In this issue of STEPS! we will be exploring traditional dance of Bolivian Morenada. Watch out for this traditional dance in the 7th annual Dance Parade on May 18th, 2013!
The Morenada (Dance of the Black Slaves) is a music and dance style from the Bolivian Andes characterized by a mixture of African and native elements. The origins of this dance are debated among specialists on this topic, the three main hypotheses say that the dance could have been inspired in African slaves brought to Bolivia to work in the silver mines of Potosí, another theory states that it would be inspired in the Afro-Bolivian community living in the Yungas region of La Paz, and the third main theory links this dance with the Aymara culture due to the findings of cave paintings in the Lake Titicaca shores in the Taraco peninsula.
In June 2011, through a Supreme Decree the Morenada was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, according to the government, this measure was taken to stop the attempts of appropriation by neighbor countries.
There are several theories about its origins which are fiercely debated among the specialists in this topic. Basically there are three hypothesis:
African slavery in Potosí theory
The most commonly shared theory says that the dance was inspired by the sufferings of the African slaves brought to Bolivia in order to work in the Silver Mines of Potosí. The enormous tongue of the dark masks is meant to represent the physical state of these mines workers and the rattling of the Matracas are frequently associated with the rattling of the slaves’ chains. However, there is no evidence that these African slaves actually worked in the mines, although there is much evidence that they worked in the Casa de la Moneda (mint) in the production of coins and in domestic service.
Afro-Bolivian community in Yungas theory
A second theory relates the Morenada to the Afro Bolivians living in the Yungas region and the stamping of grapes for the wine production. According to this, the barrel-like Moreno-costumes would represent the barrel containing the wine. However, in the Yungas region there has never been any wine cultivation. At first sight this makes the theory seem extremely unprovable, but the texts sung in the Morenada contain hints to wine cultivation for a long time. In addition, if one goes back in history sufficiently, one can discover that there were afro-Bolivians working in vineyards – in other regions, such as Chuquisaca. Nowadays there might not be any Afro-Bolivians left where there are wineyards, but when the dance was created, there might have been.
Cave paintings in the Lake Titicaca theory
The third theory relates the Morenada to the Aymara Culture of the Lake Titicaca. Places like Achacachi claim to be the place of origin of the “Fish Dance” as the Morenada in this region also is referred to. There were some murals of about 200–300 years of age found in the region, showing Morenada dancers and there still is a strong tradition of making elaborately embroidered Morenada costumes. The multicolored costumes of the Morenada are somewhat similar to the ones one can see at Tinku dancers.
Check out a video of Bolivian dancing courtesy of BolivianMTV!