31 Jan-11 Feb 2014. Despite the title of this post there is a solemn religious component to Candelaria that is embraced by the participants whether or not they still practice the rituals and worship of the old gods. It all blends together.
Legend has it that in 1392, prior to the arrival of the Spanish, two goatherds discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary holding a baby in one hand and a candle in the other on a beach in the Canary Islands. The frightened goatherds, not recognizing what it was, attacked it. One threw a rock at it and his arm became paralyzed, the other tried to stab it and ended up stabbing himself. After Christianity arrived in the islands she was recognized as Mary, named Candelaria, and venerated as the Patron Saint of the Canary Islands.
Many people from the Canary Islands immigrated to the Americas, particularly Central and South America, taking their worship of Candelaria with them, in the same way that the Irish brought Saint Patrick to the United States. She is the Patron Saint of Oruro and La Paz in Bolivia, Medellin in Colombia, and of course, of Puno in Peru. Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean – in each place she was amalgamated with a local goddess, allowing the people to continue their traditional worship while embracing the new.
In Puno, on the eve of February 2nd, which is Candelaria’s Feast Day and is always the first day of festival dancing, the effigy of the Virgin of Candelaria is taken from her home in Iglesia San Juan Bautista
and paraded through the streets of Puno, preceded, and followed, in a traditional hierarchical order by priests, altar boys, the Candelaria faithful, Christians, and non-Christians.
She is carried in a slow earnest parade to the Cathedral, after which fireworks fill the sky.
The next day she is paraded again.
There are two Sundays of dance competition at the stadium. In between it seemed as if there was always something happening. There was no real explanation of what it was all about, no program or schedule of events. Not in English anyway. We could translate some brochures from the Spanish and in the end were none the wiser. And even the information we got from the tourist office was not always helpful. It didn’t matter. We just followed the music.
The Diablada is one of the most important dances of the festival. The Virgin of Candelaria is the patron saint and protector of miners. I don’t know if this connection was established before or after a group of Bolivian miners were trapped in a collapsed mine way back when. According to legend they saw an army of demons who took them to hell, though through prayers to Candelaria they were all saved. From this the devil dance arose – a fight between good and evil presided over by angels. There are, however, many versions of how the devil dance became part of local folklore, but its connection with Candelaria is undisputed. One night, drawn by the unmistakable music of a brass band, we came upon the Diablada in all its glory. This group was called Incomparable Gran Diablada P.N.P. The dancing was wild and passionate, the fervor and joy of the dancers palpable. They were dancing around a case of beer, most of which they would drink themselves, but a goodly amount would be offered to Pachamama, the Earth Mother.
Amigos de la P.N.P.
These boots are made for dancing,
and apparently so are these, though I don’t know how they do it.
We’d been hanging around at the Candelaria office for a couple of hours waiting to pick up our official press credentials. As soon as we got them we walked out to the street and right into another party.
We were eventually persuaded to join in and drink a beer. I think we would have been banished from the town if we’d refused.
One night, again following the sound of the music, we found ourselves seats on the curb outside of the Iglesia San Juan Bautista and watched the parade go by.
You’ll notice in the photo above that the women are all carrying small panda bears, which I know nothing about, and which strikes me as wonderfully strange and inexplicable. In the other hand they’re carrying small altars to Candelaria. These altars are wooden and make a loud clackety noise when twirled around. There are many many groups of men and women all with similar though unique outfits. The women have flat shoes, full skirts, elaborate fringed shawls and bowler hats. The men wear suits and ostentatious gauntlets and big insignia announcing the name of their group. Each group has their own colours. Some of the groups of men also have the wooden clackety things. Some of the wooden clackety things are shaped like armadillos. Each group has their own brass band. They all do the same steps in time to the music. It goes something like two steps forward, one step back, swing from side to side, repeat and then swing in a full circle with an arm raised high twirling the clackety thing round and round, dozens of them going at once. And repeat. All the way down the street. For hours in perfect timing.
There were some members of the audience, however, who found other things far more interesting than the passing parade.
We’d chosen our squished little perches on the curb in front of the church because we were directly across from this
It is a complex intricate tower of pinwheels, rockets, bangers and sparklers all rigged to go off one after the other creating one of the best displays of fireworks I’ve seen. There were at least three of these towers on different days, and in different places during Candelaria, but this was the biggest one we saw. The fireworks went off in ordered cycles ranging from geometric patterns to a dozen pinwheels firing at once to an outline of the Candelaria church that stood behind us. It was fabulous!
And even after all this, and the opening ceremonies of the villagers and their day of dance competition at the stadium, the best was still to come . . . . .
Next post: The second Sunday of the dance competition at the stadium in which all the districts of Puno vie for the prize. Followed the day after by the biggest parade of all.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.
Wow. These may be the best photos yet! Especially the one of the fireworks tower going off, and the one of the three soldiers lined up with the Virgin statue hovering in the background. Terrific!
Thanks so much Fiona. I was pleased with them too. My favourite is the trumpet players. Generally my camera is not good in low light, but this lot turned out pretty well. Looking forward to an upgrade soon to one of the new mirrorless cameras.
Fab!! Love the photo of the two of you joining in the festivities, your big grins do tell that you are having a fantastic time. And that awesome tower of rocket, bangers and sparklers–I’ve never seen anything like it, what an interesting contraption to witness.
Thanks Ginette. We *were* having a fantastic time! And just before that photo was taken we’d been given our press passes – we were so excited about it, and there’s such a freedom in photographing people when you’ve been given official permission to do so. That fireworks tower was stunning. I’d seen smaller ones in Mexico for their Guelaguetza Festival, but nothing remotely the size of this one. In Mexico they make them with a band to fit on your head!
I love that photo of the ladies in traditional dress drinking beer!
They were all having such a good time.
I think you guys did the right thing… drinking that beer and all. I think it would have been grounding. This whole festival has the feel of Philip K. Dick swirled into a concoction of the Virgin Mother and Andean earth wisdom. With whiskey and fishnet stockings and incendiary devices to boot. It is hard for me to picture it getting any better!
Well we both had a good laugh over your comment. Still grinning as I re-read it a few hours later. And yes, it did get better – at least in terms of the outlandishness of the costumes and characters.
Beer Whiskey Fishnet Stockings Fireworks Towering Boots Buxom Babes for the win!
Man, I feel cheated! My old neighborhood had several Hispanic neighbors, and not once did we get anything like that fireworks display. Man, that is awesome!
Isn’t it just. So awesome! And the display went on for at least half an hour, just one thing after another. It was fabulous.
How can one not read a blog that features booze and buxom babes. I mean I would read it for the alliteration alone. It sort of rolls off the tongue. And imagine dancing around a case of beer in honor of the Virgin Mary. Lest we forget, however, the good virgin was tied into earlier goddesses who could be pretty wild on occasion. What goes around, comes around, eh? Fun blog filled with great photos as always you two. –Curt
Thanks Curt. I almost called it Boots Booze and Buxom Boobs. Just for the alliteration of course. Grin.
I *loved* the case of beer! In honour of the Virgin Mary, who of course also represents the earlier goddesses, and no doubt in honour of beer itself. I love the few earthy honesty of it. – Alison
Totally agree, Alison. As an aside, when I was a youth and served as an acolyte in the Episcopal Church, I always enjoyed the wine. Don’t think that is what they had in mind, however. 🙂 –Curt
Sometimes I hate autocorrect grrr and one day I’ll remember to read before I post. What I actually said was I love the *raw* earthy honesty of it.
I think Jesus himself enjoyed a glass of wine or two 🙂
Why not, when its as available as the nearest jug of water. 🙂 I was thinking more along the line of the Communion wine. Even knew a priest once who always had a small glass before the service. He told me he had to check the quality. –Curt
While I’m [patiently] waiting for the Galapagos blog post(s), I’m enjoying the alliteration, earthy references, and Curt’s humour. Hey kids, it’s all good.
Thanks so much Pam. Glad you’re enjoying it all 🙂
Wonderful story and photos. I love the contrast between the religious ceremonies of the Virgin of Candelaria and the ‘buxom babe’ dancers. Great photo of the young woman with the hat sipping a drink. You gotta use that one in your future publications.
Thanks Helga. Yes there’s such a contrast and yet it was clear that the whole festival, indeed religious practice, seems to be an all-inclusive blend. I nearly called the post boots booze and boobs – just for the alliteration of course 🙂
The woman sipping her drink – there were maybe 6 or 8 of them all in identical outfits. I love their hats – so stylish.
Fantastic, colorful and original photos! I like your post.
Thank you so much Kamila, I’m glad you like it.
I’ll be off later today to visit your blog.
How absolutely stunning. As usually your photos just drew me in. The soldiers marching ahead of the statue, the devil ladies, the celebratory cheers, the bowler hat ladies with their brew in hand, and you two adventurers sandwiched between the festive lovely ladies.
I love it all, what an incredible feast for the senses.
~ Andrea ❤
Thank you again. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the Candelaria posts. This was such an amazing event, we had a lot of fun. Aren’t those ladies in red fabulous! They insisted on us having a beer and then having our photo taken with them.
Fab, fab photos, and fab, fab boots!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks Tracey. Yeah, the boots are something else aren’t they, both the men’s and the women’s.