19 Jul, 2011 | Lorange Dao
The hidden side of the Gran Poder
On June 18th, one of the major traditional events in La Paz took place in the heart of city (see article on El Gran Poder, p X). Thousands of people filled the streets to watch the sixty or so dancing groups. Whether they chose to attend the event or stay away from the dazzling crowd, everyone in La Paz knew about the parade. Two weeks before, however, another event related to the Gran Poder was organized for a more intimate audience: the Preste Mayor.
The party started in a small center located in Calle Juan Granier, where the guests gathered, started to drink and chat as the band ‘Los Dignos Amantes’ played some traditional tunes. After a while, the whole procession of people began to leave the premises, filling the streets and dancing to the sound of Morenadas until they reached their final destination on Avenida Baptista.
On that Saturday, the ‘pasantes’ or current prestes introduced the new prestes to the community. From then until the Sunday after the Gran Poder, the new couples are know as ‘recibientes’. This year’s pasantes or prestes – that is, the couple who is responsible for the organization of the three-day party (Saturday: Gran Poder; Sunday: Diana; Monday: fiesta within each dancing group) – were Fabiola and Richard Carvajal, meat traders by profession. On Saturday 4th June, they introduced the ‘recibientes’, that is the next two prestes who will have to organize the party in 2012. A week after the Gran Poder, the latter will officially become pasantes themselves.
“Being preste is an honour,” Richard declared, “It doesn’t matter how much money you spend, it’s just a way to thank the Lord for all his blessings. Every time we need something, we just pray and the Lord grants it to us.”
“In the beginning, the Gran Poder, short for ‘Fiesta del Señor Jesús del Gran Poder,’ was aimed at showing one’s faith, and in the pueblos, to share after the crops. However, nowadays, it’s also a reason to party,” Fernando Valencia, presidente de la Asociación de Conjuntos Folklóricos del Gran Poder, adds.
After the whole ceremony, the pasantes keep a replica of the ‘’Tata’’ (the statue of Jesús del Gran Poder) to reward them for their efforts to organize the party and what they spent. Throughout the year, they are expected to organize events to raise money for the parish.
These behind-the-scenes exchanges and ceremonies make up just as an important part of the tradition of Gran Poder as the well known ostentatious costumes, religious expressions and communal imbibing that take place on the principle day.