August 17, 2008

Devils, Angels Abound at Bolivians’ Joyous, Colorful Urkupina Festival

By Tatiana Pina

The two-day event continues today at the Bank of America skating rink in Providence.

PROVIDENCE -- In the mining town of Oruro, in Bolivia, the miners pay homage to the devil.

He is, after all, the ruler of the underworld, which they feel they enter when they descend into the mines to work all day.

They light cigarettes by a sculpture of the devil placed in front of the mines and pour alcohol on it in hopes that "tio," as the devil is sometimes called, won't permit the mines to collapse, and that they can find rich veins of precious metals, explains Oscar Tedesqui of Providence.

More than 100 years ago, miners started dressing as devils in Oruro carnivals. Yesterday, that tradition continued in a dance called the Diablada at the 19th-annual Urkupina Festival, organized by the Rhode Island Bolivian-American Association. The two-day festival is being held at the Bank of America skating rink in downtown Providence.

Orlando Cespedes stood on the steps that led to the festivities, waiting for other devils and dancers to perform the Diablada. His mask was red and made of tin, with big horns and bug eyes and a long mane of blond hair. He had a black velvet cape and red and white patent-leather lace-up boots, somewhat similar to what a wrestler wears.

"The miners love the devil because he gives them money from the mines and he guards the mines," Cespedes said.

But there is another part of the story. The devil often shows up with angels. Terry Quinteros, a dancer with the group Fraternidad Folklorica Boliviana, said the Diablada is a theatrical representation of the fight between good and evil. Legend has it that the semi-god Huari sent evil reptiles to destroy the town. The angels were there to protect it.

The festival began from St. Patrick Church, on Smith Street. A statute of the virgin of Urkupina was carried from the church in a procession to the skating center, followed by Bolivian dance groups. The statue was placed on a stage next to speakers and bouquets of flowers. The dancers finished their dances in front of it and knelt to make individual promises to the virgin.

Vanessa Echevarrea, 18, of North Providence, who participated in a dance called Caporales, said she hopes the virgin will help her with her studies at Rhode Island College, where she is studying to be a nurse.

Echevarrea was dressed in a short cream satin dress with puffy sleeves, with gold and orange decorations. She was accompanied by women, girls and men who wore cream satin outfits, tall boots with bells and held whips.

The dance is Afro-Bolivian, and the men were mocking the Spaniards who held slaves. During the dance, the women flirt with the men, shaking their hips. Echevarrea said the dancers purchase their costumes from Bolivia. Hers cost her $200.

When she discovered that the Urkupina Festival was held in Rhode Island, she decided to join a dance group to participate. She had been doing it for seven years. "I love to maintain the traditions of Bolivia. The culture has so many beautiful dances," she said.

The festival continues today with dancing beginning at 2 p.m.

Nina Pineyro, left, 8, of North Providence, and her cousin, Casandra Ponte, 10, participate in the Bolivian Urkupina festival parade as they pass the State House yesterday en route to downtown Providence. The Providence Journal / Gretchen Ertl

Marcella Veizaga, of Woburn, Mass., makes the sign of the cross during a blessing for the Bolivian Urkupina festival held at the Bank of America skating rink in Providence yesterday. The Providence Journal / Gretchen Ertl

Johanna Sena, of Boston, applies lipstick to her costumed and bejeweled daughter, Kassandra Deo, before the festival parade yesterday. [email protected] / (401) 277-7394

Originally published by Tatiana Pina, Journal Staff Writer.

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