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    Land of winds > Traditions > Festival | Issue 19 (May.-Jun. 2014)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Festival of Saint Roque

Festival of Saint Roque

Saint Roque is the patron of Tarija and the festival held in his honour in the capital city is one of the most popular and important festivals of this department to the south of Bolivia, an event that annually brings together over 50.000 people. According to the Christian calendar, August the 16th is the official day of celebration; however, the chapaca (Tarija) community begins the festival the first Sunday of September.

Historical records reveal that a bubonic plague epidemic struck Tarija during the colonial times. The region's inhabitants then called upon St. Roque for his protection – St. Roque was considered to be an intercessor against the plague and became known as "the doctor of the poor". Locals made him their patron saint and promised to hold a festival in his honour.

The core events are the processions of St. Roque: chunchos dancers (a crowd of promisers richly dressed) led by the "alféreces" parade through the streets of Tarija to the music of local traditional instruments such as the tamboriles (double-headed drums), the flautillas or kamacheñas (a type of notched flutes) and the huge cañas (natural horns). Back at the church's door, promisers sing in his praise the traditional "alabanza a San Roque" accompanied by the flautilla and the tamboril while waving white handkerchiefs. Then the statue of St. Roque is reinstalled in his chapel where he will remain till next year, marking the end of the festival.

It is not allowed to drink alcohol during the festival (this is one of the vows and promises made to St. Roque by promisers), and delicious aloja (fermented beverage similar to beer) made from peanuts is served instead, accompanied by empanadas and other local dishes.

At the beginning, the festival started the first Sunday of September and only lasted three days. However, it has now been lengthened to ten days, finishing the Tuesday after the second Sunday of September, when the statue of St. Roque is taken back to his chapel in the church.

Article. "Los chunchos promesantes de Tarija", in El País online [es].
Article. "San Roque: Tarija baila para el taita que cura", in Pacha Kamani [es].

Picture 01. Flautillas or kamacheñas being played during the procession.
Picture 02. Chunchos dancers taking part in the procession.
Picture 03. St. Roque representation and chunchos dancers.
Picture 04. Cañas tarijeñas and St. Roque representation.
Picture 05. Chunchos and St. Roque representation.

Video 01. Festival of Saint Roque 01.
Video 02. Festival of Saint Roque 02.
Video 03. Festival of Saint Roque 03.
Video 04. Festival of Saint Roque 04.
Video 05. Saint Roque is taken back to the church and the chunchos sing in his praise 01.
Video 06. Saint Roque is taken back to the church and the chunchos sing in his praise 02.

Picture A: Edgardo Civallero.

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