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The core of Fiesta Candelaria is the music and dance festival and competition. On the first Sunday of February about 100 indigenous dance groups from the villages of the Andes perform along with their bands of flutes, panpipes and drums. The performance at the stadium in Puno goes on for about twelve hours, one group after the other, and then they dance through the streets, a parade that goes on for even longer.

On the second Sunday it’s the turn of the dance groups from the various neighbourhoods of Puno. These dances are called traje de luces, or suit of lights, and are essentially an expression of the history and spiritual practices of the Mestizo people of the Andes, a rich concoction of traditional and Catholic expression. There are dances related to fertility, sowing and harvesting, mining activities, the black slave community, the Spanish Conquistadores, and most important of all the Diablada or devil dance: a fight between good and evil that arose from the rescue of some trapped miners who prayed tirelessly to the Virgin of Candelaria. There are hordes of devils dancing in the stadium on this day. And countless pretty girls with high boots, higher skirts and angel wings.

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There are eighty different dance groups. Almost every group has its own 50-member brass band, and the remainder have equally large traditional panpipe and drum bands. That’s a lot of tubas and trumpets and drums. And a lot of dancers. Every group has four to five hundred dancers filling the dance ground. The sheer size, scope and colour of it all is truly spectacular. You can’t help but be swept up in the excitement as group after group lines up to take their turn.

There are characters in these dances that both dazzled and puzzled us.
Who are they, what do they represent?
There are gorillas (or something like),
wild creatures with axes,
even wilder feathered beings covered in skulls,
the biggest shoulder pads on the face of the earth,
panda bears, or maybe polar bears, dressed in bikinis and covered in spiders,
characters with outrageously long noses,
a band of men dressed as jaguars,
skeletons,
a condor (or something like),
a couple of slaves with ball and chain,
girls with feathery wings and a headdress of snakes,
a witch with hooked nose and tall black hat,
entire companies of Indians
in leather skirts or pants, feathered headdresses and war paint,
sparkles and beads and sequins and glitter,
and much much more.
Just when we thought we’d seen it all a new apparition would appear before us.

Because there hasn’t already been enough dancing and parading and blowing of trumpets and pipes, on the Monday after the second Sunday of the dance competition there is a parade through the streets of Puno. Every group participates, drinking beer along the way, energized by the raucous crowds.

Some of the photos are of the traje de luces at the stadium, some were taken at the parade the next day. Where you see a photo with one or two or only a few dancers, imagine hundreds of dancers, all dressed alike. I started with over 1000 photos. I had trouble eliminating. It’s the most photos I’ve ever put in one post. I wanted to share everything but couldn’t possibly; it’s just a taste. If you click on them, especially the smaller ones, you’ll get to see much more detail. The detail in some of the costumes leaves me awestruck; hours weeks months of labour to produce exquisite works of art.

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Time for a smoke break.

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Imagine this – a football field filled with 500 dancers, half of them men, dressed like this, each group in a different colour,

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and half of them women dressed in high heels, perky little hats, next to nothing skirts and enough glitter and sequins to light a city, in matching colours, all 500 of them dancing in carefully choreographed patterns at a hundred miles an hour. Breathtaking!

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Or else it’s a few hundred devils,

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or men in hooped skirts and bearded masks

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Best shoulder pads ever!

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Best eyelashes ever!

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Time for the band to take a break. I was especially impressed with his ingenious seating arrangement.

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This photo was taken as the parade moved down one of the main streets of Puno. Beer rules!

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Surprisingly this girl does not have beer. She has the ubiquitous Peruvian soft drink called Inca Kola.

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We were in town for eleven of the eighteen days of Candelaria. There was more after we left: a parade of the panpipe bands, more parades of the effigy of Candelaria who was eventually returned to her home church, and a trip to the cemetery to honour the dead. But eleven days was enough. We felt completely filled with it, with the music, the dancing, the joyous spirit. It’s a celebration of truly heroic proportions, and we’re so glad we were there for it.

You want more about Candelaria? There’s a good article by Tyler Cole here

Next post: Ecuador’s capital Quito with the goldenest church in the world, Otavalo with the biggest indigenous market in South America, and climbing a volcano in heinous weather.






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.