Llamas bleed, devils dance at Bolivian Carnival

Sat Feb 21, 2009 11:10pm EST
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By Fiona Ortiz

ORURO, Bolivia (Reuters) - In a Bolivian Carnival tradition, dozens of howling-drunk miners cut the hearts from four trussed-up llamas in a dark mine tunnel lit by a bonfire, accompanied by the deafening blare of a brass band.

"It's good luck," proclaimed Quechua Indian witch doctor Jose Morales, holding up a beating llama heart while miners streaked blood on their faces to ward off hazards in the Itos mine above the central Bolivian town of Oruro.

"All four hearts were beating when they came out; that means the year will go really well. It's a very good sign," miner Isaac Meneses said with relief.

Sacrifices to appease "Uncle," the capricious spirit who owns the silver, tin and zinc deposits in the Bolivian Andes are a key ingredient to Carnival celebrations this week.

So are heavy drinking, gorgeously attired carnival queens in thigh-high golden platform boots, water-pistol battles, exploding firecrackers and columns of dancers in fantastic masks leaping through colored smoke.

Boisterous partying and religious fervor mingle in Bolivia's biggest Carnival celebration in Oruro, a mining and commercial city of more than 200,000 people at the heart of South America's poorest country.

The passion of Friday's llama sacrifices spilled over into Saturday's parade, where hundreds of dancers donned out-sized

devil masks representing the spirit of the mine.   Continued...

<p>Members of "Pujllay" group perform during the Carnival parade in Oruro, some 200 km (124 miles) south of La Paz, February 21, 2009. REUTERS/David Mercado</p>