Issue - August 2009

August 2009


Inside this edition: Satoshi Shibata tells us about Incallajta ruins and the Projects helping improve it; the dancers of Urkupina by Minato Kobori; Rachel Dakin questions the rise in production in the fashion industry; and finally Walter Sanchez with another story about the Rio more...

August 2009

The Virgen de Urkupina and her followers

Minato Kobori talks to the dancers in the Urkupiña festival. Urkupiña.

Minato Kobori
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Yokohama - Japan

Urkupiña. One of the biggest festivals not only in Cochabamba, but in the whole of Bolivia, has a special place in the hearts of everyone. What about for the dancers? I spoke to Carmen from the office first, who has been dancing in the Urkupiña festivity for five years. Anyone can dance if they have the desire to. Some dancers can be as young as five. Depending on the type of dance male or all female dancers or mixed. I was surprised to hear how competitive the dancers can be. “A lot of dancers start looking for bands to hire as early as September. If you want a good band, you have to start looking early.” This can cost you $300-$500 along with the costumes which can be up to $200.

A lot of dancers want extra attention so it is not uncommon for them to have two bands playing for them. For the females especially, they want to look as elegant and beautiful as possible and for that they need a more elaborate costume. In the festival the dancers often fight for their space so that as many people as possible can see them.

According to religious tradition of the festival, the dancers have to make a pledge to dance for three years consecutively. So how important is the religious element of the festival to the dancers? “I think a lot of people now dance just for fun”, said Carmen.

I visited some student dancers from the University of San Simon during one of their evening training sessions. They told me to meet them by Av. Heroinas and Oquendo, and it was a delight to see them practicing the Tinku on the streets. There was a stereo set on the back of the car parked on the side of the street and that was all they needed. They were not in costumes yet, just wearing their normal clothes. They had been practicing then dance for Urkupina since the start of June.

I spoke to Ericka first, who had danced in Urkupina the year before. The first thing someone has to do if he or she wants to dance is to enroll themselves to a group of dancers. This costs 70Bs. Then the training fee is 270Bs for girls and 280Bs for boys. This is a fee everyone has to pay. Ericka had been encouraged by her friends to start dancing and she chose to do the Tinku because she didn’t want to do something like the Caporales, which she thinks is too common. She also didn’t like the fact that Caporales requires the girls to wear revealing costumes! I asked her how important she thought the religious element was. “I dance to thank the virgin. I’m going to keep my pledge because that is the most important thing to me. However things are changing recently. There are few people who dance for the pledge and the virgin now.”

I spoke to Miguel next, also in his second year dancing for the Urkupina. He was truly devoted to the virgin as he had made a pledge to keep dancing for as long as he can, not just for three years. He thinks that the festival and the dancing is a way to express his devotion as a Catholic and to give his gratitude for all he has in his life. He then told me about what he thinks about the people dancing in recent times, “I know everyone has a right to have their own view. People are allowed to act more freely nowadays. They dance and drink – they don’t take it seriously as a religious event. Then there is fighting and all sorts of chaos. This can be changed if someone banned alcohol from this festival.”

The last person I spoke to was Naila, going into her sixth year as a dancer. She chose to do the Tinku because she comes from Beni and it was a dance that was new to her. She fell in love with it and continues to dance even after she completed her pledge of three years. She told me the religious aspect of Urkupina was important because she gets more encouragement from the devotion she has to have for the virgin. “In many other festivals you do not have to make a pledge, so that is what makes the religious element of Urkupina more important. In this festival you can show your devotion through dancing.”

Then they all told me what their most memorable moment in the Urkupina was. Ericka said, “I got a nose-bleed, but kept dancing for three blocks!” For Miguel, “I treasure and cherish every moment I am dancing in Urkupina. It is funny how we practice for the whole year, but only perform for two days.” “I would carry on dancing forever.” Naila said, “My very first Urkupina was a special moment. I felt the physical strain and I went through all the emotions. I felt alive.”

All this was a strange experience for me. I now knew a lot about Urkupiña, yet at the same time I knew nothing about it as I had never seen the festival first hand. It was time to go and see it.

Early in the morning on the first day of the festival, I took a trufi to Quillacollo to witness all the things that the dancers I interviewed had told me about. The streets were packed with people, all waiting for the dancers to start. Then I heard the faint sound of music. It got louder and louder as it approached, and suddenly I caught a glimpse of the dancers. The first group was dressed all in gold, dancing Caporales. The beautiful costumes and the booming music of the supporting band were overwhelming. There was a continuous line of dancers all wearing different costumes and what a sight it was. I understood what Ericka meant by the revealing costumes when I saw them! All the men in the crowd cheered them on.

Some dancers seemed to be very devout and were dancing for the virgin. Some were drinking beer while they were dancing. It was hard to make a conclusion about the religious element of the festival. A lot of old people were drinking while dancing, not just the young people. On the other hand there were plenty of people dancing their hearts out even though they looked like they were about to faint. The virgin is still important to a lot of people and their devotion is why Urkupiña remains one of biggest festivals in Bolivia.

Disposable Fashion

Its Monday morning and a brisk walk to the office as I’m already behind time. Traffic swells around Plaza Principal; horns blare in a raucous cacophony clashing against the familiar blasts of fireworks. There is another strike about “ropa usada”, the used clothes trade.

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