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A suprising tradition in the traditonal festival of Urkupina

How did I end up here?

Denise Vargas


He told me to hit the rock as hard as I could. I looked at him, then at the heavy hammer in my hand and back to him. I knew he was serious because as I looked around people were also hitting these giant rocks as hard as they could. So there we all were, on a hilltop smashing rocks. It’s a tradition during the festival of the virgin of Urkupina. While the colorful dances and celebration of both religious and indigenous beliefs are what attracts hundreds of Bolivians and tourists to Cochabamba, this particular tradition of smashing rocks is unique to Quillacollo, a small town just 2 hours away in the valley. I stayed in the small town to watch their celebrations and was amazed at the dedication of the locals to commemorate the Virgin of Urkupina. Outside grey adobe houses were flowers and colorful drawings in chalk inviting the spirit of the virgin into this small town. Many came from other parts of Bolivia to offer gifts of gratitude to the Virgin for their good health or fortune. The parade is an amazing display of the diversity of this Bolivian community, the music is lively and traditional allowing the dancers of all ages to showcase their culture. Costumes glittered in the sun and others were embroidered meticulously with the colors of their indigenous clan. As the parade progressed and the Virgins statue came closer, I could no longer hear the music and I wound up pinned against an adobe home. Men, women, and children, indigenous and non indigenous pushed to get close to the Virgin’s statue. As I watched, I also listened to their cries of thanks and wishful hopes to the virgin. With no hesitation they began to explain the difficulties and challenges in their lives and hope that things could be better. It was impossible not to be moved, so I didn’t fight it. After the parade cleared, I made my way down to the Calvario, it is where the hills begin and it is the site of where the Virgin of Urkupina appeared to an indigenous man many years ago. The rocks that cover the hills in the area are believed to be blessed and breaking them can tell you of the challenges ahead in your life (the more pieces of broken rock mean more challenges) and keeping the rocks in your home will allow the Virgin to guide you through the challenges. I couldn’t help but wish out loud that I did more pushups and the man who handed me the hammer smiled and said ” It takes as long as it takes” . So there we all were, on a sunny August 14th smashing rocks wondering what was next.

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