June 2012

The Diablada

Similar to the Morenada, the Diablada originated in the Andes Altiplano, around the Titicaca lake. 2500 years ago, people already lived there and had their own culture and beliefs. According to Walter Sanchez, it is difficult to determine when and where this dance appeared.

By: Magali Dubois
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Lausanne – Switzerland

Diablada dancer in a parade.
Photo: Antonio Gallo

In the XVI century, the people who lived in the Andes Antiplano believed in the deity Urus. They believed that he created everything. Also called Wari, or “tío”, he is represented by a kind of devil who sought refuge in the mountains. Another deity they believed in was the Pachamama – also called Indi - she represented the earth, the ground. She was venerated by both the quechua and aymara people.

As exploitation began in the mines, Urus was also venerated by the miners. They thought he could provide them with protection and richness.

These miners worked for the conquistadors 6 to 10 hours per day and used the Diablada to portray their lives through dance.

For Catholics, the underground is synonymous with hell. Miners believed certain spirits had the power to give or take away riches. They compared Urus to the devil and the Pachamama to the Virgin.


Diablo mask
Photo: Magali Dubois

The dance of Diablada has been mixed with Catholic beliefs. It symbolizes the fight between good and evil, but still remains in indigenous style. That is why we can say that this dance is a syncretism, which means a fusion, a mix of several religions or philosophy.

The evolution of this dance can be divided into three main periods:

  • 1606-1789 Foundation of two cities by conquistadors in the place called UruUru (nowadays Oruro). In this place, there was a cult of a kind of Devil, who was considered like an uncle to the miners.
  • 1789-1944 The Virgen was officially introduced. She will be venerated from then on. The Archangel Saint Michel was introduced instead of the god of the mines. The Diablada begins to travel in and outside the country to show its spectacular choreography, music and costumes.
  • 1944-1960 In this period, a new group of the Diablada appears. It also traveled inside and outside of the country to show the cultural richness of Oruro. This initiated the foundation of other similar groups in other places of the country.

To resume, this is one of the most famous dances of Bolivia. It describes the struggle between good and evil. According to Walter Sanchez, this dance is now linked with the Catholic Morenada dancers in a parade Photo: Antonio Gallo Church. It has been used in the process of Christianization of native people. There are a lot of fraternities that perform this famous dance and a lot of money is devoted to the costume. In Oruro, a festival takes place in February or March that generates significant revenue for the economy.

Nowadays, this dance is also present in Peru, North Argentina and North Chile. The feeling of patrimonial identity is strong, that is why it is also a motive for dispute. Mr. Walter Sanchez confirms that we cannot attribute this dance to one country specifically.

Morenada Dancer
Photo Antonio Gallo

The masks are big, with huge eyes, and there are many personages:

  • The Archangel St. Michel
  • Lucifer
  • Satan
  • The devils
  • The Chinasupai
  • The bears
  • The Condor
  • The Mani

It is also possible to see frogs, snakes, lizards and ants, because they were sacred in the mythology of UruUru.

Over time, the masks became more developed. You can see them in display in the museum “Museo National de Etnografia y de Folklore”:

Most of them are from the middle of the XX century in Sucre and La Paz.

“The use of the mask has been and is universal, from prehistory to the present day, with different functions and in different contexts, such as theatrical masks of Greece and China, the mortuaries of ancient Egypt, as well as ritual and festive masks associated with various religious expressions in different peoples and cultures.

The ritual mask not only allows the transformation of the individual in a different character, but also stimulates and materializes a world of spiritual and mythical meanings that allow the communion of men with their gods and the forces of nature. For this reason, these masks are linked to the vital needs of man and of the communities.

On this occasion, the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore presents this theme with the selection of fifty-nine masks of the Bolivian Andes, Amazon, Eastern and Chaco.” http://www.musef.org.bo/

Ladies Dresses
Photo Magali Dubois

There are some shops in Cochabamba that sell costumes, for example this one: “Creationes Ivonne”, from Ivonne Galarza de Durán, Calle Uruguay #581 casi Lanza (lado agencia de Cerveza Urkupiña)

Here you can find costumes from all Bolivian dances, including Caporales and Morenada. There are big masks from Diablada and also costumes for children.

One costume costs from Bs 1.200 to 1.800. You can also rent one at cost of Bs 80.- for a day. There are also stands in the market of La Cancha where you can Diablo mask find costumes of Diablada, like at the stall of Carola Michel. Enjoy!

The Caporales

According to sources, the Caporales was created in the late 1960s by the brothers Estrada Pacheco. They were inspired by the character of the Caporal of the saya, an Afro-Bolivian dance. The product of a mix between African, Aymara and Spanish elements, the

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