LOCALTION  :   HOME / News / Flowers, prayer, dancing at annual Bolivian skull festival

Flowers, prayer, dancing at annual Bolivian skull festival

Flowers, prayer, dancing at annual Bolivian skull festival

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Carrying human skulls adorned with flowers and coca leaves, hundreds of people danced to cheerful music and prayed for favors Thursday in an annual festival outside a cemetery chapel in Bolivia's capital.

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

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

"We have to bring them joy. It's their birthday and they must have a good time," Zapana said of the skulls.

25 PHOTOS

Bolivian skull festival

See Gallery

View of a decorated human skull during the Natitas Festival at the cemetery of La Paz on November 8, 2018. - The festival is a macabre ritual in which human skulls (natitas) are taken to La Paz cemetery to be venerated each Novembber 8 by thousands of Bolivians. Believers keep the 'natitas' at their homes, which according to the Andean tradition, protect their families. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

A man carries a decorated human skull after praying at the General Cemetery during the Natitas Festival in La Paz, Bolivia, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Celebrated a week after the Day of the Dead, Bolivians carry human skulls adorned with flowers to cemeteries asking for money, health, and other favors as part of a festival. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Musicians serenade human skull or "natitas" at the General cemetery, during the Natitas Festival, in La Paz, Bolivia, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Celebrated a week after the Day of the Dead, Bolivians carry human skulls adorned with flowers to cemeteries asking for money, health, and other favors as part of a festival. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

A man carries a decorated human skull after praying at the General Cemetery chapel during the Natitas Festival in La Paz, Bolivia, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. The festival is a mix of Andean ancestral worship and Roman Catholic beliefs. Experts say it was common in pre-Columbian times to keep skulls as trophies and display them to symbolize death and rebirth. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Women sit with their decorated human skulls at the at the General Cemetery during the Natitas Festival, in La Paz, Bolivia, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Celebrated a week after the Day of the Dead, Bolivians carry human skulls adorned with flowers to cemeteries asking for money, health, and other favors. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Human skulls or "natitas" crowned with flowers are surrounded by offerings of coca leaves, flower petals and cigarettes, at the General Cemetery marking the annual Natitas Festival in La Paz, Bolivia, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Celebrated a week after the Day of the Dead, Bolivians carry human skulls adorned with flowers to cemeteries asking for money, health, and other favors. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

People hold their decorated humans skulls after attending a short service at the General Cemetery chapel marking the Natitas Festival in La Paz, Bolivia, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. The festival is a mix of Andean ancestral worship and Roman Catholic beliefs. Experts say it was common in pre-Columbian times to keep skulls as trophies and display them to symbolize death and rebirth. The Catholic Church considers the festival to be pagan, but it doesn't ban people from taking part. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

A man seated front a mural depicting a human skull or Natitas, during the Natitas Festival celebrations, at the General Cemetery in La Paz, Bolivia, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Celebrated a week after the Day of the Dead, Bolivians carry human skulls adorned with flowers to cemeteries asking for money, health, and other favors as part of a festival. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Decorated humans skulls are displayed outside the General Cemetery chapel marking the annual Natitas Festival in La Paz, Bolivia, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Celebrated a week after the Day of the Dead, Bolivians carry human skulls adorned with flowers to cemeteries asking for money, health, and other favors. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

A man carries a decorated human skull after praying at the General Cemetery chapel during the Natitas Festival in La Paz, Bolivia, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Every year, hundreds of Bolivians carry human skulls adorned with flowers to a cemetery in the capital to ask for health and other favors as part of a festival held a week after the Day of the Dead. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Decorated humans skulls are displayed at the General Cemetery marking the annual Natitas Festival in La Paz, Bolivia, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Celebrated a week after the Day of the Dead, Bolivians carry human skulls adorned with flowers to cemeteries asking for money, health, and other favors. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

A decorated human skulls is displayed outside the General Cemetery chapel marking the annual Natitas Festival in La Paz, Bolivia, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Celebrated a week after the Day of the Dead, Bolivians carry human skulls adorned with flowers to cemeteries asking for money, health, and other favors. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Aymara indigenous women worship human skulls during the Natitas Festival at the cemetery of La Paz on November 8, 2018. - The festival is a macabre ritual in which human skulls (natitas) are taken to La Paz cemetery to be venerated each Novembber 8 by thousands of Bolivians. Believers keep the 'natitas' at their homes, which according to the Andean tradition, protect their families. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

View of human skulls during the Natitas Festival at the cemetery of La Paz on November 8, 2018. - The festival is a macabre ritual in which human skulls (natitas) are taken to La Paz cemetery to be venerated each Novembber 8 by thousands of Bolivians. Believers keep the 'natitas' at their homes, which according to the Andean tradition, protect their families. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

An Aymara indigenous woman carrying human skulls arrives at the cemetery of La Paz during the Natitas Festival on November 8, 2018. - The festival is a macabre ritual in which human skulls (natitas) are taken to La Paz cemetery to be venerated each Novembber 8 by thousands of Bolivians. Believers keep the 'natitas' at their homes, which according to the Andean tradition, protect their families. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

View of a decorated human skull during the Natitas Festival at the cemetery of La Paz on November 8, 2018. - The festival is a macabre ritual in which human skulls (natitas) are taken to La Paz cemetery to be venerated each Novembber 8 by thousands of Bolivians. Believers keep the 'natitas' at their homes, which according to the Andean tradition, protect their families. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman carrying human skulls arrives at the cemetery of La Paz during the Natitas Festival on November 8, 2018. - The festival is a macabre ritual in which human skulls (natitas) are taken to La Paz cemetery to be venerated each Novembber 8 by thousands of Bolivians. Believers keep the 'natitas' at their homes, which according to the Andean tradition, protect their families. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

Devotees worship human skulls during the Natitas Festival at the cemetery of La Paz on November 8, 2018. - The festival is a macabre ritual in which human skulls (natitas) are taken to La Paz cemetery to be venerated each Novembber 8 by thousands of Bolivians. Believers keep the 'natitas' at their homes, which according to the Andean tradition, protect their families. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

Aymara indigenous women worship human skulls during the Natitas Festival at the cemetery of La Paz on November 8, 2018. - The festival is a macabre ritual in which human skulls (natitas) are taken to La Paz cemetery to be venerated each Novembber 8 by thousands of Bolivians. Believers keep the 'natitas' at their homes, which according to the Andean tradition, protect their families. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

Devotees worship human skulls during the Natitas Festival at the cemetery of La Paz on November 8, 2018. - The festival is a macabre ritual in which human skulls (natitas) are taken to La Paz cemetery to be venerated each Novembber 8 by thousands of Bolivians. Believers keep the 'natitas' at their homes, which according to the Andean tradition, protect their families. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

View of human skulls during the Natitas Festival at the cemetery of La Paz on November 8, 2018. - The festival is a macabre ritual in which human skulls (natitas) are taken to La Paz cemetery to be venerated each Novembber 8 by thousands of Bolivians. Believers keep the 'natitas' at their homes, which according to the Andean tradition, protect their families. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

A couple carrying human skulls arrives at the cemetery of La Paz during the Natitas Festival on November 8, 2018. - The festival is a macabre ritual in which human skulls (natitas) are taken to La Paz cemetery to be venerated each Novembber 8 by thousands of Bolivians. Believers keep the 'natitas' at their homes, which according to the Andean tradition, protect their families. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

Aymara indigenous women worship human skulls during the Natitas Festival at the cemetery of La Paz on November 8, 2018. - The festival is a macabre ritual in which human skulls (natitas) are taken to La Paz cemetery to be venerated each Novembber 8 by thousands of Bolivians. Believers keep the 'natitas' at their homes, which according to the Andean tradition, protect their families. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

Aymara indigenous women worship human skulls during the Natitas Festival at the cemetery of La Paz on November 8, 2018. - The festival is a macabre ritual in which human skulls (natitas) are taken to La Paz cemetery to be venerated each Novembber 8 by thousands of Bolivians. Believers keep the 'natitas' at their homes, which according to the Andean tradition, protect their families. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

Devotees worship human skulls during the Natitas Festival at the cemetery of La Paz on November 8, 2018. - The festival is a macabre ritual in which human skulls (natitas) are taken to La Paz cemetery to be venerated each Novembber 8 by thousands of Bolivians. Believers keep the 'natitas' at their homes, which according to the Andean tradition, protect their families. (Photo by AIZAR RALDES / AFP) (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

HIDE CAPTION

SHOW CAPTION

A few steps away, Yesica Hilary had three skulls, including one attached to a full skeleton that belonged to his brother when he attended medical school.

"I know that these 'natitas' carry out these favors if you have faith," she said.

The festival is a mix of Andean ancestral worship and Roman Catholic beliefs. Experts say it was common in pre-Columbian times to keep skulls as trophies and display them to symbolize death and rebirth.

The Catholic Church considers the festival to be pagan, but it doesn't ban people from taking part.

More from Aol.com:
Missing girl's family presses Vatican about found bones
Pope condemns synagogue attack, calls for end to 'hotbeds of hate'
Pope blames devil for Church divisions, scandals, seeks angel's help

You may also like...