Opinion Photography Travel

Ichapekene Piesta Inasianuana

Man dressed as the sun, this performance is accompanied by other two dancers, one dressed as the moon and the other as the stars
The biggest festivity of the indigenous people of Moxos

Every year, for the past three centuries, in the remote town of San Ignacio de Moxos (located in the department of Beni in Bolivia) the Moxos’ indigenous council gather to organize the celebration of their famous Ichapekene Piesta Inasianuana. An event that dates back to 1689–the very year the town was founded but it roots can be traced back to a time before the arrival of Europeans to the American continent.

The festival celebrates the Moxeños’ culture, one that carries a transcendent connection with nature while it blends itself with the beliefs and traditions of catholicism, a religion brought to the region by the missionaries during colonial times. This colorful event is a vivid display of the syncretism and socio-cultural transformation the people of Moxos went through upon the arrival of the Europeans.

The Achus

The most beloved characters of this festivity, to me, are the “Achus” or grandpas, these characters play tricks, make jokes, dance, and overall entertain the crowd. Then, around midnight, a small wheel of fireworks is placed on the top of their wide-brimmed hats and when lit this starts to spin while sparks shoot in all direction. As the sparks spread sudden explosions create large clouds of smokes around the Achus, from which they emerge giving them an aura of mistism. This espectacle sends everyone running with an smile on their faces. The fireworks, I learned, symbolize; among other things, the gift of light.

The Macheteros

The Macheteros’ dance is one of the most emblematic dances of the Ichapekene Piesta, in this dance twelve people dressed as sun warriors wear headpieces made of colorful feathers that represent the sunrise.

After attending the Ichapekene Piesta in 2022, I researched the history of the people of Moxos and learned of the odyssey they went through during the colonial times. The genocide committed by the colonial settlers towards the natives people of North America has a lot of similarities here in South America, the arrival of Europeans brought with it diseases that disseminated the population of the natives leaving behind a weak resistance which, coupled with the help of local natives, was what enable them to do far more damage than their guns ever did. The few people that survived were cajoled into slavery. To my surprise I also learned that the presence of the Jesuit Missionaries in the region was a lifeline to the people of Moxos. Researcher Geoffrey A.P. Groesbeck describes the Jesuit Missions operations like those of a nature reserve, he explains them this way:

“not only as centres of spiritual welfare, but social welfare as well. Additionally, great emphasis was placed upon three key elements: communal self-reliance and self-sufficiency; cooperation with – rather than coercion of – native inhabitants; and as complete autonomy as possible from the colonial authorities…Although not entirely free of the superior attitude of most Europeans of their time, for the most part the Jesuits made great efforts to adapt to native cultures.”

Geoffrey A.P. Groesbeck

During the 1oo years (1667-1767) the Jesuit were allowed to occupy the region of Moxos, the natives had an alternative to slavery. Later when the Jesuits were expelled, a decision that was motivated by greed, the people of Moxos faced slavery once again. This time they went farther into the forest in search of what they call their Loma Santa (“Sacred Mount”). A place where they were to be free to live their lives without the fear of invasions, diseases, or slavery. Nowadays after a lot of efforts the indigenous people of Moxos and their lands are protected under the Bolivian law. However, their struggle continues given that these laws are often omitted by greedy politicians and their lands are under constant threat from the cattle industry’s interests and illegal lodging.

One thing I’ll remember about the Ichapekene Piesta is that besides being a fascinating event to witness is also a celebration of the resilient and fighting-spirit of the people of Moxos, because till today they have to put a constant fight; as they have done in the past, for their rightful claim for autonomy and for the sovereignty of their lands.


By peterveras

My name is Peter, I started to blog in my senior year of college. I enjoy writing and documenting things worth remembering.
My nombre es Peter, comencé este blog cuando estaba en mi último año de la universidad. Lo hice porque disfruto escribir y documentar las cosas que vale la pena recordar.

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