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Bolivian Parade Costumes

Bolivian Parade Costumes from the workshops of La Paz, Bolivia

Bolivian Parade Costumes from the workshops of La Paz, Bolivia


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These photos are from one of the most interesting streets in all of La Paz, where costume workshops and storefronts line both sides of the street for a few blocks. parade costumes on display represent all the different parts of Bolivia. Each costume is a work of art, incredibly labour intensive to make, sometimes terrifying and sometimes butterfly beautiful.

The amount of work that goes into every bodice, mask and pair of shoes is mindboggling. It takes weeks to make one costume. Nothing is mechanized or mass produced. Every stitch is sewn by hand. Every silver skull or button is hand moulded over a hot flame, and pounded into shape by hand. Every leather detail and boot part was hand cut and sewn or glued on by a person huddled in a small workshop in the back of a store. Every bead, sequin, and bit of trim was created from raw materials, glued, and sewn by a real person. Sometimes a thick plastic cover is sewn overtop to protect the velvet and beadwork from the elements, adding another labour intensive step.Some of the costume skirts are actually huge panels, transforming the person inside into a shape that hardly looks human.

Costumes are expensive, often costing 2 months wages, if not more. But people still buy them. Lots of people. Troupes of 30 to 50 people from each community turn out in full costume to perform in parades all around Bolivia and in other countries in South America. It’s a point of pride and a treasured tradition.

The different costumes are made to order, but all follow basic patterns that represent each region of Bolivia.

They are fascinated by the Diablo (devil) character, and many men’s costumes are variations on this theme. The bugged out eyes and pug noses reminded me of Chinese dragons.

There are many variations on the frightening black masked Moreno character, a stereotypical representation of the black slaves from Africa bought over to work inside the Spanish controlled silver mines, enslaved underground in the mine shafts usually until they died. Some costumes of the conquistadors mine overlords and their wives feature masks with creepy huge blue eyes and walking sticks with silver skulls on top.

There are many different costumes representing the Amazon jungle communities. Fierce warriors and medicine men costumes are topped off with spectacular feather head dresses and spooky black and white makeup. Maybe this is where the band KISS got their original inspiration.

Brightly colored sequined costumes that reminded me of Mardi Gras represent the more tropical low lands. Hand woven and embroidered costumes are from usually from the sierra regions.

The shoes were something else. Men’s boots are often knee high leather tooled boots with dyed leather swirls and other fancy trim details. The women’s shoes are often 3 or 4 inch heels in sparkling sequin shades that match their bodices perfectly. I don’t think I could walk half a block in those high heels, let alone wear them for all the kilometres marked out for each parade route!

A parade in South America is really a sight to behold. People from each region don’t just wear a costume from their area, they dance in them. The parades are not just colourful, but full of glittering action as each troupe performs for the crowds, often for hours and days on end, like the 3 day ‘Con La Fuerza Del Sol’ festival in Arica (if you haven’t seen it already, check out my post and photo album from 02/10 Con la Fuerza Del Sol – With the Strength of the Sun ).

As I was going away from this street at dusk, my cab driver spied a large group of people in full costume practicing their parade routine on a side street. What good luck!

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