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     Land of winds > Traditions > Legend | Issue 11 (Jul.-Aug. 2012)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The devils of Oruro

The devils of Oruro

The Diablada (in Spanish, "Dance of the Devils") is a traditional dance with origins in the department of Oruro (Bolivia) which is widespread throughout the Aymara region: north of Chile (Festival of La Tirana), south of Peru (Festival of Candelaria Virgin) and western Bolivia (Carnivales of La Paz and Oruro). It is believed that present-day Diablada would have roots in an ancient Uru dance known as "llama llama" or "lama lama". The dance depicts the fight between Good and Evil embodied by the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin on the one side and a large group of devils and she-devils led by Lucifer and Satan on the other. For the beauty of costumes and masks, spectacular display, magnificent choreography and traditional music compositions, the Oruro's Diablada was proclaimed Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001.

There are numerous theories and legends related to the origin of the Diablada. One of the best known accounts is summarized below.

The story goes that, during an uncertain time in the past, the Uru people (ancestors, among others, of the present-day Chipaya) suffered a series of plagues sent by Wari, a manifestation of the fire god associated to volcanic activity who lives underground.

A colossal snake came from the west; a huge lizard from the east; a massive toad from the north and rows and rows of ants arrived from the south. They were sent to destroy the Uru people and the land where they lived and worked, located in the very heart of the Andean Altiplano.

Knowing the end was near, they couldn’t get over the surprise of the sudden appearance of a ñusta, a "princess": a light skinned maid wearing a white tunic dress. She first used a sling warak'a against the snake, turning it into stone. Likewise she killed both the toad and the lizard, and immediately after turned the ants into sand.

And there, in the surroundings of present-day Oruro or Uru Uru, on top of the mountains (sacred places for the Uru people known a wakas), they were left to decay. The mounts Jampatu Qullu, Jararankani and Asurani house the remains of the toad, the lizard and the snake respectively, while the sandy area stretches from the old town to nearby regions.

After Wari was defeated, he went to hide in the depths of the earth, and he still lives there. Bolivian miners call him "el Tío" (literally, "the uncle"), and seek to gain his confidence and protection by making offerings of coca leaves, alcohol and cigarettes. Miners know that he is easily irritated, always changing his mood and are certain that one of his mood swings may turn into rage and bury them forever.

There were miners who, as time went by, started to dramatize the fight between Good and Evil first embodied by the ñusta and the plagues she faced and later, due to the influence of the Catholic church, by the Virgin and the devils.

Each year, at Oruro Carnival, dancers in devil costumes take to the streets wearing fearsome masks with bulging eyes and horns, some of which are adorned to honour the toad, the lizard and the snake representing the plagues – a wink to the past.

Oruro Diablada, in Wikipedia.
Article. Devils’ Dance of Oruro, in Devils of the Americas.
Article. "Cuando el mito y la leyenda se convierten en la danza de la diablada", in La Patria en línea [es].
Article. "Origen de la diablada", in [es].
Article. "Mitología andina de los Urus" [es].

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