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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

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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.

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She is carried in a slow earnest parade to the Cathedral, after which fireworks fill the sky.

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The next day she is paraded again. 

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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.

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Amigos de la P.N.P.

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These boots are made for dancing,

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and apparently so are these, though I don’t know how they do it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We’d chosen our squished little perches on the curb in front of the church because we were directly across from this

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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!

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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.