Carnival of Tilcara

The disinterment and burial of carnival is an ancient rite celebrated by the peoples of Northern Argentina. Beliefs, myths and dancing are part of this singular popular tradition.

Disinterment of Carnival

During January and February, carnival is the great protagonist of Tilcara. This season is longed for at the dusty streets of Tilcara and its neighboring villages, such as Maimará, which dress up in various colors to celebrate.

But the first thing to do in order to start celebrating is to disinter the devil of carnival, a small dummy (pucllay) imitating the devil and symbolizing the sun, which for the locals represents the force in charge of fertilizing the soil (Pachamama).

Popular rites and beliefs, but also individual philosophies of life, anything goes for the sake of fun. Religious faith mingles with popular beliefs and the eccentric celebrations everybody was waiting for begin in the center of town and its outskirts.

And that is what carnival is about. Frenzy, joy, fun and, of course, celebration which comes along with the summer and the rain season. Water is plentiful and it is valid to get soaked, even if it is late at night or if the weather is cool. As a kind of blessing just like that generated by baptism, getting wet during carnival is a way of purification.

  • An ancient rite celebrated by the peoples of Northern Argentina

    An ancient rite celebrated by the peoples of Northern Argentina

  • Popular rites and beliefs

    Popular rites and beliefs

  • Frenzy, joy, fun

    Frenzy, joy, fun

  • The Humahuaca Ravine

    The Humahuaca Ravine

In all the Province of Jujuy, but especially in the towns sheltered by the Humahuaca Ravine, the celebrations have acquired Bolivian connotations. One of them is the presence of the devil which, according to popular beliefs, comes down the hills and mingles perfectly with the settlers so that there is hardly any way of recognizing him. And, above all, who is and who is not full of the devil.

The colorful costumes with mirrors of all shapes and sizes attached to them, along with the masks and the typical horns hide the identity of the participants in the celebrations.

It does not matter who is who anymore, or who is behind the mask. It is as if the devil took hold of the bodies and made them get together in devilish dancing. The participants recover their identities only once they get out of their costumes and feel inhibited again.

Burial of Carnival

In northern Argentina, carnival is celebrated until late February.

Thus, carnival ends in March, on the first Sunday following Ash Wednesday. But this is not just another farewell.

On the contrary, it is a complete ritual during which the locals, as well as some tourists, parade around the center of Tilcara and slowly leave behind the various points of town where participants are invited to taste the offerings, while they head for the mountains immersed in festivities and excesses to bury the carnival.

But what does this “carnival burial” event consist in?

As the pilgrimage goes on, a small dummy representing the devil is worshipped by all the attendants. Coca leaves, chicha, alcohol, cigarettes, fruit and goat cheese are specially prepared for this rite in which they are offered as a tribute to the devil.

The ritual consists in burying carnival until de following year amidst typical music, dancing and mourning. This takes place in the evening before the look of a few locals as the place chosen for the devil to rest in peace is a secret known only by a few. Only some are privileged enough to choose the burial place and dig the grave near some cardon or cactus.

Men disguised as devils and invoking mother soil (Pachamama) sing, yell, dance, make offerings and finally cry because they have to go back to routine, boredom and inhibitions in order to be considered “normal”.

The following year, in January, the chosen ones will be in charge of disintering the devilish dummy for celebrations to take hold of Tilcara, its mountains, its streets and its people once again. Like every year, like it has always been.

Autor Pablo Etchevers Fotografo Pablo Etchevers

Bear in mindBear in mind: Carnival is one of the most beautiful popular manifestation in Northern Argentina. In the last decades, Tilcara has been the place where tourists and visitors may appreciate and even take part in all these events.


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