Multiethnic Bolivia, officially known as the Plurinational State of Bolivia (Spanish: Bolivia, Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia; Quechua: Buliwa, Buliwya Mamallaqta; Aymara: Wuliwya, Wuliwya Suyu; Guarani: Volívia, Tetã Volívia), is located in western-central South America. Prior to Spanish colonization in the 16th century, the Andean region of Bolivia was part of the Inca Empire, while the northern and eastern regions were inhabited by independent tribes. Bolivia’s independence from Spain was declared in 1825 (see Latin America).

The artistic traditions of Bolivia have their roots in the ancient rituals of the Quechua and Aymara people, particularly in “dance-theatre”. From the onset of Spanish conquest in Bolivia, the native pre-Columbian myths were mixed in with the Christian influence brought by colonizers. Along with theatre, dance, music, mask performances, and bullfighting (presented as part of political events or religious festivals), the puppet could have been, as in other New World countries, one of the means used by missionaries for conversion of the indigenous population. The origins of this art in Bolivia are, in fact, uncertain.

The art of puppetry in Bolivia seems to have made its first appearance in Potosí, the “Imperial City”, in 1663, as part of a festival to celebrate the restoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Puppets subsisted in this vein along with theatre, mime, dance, circus, masks, and costumes as fixtures in the “carnival” atmosphere. According to historians in the late 18th century, puppets were present at the carnivals of Oruro, Bolivia’s “folklore capital”, but were overshadowed by a tradition that goes back thousands of years, the popular diablada or “dance of the devils”.

During the presidency of Hilarión Daza (c.1876-1879), there is trace evidence of Olivares, a master puppeteer whose many satirical shows angered the authorities. Nevertheless, the history of puppetry in Bolivia depends on its association to the art of mime, a close relationship seen in the presentation style of Olivares, as well as the Oruro carnival.

Late 19th Century to the 1960s

The art of puppetry developed and flourished in major mining centres, with Don Andrés in Pulacayo of the late 19th century, Don Abundio in Potosí, Don Zenón in Machacamarca, and the modern puppeteers the Pinto Marañon brothers in Oruro. The puppeteer Zenón Mujica combined puppetry with musical accompaniment on the caja (hand drum), the charango (string) and the siku (wind) instruments, and performed for miners in Viloco and Huanuni. In this same region, El maravilloso Mundo de los Títeres (The Wonderful World of Puppets), a book written by poet, painter and puppeteer, Luis Luksic, published in Venezuela in 1959, was a great success. At the same time, Don Andrés Aramayo’s puppet company became distinguished for its sketches of everyday life, including bullfights, the flight of the condors, and local characters, all brought to life by his husky, deep voice. Travelling shows like that of the Argentine Javier Villafañe with his travelling theatre, La Andariega, toured Bolivia in 1941, reinforcing the art among children and teachers. Similarly, between 1947 and 1948, the Uruguayan Juan Manuel Tenuta, with his puppet theatre, El Duende, from Montevideo, was invited to give several performances in La Paz and other cities.

During this period, puppetry became a subject for artistic research and development, expanding with the anthropologist Antonio Paredes Candia, who was himself a puppeteer, and professor Rodolfo Betancourt who became a skilled puppet builder as evidenced by a short 16mm film he made in 1956, by which we can follow the construction of one of his characters, the presenter Juan Titirico.

The Contemporary Scene

In the 1960s, puppet creations and initiatives multiplied. Among the main players of this artistic movement are: Armando García in Yacuíba and Tarija, and Alexis Antíguez, originally from Córdoba, Argentina, who exhibited at the Museo Nacional de Etnografia y Folklore (National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore) and created in 1965 a show, “Títeres para mayores” (Puppets for Grown-Ups), before deciding later in his career to teach his craft. In addition, artists such as Eduardo Cassis and Eduardo Perales, Morayma Ibáñez, Raúl Bocangel, Norah Terrazas – and the highly skilled Argentine puppeteer Eduardo Di Mauro – all contributed by their experience and creativity to the development of this art in Bolivia.

In 1972, in Cochabamba, the first national puppetry seminar (coordinated by Alexis Antíguez) entitled “Los títeres en la Educación” (Puppets in Education) took place under the auspices of the Centro Pedagógico y Cultural Portales (Educational and Cultural Portales Centre) of the Escuela de Títeres y el Taller de Libre Expresión (School of Puppetry and Free Expression Workshop).

In 1975, at the same time as the Instituto Boliviano de Cultura (Bolivian Institute of Culture) was established, the Taller Nacional de Muñecos y Objetos Animados (National Workshop of Puppets and Animated Objects) was created. The latter is sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports and its main objectives are training puppeteers, supporting innovation, and spreading the art of puppetry through performance. It offers puppet shows, holds courses, and conducts workshops for both youth and adults. It also works closely with teachers across the country to bring puppetry into schools. It has its own troupe and performs for young and old from a vast repertoire of authors and creators (Bolivian and international), including Federico García Lorca, Javier Villafañe, Lope de Rueda (c.1510-c.1565), Vladimir Mayakovsky, Jaime González Portal (who, with wife Clara, directed the training at the Taller for many years; see Clara Altamirano de Gonzáles and Jaime González Portal).

The Taller (Workshop) utilizes all types of puppets – including glove puppets (cachiporra or guignol), rod puppets, string puppets, marottes, giant puppets, black (light) theatre, shadow theatre – and conducts studies and research on objects and their animation (see Object Theatre). The Taller is the source of the first national puppetry festival, Títeres-Festiñecos.

In the mid 1980s, two puppet companies were established: El Kusillo, formed in 1985 in Cochabamba by the actor, poet and dramatist Federico Augusto Rocha Reynolds; and Taypikala (Asociación para la Cultura y el Desarrollo Andino Association for Culture and Andean Development), created in 1986 in Potosí by Ana María Gómez and Sergio Carrasco.

The Asociación Departamental de Titiriteros (ASDETI) was established in La Paz in 1993 to unite puppeteers in their passion and to encourage and promote puppetry in Bolivia. Members are active in schools, neighbourhoods, and local festivals. Since 1994, ASDETI has published a puppetry newsletter. Eduardo Cassis, Rudy Betancourt, Antonio Paredes and Jaime González Portal were among those puppetry specialists who organized a conference through ASDETI on the history of Bolivian puppetry.

In 2001, with the participation of many puppeteers and artists, the Primera Asamblea Nacional Festiñecos (first national assembly and puppet festival Festiñecos) was held. It was on this occasion that UNIMA Bolivia was created under the chairmanship of Sergio Ríos Hennings, of the company, Uma Jalsu. The final edition of the Festiñecos puppet festival was held in 2007, the Premio Nacional de Títeres y Objetos Animados Festiñecos 2007. Other independent festivals have emerged – Fiestíteres in Sucre and Festitíteres in Cochabamba, initiated and organized by Títeres Paralamano, Títeres La Pirueta and Títeres Elwaky. Puppeteers such as Carmen Cárdenas, Juan Rodriguez, Maricel Sivila, Bayardo Loredo, Hugo Alvarado, Cesar Siles, Giovana Chambi, and Karina Noya, are part of contemporary puppetry in Bolivia.
Three factors mark the difference between the present and past periods of puppetry arts in Bolivia – gains in the professional quality of the companies, the establishment of a permanent puppet theatre at a fixed location in Parque Vial, Cochabamba, and the founding of three Encuentros Nacionales de Títeres (National Puppet Encounters) to facilitate the organization and professional development of artistic practice in Bolivia.

It is estimated that between 2000 and 2011, approximately three thousand puppet performances were carried out in Bolivia that reached a public of more than two hundred thousand spectators.


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