Saints on Parade

Religious parade during a fiesta in San Pedro, La Paz province, Bolivia. Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS USM lens. Exposure Details: 1/1600 seconds @ f3.5 ISO 400.

Fiestas in Bolivia have a very strong religious grounding. Amongst all the costumes, drinking and dancing is a deep spirituality. It draws heavily on indigenous beliefs and customs as well as christian ones. There are also of course creative mixtures of the two. At this fiesta in San Pedro, most people spoke Spanish as a second language, Aymara being their first. They proudly identified themselves as indigenous to me and always poured some of their drink out in offering to the ‘Pachamama’ (mother earth), before taking any themselves. I also saw many people offering coca leaves at several shrines, they are a holy, sacred leaf in Bolivia I was explained. Yet these people of course identify as Catholic too, and technically, this event was in honour of a saint that is held in the church in this tiny village lost in the sierras of La Paz province. Though we’re not talking about canonised saints in the eyes of Rome. As far as I understand the saints here are almost like idols and are common all across South America where indigenous communities were offered both the sword and the cross simultaneously. At risk of sounding like a stuffy anthropologist, turning their spirituality towards these local idol-saints, many indigenous communities found a way to continue their traditional customs in a fashion tolerated by the church. I needed little convincing of this in my time in South America, the evidence was all around me, and in no place more so than Bolivia.

Cheers for now, more coming up on Monday or Tuesday.



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