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     Land of winds > Rhythms and styles > Dance | Issue 12 (Nov.-Dec. 2012)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza



The dance of the morenos or morenada is a dance with origins in the Bolivian Altiplano, where some participants disguise as blacks, usually wearing a mask with exaggerated facial features. At present, it is one of the most famous and spectacular Bolivian dances. With a strong presence in the Carnival of Oruro and the Jesús del Gran Poder Festival celebrated in La Paz, it is also present in almost every big folkloric event in Bolivia and in many other neighbouring places in Peru and Chile.

Generally speaking, the morenada is an acid satire of black slaves on the part of Aymara indigenous people, who even nowadays continue to make fun of Bolivian blacks coming with the excuse that African slaves were allegedly thieves, drunks, players and lazy people. Its origins remain unclear, with several Bolivian towns claiming to be the morenada’s birthplace and different historical documents and authors adding colour and depth to the confusing matter. It might be said that the present-day morenada is the result of a number of influences including mestizo and urban ones; due to such mixture, the meaning of the dance cannot be fixed, though in folkloric circles it is stated that the dance portrays the black slaves walking in chains.

As happens with the caporales, some morenada dancers (men and women alike) wear flamboyant costumes with sequins and reflective threads of gold and silver. The women (called "chinas") wear very short skirts, low front blouses and flashy thigh-high boots. The characters known as "achachis p'axlos", "reyes morenos" ("black kings", also known as "super achachis"), "morenos" and "caporales" wear elaborated disguises and masks with exaggerated "African" facial features: popping eyes, flattened nose, thick lips, mouth half-open with the tongue hanging out (allegedly to convey the slaves’ exhaustion by hard working and altitude sickness). Finally, the female dancers known as "cholas" wear Aymara traditional attire: colourful blankets, wide skirts and bowler hat.

It is worth noticing that the morenada masks elaborated in La Paz differ from the ones from Oruro; the style of the latter is closer to the diablada masks.

In general, all Andean dances featuring expensive costumes (e.g. morenadas, caporales, diabladas) were and continue being a way of showing the wealth and social status, especially on the part of the Aymara who moved to the city from the surrounding rural areas, who want to exhibit their opulence and prosperity. That is an urban ideology and has nothing to do with the Andean traditional values of solidarity and reciprocity.

Nowadays, the morenadas are performed by large comparsas (groups of dancers and players) which compete with each other in music originality (many well-known Bolivian musical groups compose songs exclusively for them), in female dancers’ beauty (many Bolivian models begun their careers wearing the short skirts that characterize the morenada) and in the most expensive and elaborated costumes. Many comparsas sign up painters and plastic artists, besides fashion designers and hairstylists, in order to become the winners of the competition.

The music accompanying the dance is performed in a 4/4 meter, has a certain martial spirit and its main feature is the sound of the matraca (ratchet), which represent, as it is said, the shameful sound of the chains of slavery. The sound of this idiophone marks the beginning, the end and the middle parts of the song.

Although the morenada can be played with traditional instruments (panpipes, quenas, charangos, guitars) it is usually performed by brass bands at big festivals. In June 2011, the morenada was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage by the Plurinational State of Bolivia.

Morenada, in Wikipedia.
Article. "Conceptualización de la danza: La morenada" in My Candelaria [es].
Article. "La preferencia por la morenada desplaza a otros tipos de música", in la Razón [es].
Article. "Máscaras andinas", in MUSEF [es].

Picture 01. Morenada dancers 01.
Picture 02. Morenada dancers 02.
Picture 03. Morenada dancers 03.
Picture 04. Morenada dancers 04.
Picture 05. Morenada dancers 05.
Picture 06. Morenada dancers 06.
Picture 07. Morenada dancers 07.

Video 01. "Con tu amor" (morenada), by Grupo Mara.
Video 02. "Morena de la Central" (morenada), by Llajtaymanta.
Video 03. "No te quiero ver" (morenada), by Llajtaymanta.
Video 04. "Soy de Mejillones" (morenada), by Raymi Bolivia.
Video 05. Morenada Señorial Intocables.
Video 06. Banda Central Cocani of Oruro.

Picture A.

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