Flowers, prayer, dance at the annual Bolivian skull festival

LA PAZ, Bolivia – Bringing human skulls decorated with flowers and coca leaves, hundreds of people danced to cheerful music and prayed for favors on Thursday at an annual festival outside a cemetery chapel in the capital of Bolivia.

Juliana Zapana, an indigenous woman from Aymara, danced with a skull she called "Carlos", while her daughter danced with another skull she called "Luis".

Devotees like Zapata and his family carry skulls known as "natitas" in a cemetery in La Paz, asking for money, health and other favors. They held a short service in a ritual that is celebrated one week after the Day of the Dead and includes the lighting of candles, music and dance.

"We have to bring them to joy, it's their birthday and they must have fun," said Zapana of the skulls.

A few steps away, Yesica Hilary had three skulls, one of which was attached to a complete skeleton that belonged to her brother when she was attending medical school.

"I know that these" natitas "bring these favors if you have faith," he said.

The festival is a mix of Andean ancestral worship and Catholic beliefs. Experts say it was customary in the pre-Columbian era to keep the skulls as trophies and show them as symbols of death and rebirth.

The Catholic Church believes that the festival is pagan, but does not prohibit people from participating.

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