Fiesta in San Ignacio de Moxos (Part 2)

An alternative title to this post could be: “48 hours of cerveza, Cuba Libre and fireworks in the company of three Australians, two Dutch people and a couple of thousand Bolivians resulting in a severe hangover, third degree burns and a close call with a group of angry bulls”. But that would be jumping ahead, first…

…after the 4am start to the fiesta we got a couple of hours sleep and rejoined the party around 10am, soon finding ourselves entrenched outside a bar with a large table of locals who had brought their own bottles of whisky. Someone at the next table hired a band for the day so we had on-tap music played at a deafening level right next to us. A round of beers for the band got you any request you wanted and made sure the band was pretty drunk by the end of the afternoon.

As the fiesta unfolded with ever larger, more colourful and elaborate parades, music and dancing, the cerveza flowed, and things got more and more exciting and crazy until finally peaking with a huge fireworks display and much drunken behaviour from the gathered throng.

10am and all’s well in the beer halls of San Ignacio

As at 4am, things started at the Mission around 11am when the Macheteros returned to play their pipes, sing and dance before being turned away again from entering the Mission.

Macheteros outside the Mission
Turned away to wander the streets of San Ignacio de Moxos

Next a large group of masked Achus appeared pulling in their wake the great comic turn of the fiesta: an Achus riding a fake horse that was out of control and brought chaos and destruction in its wake. The Achus look like representations of the Spanish and are there to cause trouble, something they do very well. They did a tour of the main plaza, setting off fireworks and ‘attacking’ any unwary person with their ‘horse’.

Masked Achus
Masked Achus
Masked Achus

The theatre behind the Achus’ ‘horse’ is that it is bad-tempered and gets out of control, crashing into spectators and anyone else foolish enough to get in the way. In reality, the rider is always on the lookout for an opportunity to create trouble and veers wildly into the crowd to bash into people – from experience I know that the ‘horse’ can give you a real whack on the shins. I saw several unwary people upended to the great delight of the crowd, particularly the children who are constantly daring the horse to charge them.

The great comic turn of the fiesta, with rider and handlers

After the Achus have created enough mayhem, things calm down a little and a huge parade starts from the main plaza and tours around the village for a couple of hours before making a final triumphant return to the plaza and the Mission. The parade is wonderful, with many more performers than previously and  mixes more solemn religious elements with a party atmosphere.

The head of the parade
Achus with female doll

There are many animals represented in the fiesta, I’d guess that these go back to pre-Hispanic beliefs since animals and the natural landscape were central elements of those beliefs. These performers represent the Jaguar, while there are still some original Jaguar hides on display, conservation efforts mean that these days most costumes aren’t real.

Jagur people make an appearance

Fish are also popular, and they represent an old legend about the formation of Laguna Isirere, a short walk from the village. Myth insists that the lake was formed when a local boy, Isidoro, was paddling in a small pool of water only to be swallowed up by a water spirit as a human sacrifice needed to create a bigger lake…which is why only children are dressed as fish.

Fish person, perhaps a non-native tuna?
Fish person

Despite not being allowed into the Mission, the Macheteros have the task of carrying the statue of San Ignacio around the streets, frequently stopping and bowing to the statue and continuing to play music, sing and dance.

Leading San Ignacio around the streets
Leading San Ignacio

After much parading under a very hot sun, everyone makes their way back into the plaza before finally finishing in front of the mission and getting a well deserved cerveza. Here’s a selection of pictures from the parades…

Arrival in the plaza
Bright clothes and even brighter smiles
Sheep people make their entrance
The sun made an appearance in human form
Spectacular headdresses were the order of the day…
…a bead and feather headdress
The region is famous for its music, and especially these brilliant pipes
Dancers performing traditional dances
Deer people make a dramatic entrance
Deer person
The Pide Piper of San Ignacio de Moxos
A bit like the Maypole dances, and quite intricate to get right
Everything starts to get a bit crowded as the parades come to an end
Another beautiful headdress
A less beautiful headdress
Mingling outside the Jesuit Mission

After the parades finished there was a church service and everyone dispersed, presumably for a well deserved lie down. That wasn’t to be the end of the day’s festivities though; once the sun set a whole new party started, with more fireworks and more drinking…but that’s for next time.

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