” and if they carried a mask,. they would have to pay for a patent.” The ordinance also regulated the banning of all costumes that seemed immoral or indecent as well as authorized the expulsion of drunken people. They also began to make sure that “no masked person was allowed to dance with a woman if he didn’t belong to her comparsa (a fraternity group of dancers)”. The Municipal Commission’s authority was such that it could force the disguised people to remove their mask when the circumstances so required.

The loss of the Litoral in the war with Chile (1879) caused the City Council to prohibit Carnival parties in 1881. The ordinance points out: “During carnival days the following are absolutely prohibited: fantasy dances, the use of masks and costumes and, in general, any demonstrations of public rejoicing, such as parades, unorderly games, carnival ‘comparsas’, etc.” The violators of this prohibition were punishable by a fine of 20 Bolivianos. These restrictions would last only a couple of years. In 1883, celebrations returned to normal.

In the 1890’s the game of Cascarones (water in egg shells) became popular. This motivated the authorities to begin regulating their use. Indeed, in 1898, they launched the first ordinances banning this game on Carnival Sunday, but not others. Only days after, it prohibited “throwing egg shells filled with dyed water” indicating that the people who sold these would face heavy penalities. Patents for disguises and masks were maintained and the police were ordered to go through the streets, homes and parties to control the strict compliance of this ordinance.

In the following decades, the municipality would promote an official ‘Corso’ (Parade) with flowers and adorned cars, keeping in mind the regulations and control of masks and of the respect for moral behaviour. It is important to note the promotion made by the authorities to increase the presence of children, in an attempt to make Carnival a family party.

The war between Bolivia and Paraguay (1932-1935) broke the ancient celebrations. By the end of this decade, Carnival in Cochabamba was so decayed that the newspaper “El Imparcial”, in its January 19th, 1940 Issue, indicates that this party “had been simplified to a ‘chapuzón’ in homes and to traditional dances in the Achá Theatre and the Social Club”. It also stresses that “beyond dance, drink and sleeping, there is nothing more to be done”. Interestingly, the Municipal Council’s resolution that year authorized the use of ‘cascarones’ for the last time. Despite such official efforts to abolish the use of cascarones, this was almost impossible.

Indeed, the morning edition of Los Tiempos in February of 1953 highlights a municipal ordinance prohibiting the use of cascarones noting that “this traditionally takes place on Monday and Tuesday of Carnival.” It is also interesting to note that they stress the use of water balloons replacing cascarones.”

The 1960’s and 1970’s are particularly important in the control of Carnival. On one hand the game with cascarones disappeared and was completely replaced with the water balloons. On the other hand, the official Parade called “Corso de los Corsos” was consolidated. The masked ball in the Social Club continued as an uncomfortable tradition. By then, the control of masks and disguises became a private matter. In the 1980’s this party is consolidated as one to which only women could attend masked.

During the 1970’s, Carnival control was exercised through the Municipality. Although there is no explicit policy of prohibition, there was a strong promotion to increase the massive participation of soldiers from the various military regiments stationed in the department of Cochabamba, in the “Corso de los Corsos”, and therefore restricting the participation of civilian population. The popular entertainment was transferred to the barracks and the young conscripts were responsible for reproducing the satire of the civilian population with their costumes and masks.

At present time, the main event in the city of Cochabamba is the “Corso de los Corsos” characterized by a large participation of young people of the city and from other towns of the country. This massive participation of youth has led to new bans and municipal ordinances that are directed now, to controlling the wildness in the consumption of alcoholic beverages, to moderating public exhibitionism and eliminating the use of water balloons during this major Parade.

Laguna Carmen. . .

Laguna Carmen is a small town situated in the Valle Alto of Cochabamba (2.687 m.a.s.l.), close to Punata. It is located on a plane near the river Sulti, next to the population of San Benito.

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