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    Land of winds > Traditions > Festival | Issue 07 (Sep.-Oct. 2011)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The Fiesta de La Tirana


Fiesta de La Tirana

The Fiesta de La Tirana is a celebration in honour of the Virgin of Carmen held annually on the 16th of July in the village of La Tirana (municipality of Almonte, Tarapacá region, Chilean Big/Far North). It is considered by far the largest religious festival in northern Chile and the second most popular in the country (behind the Festival of the Virgin of Rosario that takes place in Adacollo) attracting over 250,000 pilgrims and tourists to a village of 500 people.

A large number of festivals in honour of the Virgin are locally celebrated in the Andean region. Anthropologists and ethnologists agree that these celebrations are a combination of both ancient traditions associated with the cult of the Pachamama (“Mother Earth”) and Catholic missionary efforts. The Fiesta de La Tirana is believed to have been derived from the festival in honour of the Virgin of the Candelaria, first held in Copacabana (Bolivia) in 1583. This celebration would have been brought to present-day northern Chile (originally part of Peruvian and Bolivian territory) by miners moving from the copper and silver mines in Huantajaya, Santa Rosa and Collahuasi to San Lorenzo de Tarapacá saltpetre mines. After the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), the festival was held on different dates in different places: on July the 16th in Chile, on July the 28th in Peru, and on August the 6th in Bolivia. Around 1910, the region of Tarapacá became part of Chile and the country’s government fixed the celebration on the 16th of July under the advocacy of the Virgin of Carmen, patron of the Chilean army. One year later, both Peruvian and Bolivian brotherhoods were displaced while the Chilean “baile” (religious fraternity) known as “El Chino” (created in 1908) was granted the honour of carrying the Virgin during the procession.

The festival takes place in a small village in the middle of the Pampa del Tamarugal, a desert area with scattered settlements of shepherds and peasants. Its quiet streets turn into a major party venue between the 12th and the 17th of July. Thousands of visitors from Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Argentina arrive by truck, bus, car, and even on foot (some pilgrims walk long distances to pay promises and end up with bloody feet). Groups of people (brotherhoods, fraternities, krewes, and “bailes”) flood the streets and the sleepy village becomes a hotbed of activity with a collection of improvised stalls, shops and stands.

On the 12th, fraternities pay homage to the Virgin greeting her at a stone shrine placed at the entrance of the village. Over 200 “bailes” (diabladas, chunchos, gitanos, cuyacas (or “kullacas”), morenos, pieles rojas, chinos, caporales...) wait outside for their turn to meet their patron saint. Every fraternity brings a choreography that has taken a whole year to prepare at the expense of huge effort and devotion on the part of the dancers. Each “baile” consists of over 20 people led by a “caporal” easily recognizable by his peculiar mask, which also characterizes the comparsa itself. The costumes worn by each group of dancers have been embroidered with gold and silver threads and also the masks are similar masterpieces revealing the achievements of Andean artisans. They travel on the packed streets dancing without stopping accompanied by large “bandas de cobre” (brass bands) playing a variety of rhythms.

Among other things, the Fiesta de la Tirana is famous for having a colourful presence of the dancing groups known as “diabladas”. The dance performed by these “diablos” (devils) from the Chilean Big/Far North is unique in the Andes, including jumps and pirouettes that their Peruvian and Bolivian counterparts do not perform.

On the 14th of July pilgrims are allowed to enter the village’s church. The following day, as they celebrate the vigil of the virgin, large fires are lit at night with people singing and dancing around them. Festivities carry on throughout the following day and night. On the 17th morning, the festival farewell features comparsas and visitors dancing and travelling on the streets for the last time to the sound of the “cacharpaya” (from Quechua kacharpaya, “farewell”). As they begin to go back to their homeland, La Tirana, the small and isolated village in the middle of the Pampa del Tamarugal returns to its normal, quiet self. This is a temporary calm that will only last “up to a year”, as locals say.


Fiesta de La Tirana, in Wikipedia [es].
La Fiesta de La Tirana, in Biografiadechile.cl [es].
Fiesta de La Tirana, in Viajeros.com [es].
La Tirana y el embrujo de su fiesta (“La Tirana and its festival’s enchantment”), in Iglesia.cl [es].
La Fiesta de La Tirana (interactive), in La Tercera [es].
La Tirana, salud, fiesta e historia (“La Tirana, good health/life, religious festival and history”), in Nuestro.cl [es].


Picture 01. La Tirana 01.
Picture 02. Mask in La Tirana 01.
Picture 03. Mask in La Tirana 02.
Picture 04. “Baile” in La Tirana 01.
Picture 05. “Diablos” in La Tirana 01.
Picture 06. “Diablos” in La Tirana 02.
Picture 07. “Baile” in La Tirana 02.
Picture 08. “Diablo” in La Tirana.
Picture 09. “Baile” in La Tirana 03.
Picture 10. Church of the Virgin of La Tirana.


Video 01. “Fiesta de La Tirana, una celebración alucinante” (“Fiesta de la Tirana, an astounding celebration”).
Video 02. Fiesta de La Tirana 2011 01.
Video 03. Fiesta de la Tirana 2011 02.
Video 04. Fiesta de La Tirana 2010: Diablada.
Video 05. Fiesta de La Tirana 2011 03.
Video 06. Fiesta de La Tirana. Documentary video film.
Video 07. Fiesta de La Tirana (year 1958).
Video 08. Religious “bailes” in La Tirana (2011).


Picture A.


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