Peru highlands revel in blast of festival color

Peruvian dancers in colorful masks and elaborate headdresses are celebrating the Virgin of Candelaria in what's considered the largest Roman Catholic festival in the Andes.

As many as 40,000 villagers are expected to gather for this year's festival and show their respect for the patron saint of the communities along the shores of Lake Titicaca. The festivities start Thursday.

Competing groups dance under the intense sun in lovingly crafted costumes. Some wear shoes made with alpaca skin, collars hung with ears of corn, and hats adorned with old coins or the bright-colored feathers of Amazonian birds.

"We have danced this way since the time of our grandparents," said 75 year-old Martin Mamani, who made the trek from the village of Esmeralda.

Some dances gesture toward everyday village activities such as grazing llamas or shearing animals. Others depict the Spanish conquest or the conscription of villagers as soldiers.

Even young children dance with their families in groups of as many as 400 people, including musicians who play flutes and other traditional instruments.

In addition to devotion, villagers have other reasons for dancing on the annual feast. Some are grateful to have been cured of disease, while others are asking for protection for their crops, or increased political power.

It's a rare moment of national focus on an indigenous-dominated village culture.

"There's always been a lack of respect for the countryside. But when the villagers participate, they are saying, 'I am present,' and the people from the city are only spectators," said anthropologist Henry Flores, who has studied indigenous dances in the town of Puno.

The festival of La Candelaria has been celebrated in Puno every year since the 18th century. UNESCO declared the festival a cultural landmark in 2015.


In this Jan. 29, 2017 photo, musicians perform for dancers on the shores of Lake Titicaca, as they practice before their presentation for the Virgin of Candelaria celebrations in Puno, Peru. Dancers in colorful masks and elaborate costume celebrate the Virgin of Candelaria, patron saint of communities, along the shore of Lake Titicaca, in what's considered the largest Catholic festival in the Andes. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Jan. 29, 2017 photo, dancers perform during Virgin of Candelaria celebrations in Puno, Peru. Some dances gesture toward everyday village activities such as grazing llamas or shearing animals. Others depict the Spanish conquest or the conscription of villagers as soldiers. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Jan. 29, 2017 photo, dancers put on their costumes near the shore of Lake Titicaca prior to their performance for Virgin of Candelaria celebrations in Puno, Peru. Some competing groups wear shoes made with alpaca skin, collars hung with ears of corn and hats adorned with old coins or the bright-colored feathers of Amazonian birds. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Jan. 29, 2017 photo, dancers get ready near Lake Titicaca prior to their performance at Virgin of Candelaria celebrations in Puno, Peru. The festivities start this week. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Jan. 29, 2017 photo, dancers wait their turn to perform during Virgin of Candelaria celebrations in Puno, Peru. Anthropologist Henry Flores, who has studied indigenous dances in the town of Puno, said "There’s always been a lack of respect for the countryside. But when the villagers participate, they are saying, ‘I am present’ and the people from the city are only spectators." (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Jan. 29, 2017 photo, a dancer reads a newspaper while waiting to perform during Virgin of Candelaria celebrations in Puno, Peru. As many as 40,000 villagers are expected to gather for the annual festival and show their respect for the patron saint of the communities along the shores of Lake Titicaca. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Jan. 29, 2017 photo, dancers perform during Virgin of Candelaria celebrations in downtown Puno, Peru. "We have danced this way since the time of our grandparents," said 75 year-old Martin Mamani, who made the trek from the village of Esmeralda. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Jan. 29, 2017 photo, dancers wait their turn to perform during Virgin of Candelaria celebrations in Puno, Peru. In addition to devotion, villagers have other reasons for dancing on the feast. Some are grateful to have been cured of disease, while others are asking for protection for their crops, or increased political power. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Jan. 29, 2017 photo, dancers take selfies after performing during Virgin of Candelaria celebrations in Puno, Peru. The festival of La Candelaria has been celebrated in Puno every year since the 18th century. UNESCO declared the festival a cultural landmark in 2015. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Jan. 29, 2017 photo, dancers eat lunch after performing during Virgin of Candelaria celebrations in Puno, Peru. In addition to adults, young children dance with their families in groups of as many as 400 people, including musicians who play flutes and other traditional instruments. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Jan. 29, 2017 photo, dancers perform during Virgin of Candelaria celebrations in downtown Puno, Peru. The annual celebration is a rare moment of national focus on an indigenous-dominated village culture in Peru. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)


Text from the AP news story, AP PHOTOS: Peru highlands revel in blast of color, by Franklin Briceno and Rodrido Abd.

Photos by Rodrigo Abd

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