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Bolivia Carnival : Music and dancing filled the streets of the tradition...

Music and dancing filled the streets of the traditional mining town of Oruro, Bolivia on February 25 to celebrate Carnival, which is dedicated to the patron saint Virgin of Socavon, whose 45-metre (150-foot) tall statue stands tall over the town. Wearing elaborate and colourful costumes, dancers whirled through the town that sits at a breath-taking 3,710 metres (12,171 feet) above sea level in an annual ceremony recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The colourful Oruro Carnival, or Anata, has its origins in the ancient festival of Ito celebrated by the indigenous Uru people who would travel to the town to celebrate the protective Waka gods. After the Spanish prohibited indigenous rituals in the 17th century, the event merged with Christianity in a celebration that remains distinctly Andean to this day.

The faithful believe that the Virgin of Socavon (Our Lady of the Mineshaft), also known as the Virgin of the Cadelaria, has protected the city since it was founded by the Spanish in 1606. According to legend, the devil wanted to destroy the people of Uru Uru, as Oruro was called then, because of their faithfulness to God.

The devil sent four terrible plagues to kill the residents but, each time, the Virgin protected the townspeople, slaying the devil with a flaming candle. Years later in 1756, they say, the Virgin Mary appeared to a thief named Chiru-Chiru. As he lay dying in a mine he was using as a hideout, the Virgin appeared to him and he repented of his sins.

After his death, the image of the Virgin Mary holding a flaming candle appeared miraculously on the mine's wall. Almost 130 communities are represented in the Carnival, each one of them with a unique dance and costume in honour of the Virgin of Socavon. Many of the dances commemorate parts of the legend while others lay tribute to the town's diversity of communities, fusing indigenous, Spanish and African traditions.

"The Oruro carnival is a reflection and collection of rituals-- a ritual to mining, a ritual to agriculture, among others that compose it. It is precisely this diversity that has been recognized as oral and intangible patrimony to humanity by Unesco. We are now experiencing the Oruro Carnival which is the best one in Bolivia and the world," said Oruro Governor Victor Hugo Vasquez.

Lasting over 20 hours, the parade brings together 25,000 dancers and more than 100 bands organized in 52 fraternities. They wind 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) through the hills of Pie de Gallo, along the city's western edge, to end at the sanctuary of the Virgin of Socavon. The celebration, which dates back some two centuries, will run through Monday (February 27). Bolivian Tourism Ministry has said it expects the event to draw over 400,000 visitors, most from within the country, according to media reports.

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