In Bolivia, all of the folkloric activities are a way of devotion. In this case, they march through the streets of Santa Cruz de la Sierra following a Virgen del Carmen moving altar. (Gonzalo Pardo) A group of male dancers arrives at a party after taking part in a long procession of dancing and singing. (Gonzalo Pardo)
Last fall, The Washington Post partnered with Visura in an open call for submissions of photo essays. The Post selected five winners and three honorable mentions out of almost 300 submissions. We are presenting one of the honorable mentions today here on In Sight — Gonzalo Pardo and his work, “Folklore Prophets.”
When Pardo moved from his native Buenos Aires to Bolivia, he first lived in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. The weekly celebrations that spilled out into the streets quickly caught his attention.
For a little more than a year, Pardo spent every Sunday at these festivities. During this time, he learned that the people celebrating were not native to the city, just as he was. These people, historically, were from the capital, La Paz, but had moved to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the nation’s commercial center, bringing their folkloric traditions with them. One of those traditions was their devotion and adoration of La Paz’s patron saint, the Virgen del Carmen (Our Lady of Mount Carmel).
The celebrations can be radiant and vibrant, and as Pardo says, “One of the things that immediately caught my eye was the colorful, loud and devotional mix of dancing and praying: the cholitas with their hats, long and voluminous skirts and the never ending parade of braids.”
Each week, a different group leads the celebrations. These celebrations include parades where people show their devotion according to the traditions they brought with them from La Paz. The parades include hundreds of women, known as cholitas, dancing in traditional costumes to music played by traditional bands. At the head of these parades is always a statue of the Virgen del Carmen, leading the way either carried in the hands of a devotee or in the back of a vehicle as a moving altar.
The community of migrants who put on these celebrations do not always feel welcome in their new home. But as Pardo says, “They express their belief every single Sunday under the burning sun, dressed in their traditional clothes, adoring their figures and dancing to honor their traditions."
Women from the "Illimani" fraternity dance through the streets of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. (Gonzalo Pardo) Every Thursday, the fraternities gather to worship the Virgen del Carmen (Our Lady of Mount Carmel). (Gonzalo Pardo) The guests at every folkloric party bring beer and deliver it to the people in charge. It's a gesture of respect. Two honorary members of the "Alcapones" fraternity pose by beers they have just received. (Gonzalo Pardo) Every Sunday, an altar is put together to celebrate devotion to the Virgen del Carmen. (Gonzalo Pardo) An honorary member of the "Senor de Mayo" fraternity takes a break from dancing to organize the party that comes after the folkloric parade. (Gonzalo Pardo) Guests arrive in a decorated minibus to the corner where the opening ceremony takes place before the procession starts. (Gonzalo Pardo) One of the leading dancers from the "Alcapones" fraternity arrives in a white limousine. (Gonzalo Pardo) A man brings the flowers that will be used at the altar in the folkloric reception of the "Verdaderos Fanaticos" fraternity. (Gonzalo Pardo) A member of one of the marching bands endures the heat while walking from the religious ceremony to a party. (Gonzalo Pardo) The lead dancers of the "Los Alcapones - Espectacular Bolivia" folkloric fraternity arrive to the activities in devotion of the Virgen del Carmen. (Gonzalo Pardo) Teresa Quisbert Aduviri carries the Virgen del Carmen in her arms as her fraternity, “Senor de Mayo - Transporte Pesado” follows her through the streets of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. (Gonzalo Pardo) A dancer protects himself from the sun with his truck-like "matraca". He belongs to the "Señor de Mayo - Transporte Pesado" fraternity. "Matracas" are used as a symbol representing the commercial activity of each fraternity. (Gonzalo Pardo) In the "Los Fatales" folkloric fraternity's reception, a group of women gather around a young child learning their cultural ways. (Gonzalo Pardo)
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