In Bolivia, a colorful, loud and devotional mix of dancing and praying

Gonzalo Pardo comes across a Sunday ritual in Santa Cruz de la Sierra that moves his spirit and captures his lens.

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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."

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