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Tilcara Carnival 2023

Dressed as devils, men glorify Mother Earth—an unusual festival, isn't it?


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Every year the north-west of Argentina celebrates the Carnival of the Devil (Diablos Festivos) to glorify Mother Earth. The tradition stems from a centuries-old belief of the devil symbolizing the red sun which fertilizes the soil. For the Carnival, hundreds of men dress up as devils to sing and dance down a hillside to the rhythm of drums and perform ancient rituals. Their costumes are made of sparkles, beads, bells, and feathers. The main attribute is a fancy devil mask.

The event takes place in Tilcara, a city located in the centre of the Quebrada de Humahuaca in Jujuy Province. Traditionally the Carnival takes place between late February and early March. The action starts with the morning ceremony of “unearthing the carnival.” All the participants move to a magical place—a cluster of rocks known as Mojón carrying Pu Jillay (a devil effigy) passing it from hand to hand and throwing into the air with shouts of euphoria.

The devil is a symbol of fertilising or propagating Pacha Mama (the Mother Earth). People dig and unearth the devil, dance and sing, make barbeque, put food, coca leaves, cigarettes, flowers, and so on in the hole dug as offerings to Mother Earth. After this ceremony men march the town's streets singing songs and dancing. Only men participate in this part of the Carnival. The "devils" can't reveal who they are and have to wear the masks throughout the festivities.

The Carnival proceeds with merriments over nine days until the burial of the devil doll. It all ends at the same place where it started—the devil is newly buried along with offerings to remain in the earth till the next year's celebration.

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