A Tourist Stumbles upon Festival of the Virgen del Rosario, La Paz, Bolivia
As a stranger in a strange land, one of the great pleasures of travel occur when one literally stumbles into a local festival.
This evening, here in La Paz, that is exactly what happened.
I took an evening stroll up the street from my hotel, and when I reached the main street, only one block away, there it was! The entire street was blocked off to traffic because today is this town’s annual celebration/festival of the “Virgen del Rosario.” Hundreds of wildly and outlandishly gaudy costumed participants, dozens of brass bands, fireworks, and thousands of spectators lining the street.
Bolivia is a Catholic country of course, but it has the largest percentage of indigenous people in its population — about half — thus, the festivities and costumes are a mixture both of Christian tradition and native indigenous folk tales and tradition as well.
I had my cell phone with me, and, since the phone takes video clips, I wandered through the dozens of groups all preparing for the night’s festivities, interviewing many of the costumed participants in Spanish concerning what this festival was about.
One young girl explained in great detail how two “star-crossed lovers” — the girl from a rich weaver’s family, the boy from a poor neighbor family — ran away and lived together until death (shades of Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story?). This tale surely is not connected with the Virgin Mary, but it does show how folk tales are woven into the fabric of the celebration.
In another interview, an indigenous native dressed in a wild costume complete with a pagan inspired mask with a huge nose attempts to explain the native legend he is portraying. His tale too, having nothing at all to do with Christianity, is woven into the fabric of the celebration.
One little girl explains how the thin tassels dangling down from her hat represent the tears shed by the star-crossed lovers.