‘Heirs of the Dawn’ by María Daniel Balcázar
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The ancient inhabitants of Oruro, Bolivia, named their land uru-uru, meaning the place where the light is born. They called themselves “beings of the dawn”. Their legacy is woven into the work of artisans, who through their art, revive the soul of the Andean and European deities and the memory of the African slaves.
These artisans, musicians and dancers are the living recollection of their roots, culture and pre-colonial history. The resistance of indigenous beliefs and their ability to preserve and adapt their culture throughout history has led to syncretism and many mixed legends.
The Carnival of Oruro is one of Bolivia’s richest cultural manifestations. Every year, come rain or shine, dancers perform ceremonial dance steps for several kilometers throughout the Andean highlands. Playing tarkas, trombones, cymbals and drums, they honor the Virgen del Socavón (Our Lady of the Mineshaft), the patron protector of miners. This joyous union of sounds is offered up as a promise and prayer.
This celebration is an explosion of color, movement, and music, featuring folkloric outfits representing different regions, indigenous groups, and time periods of Bolivia’s history. Central to the ritual is a battle between good and evil. The “Diablada”, (The Devil) represents the evil that lies within the depths of the earth, tempting and fighting against the good nature of the Uru-Uru. Beautifully terrifying devil-masked dancers try to appease Archangel Michael, the representation of good, who finally wins the battle.
These beliefs and rituals are intrinsically linked to the vitality of mining, the central economic activity of pre-and post-colonial Bolivia. The light, fire and spirit of the heirs of the dawn draw trails in the sky of the Andes, manifesting the triumph of good over evil and sharing their all-important legacy with the world.
Maria Daniel Balcazar is a freelance documentary photographer. Most of her projects focus on the importance of traditions, their uniqueness and their universality, as sources of strength to survive and flourish, to resist, to adapt and to transcend adversity in everyday life and through extraordinary events.
She has published two books which highlight the richness of syncretism, the depth of roots from different cultures and the continuous remaking of identity. “Kilombo”, published by Burn.Books in 2019, is a tribute to the resilience and vitality of the African legacy in Brazil. This continues to be an ongoing project in Brazil, as part of a broader project on the African heritage in the Americas.
“Herederos del Alba”, published in collaboration with Burn.Books 2021, documents and celebrates history and myth, from precolonial to present days, from Andean, Amazonian, European and African experiences, as they are interwoven in Bolivia’s main festivity, the Oruro Carnival.
Her upcoming book “Custodios Invisibles” in ten different indigenous communities in the Amazon and River Plate basins in Bolivia, is an acknowledgment to the capacity to preserve and protect through centuries their cultural and natural inheritance.
She is also currently working on the publication of a book, a visual narrative, honoring the life and work of poet and a defender of human rights activist, Puerto Rican writer Julia de Burgos.
Photo Essay edited by Alejandra Martínez Moreno