Issue - July 2010

July 2010


In this edition, Jamie Bassett uncovers the history behind Mother’s Day celebration in Cochabamba, William Dowling discovers the reason behind one of Bolivia’s biggest festivals, Lauren Rutter profi les Olympic Stadium and reviews La Chirola, Floriane Guyot tries to explain the urban gang phenomenon and Walter Sánchez describes the structure of Bolivian families. read more...

July 2010

Gran Poder The Grand Celebration

The last weekend in May marked the annual celebrations of La Fiesta del Señor de Gran Poder. Will Dowling was in La Paz to celebrate alongside the locals.

Will Dowling
Projects Abroad
Gloucestershire - United Kingdom

The festival celebrates Jesus as the second part of the Holy Trinity. It is the biggest street carnival in Bolivia and one of the biggest in South America. It brings together all the residents in La Paz, the surrounding suburbs of El Alto and beyond.

La Fiesta del Señor de Gran Poder had its humble beginnings in 1939, but its history extends back to the 17th Century. It celebrates Jesus as the second hand of God and as the Señor de Gran Poder (The Great Power). It stems from a painting of the time, with the Holy Trinity painted with Indian or mestizo (mixed race) features. At this time, visual interpretations of God, or the Holy Trinity, were banned by the Catholic Church, so the painting was hidden. It was found later when the Church decreased in power and it changed hands several times before ending up in the Iglesia Parroquial Del Gran Poder in La Paz.

In 1939 there was a small candlelit procession with a statue of Jesus at the head. It took place in La Paz’s sister city of El Alto, among Aymara migrants living in the market districts. The festival grew each year, along with the growth in influence, wealth and acceptance of the Aymara communities among the Spanish migrant and white societies. Although it started as an Aymara celebration, it now includes all kinds of Aymara folklore and Catholic traditions. In the beginning of the 1980´s it became a street party stretching over a week, starting with a procession in the first weekend of June. Nowadays, the performers alone make up more than 60,000 people, which gives some idea as to how big the event has grown to be.

The Bolivians are very proud of this festival. One local asked me what I thought of the carnival and how it compared to any other carnival experiences that I have had (none!). He kept referring to La Paz as ¨his¨ city, which gives an indication of the pride that he felt at taking part in this festival.

The procession, or entrada, has as many as 53 groups of dancers. Each of these groups, or fraternities, represents a different part of the city, or group of people. They are made up of different sections, the first of which is called the guia, which is a prestigious position to be in. Each fraternity is accompanied by two brass bands; one in the middle and one at the back. These are primarily made up of drums, trumpets, tubas and other brass instruments. The trumpets and tubas take it in turn to play, while the drums play constantly, with the bigger bass drums playing along to the tubas. On top of this, most, if not all of the dancers have instruments called matracas, which twist and make a clicking noise along to the music.

The dances, or morenada, done by the groups are very simple. They consist of two steps called the cruzado and the media luna. The cruzado is performed while the tubas are playing and involves criss-crossing your legs; three times to the left and three times to the right. The media luna is executed to the trumpets and involves three 180o turns; the first three from left to right, then three from right to left.

Some dances are more popular than others. One of the most widely performed is the Dance of the Devil because of its elaborate costumes. The Devil, or Tio, in this dance is the guardian to the Bolivian mines and is offered coca leaves, cigarettes and other small gifts in order to have safe passage in the mines. Another popular dance is called Dancing Bulls, or Waca Takhoris, this requires the dancer to wear a stuffed bull’s head and dried bull’s skin along with traditional clothes.

Each fraternity has its own costumes which are expected to change every year. Also, all of the dancers have to be fed and watered during their exhausting five hour routines, which can all get quite expensive. For these reasons, each group will have some sponsors; these are usually rich members of the local community, looking to boost their popularity. Those wanting to join a fraternity are very welcome to and are provided with food and drink every time the group meet to practice the dance, paid for by the sponsors of course.

La Fiesta del Señor de Gran Poder has evolved from a candlelit procession into a weeklong party, accompanied by a 5 hour dance routine at altitude, in a 25.5kg costume. This seems like an adequate celebration of Jesus to the people of La Paz and indeed all of Bolivia. The festival will continue to grow, as more fraternities join the celebrations and all of the communities in La Paz become more widely accepted.

Olympic Ambition

Entering Club Olympic you are greeted by the sight of hundreds of children of all ages engaged in the game of volleyball, giving off a general aura of health and fun. They practice and play here for three to eight hours a week, using the fantastic facilities available to them. Olympic has six indoor courts and six outdoor beach volleyball courts, complete with imported sand. It provides vital physical education on a weekly basis, which is sadly lacking from Bolivian children’s daily life.

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