Also known

as: El Tio (“The Uncle”)

Supay is the spirit of Bolivia’s mines and patron of miners. He is the master of mineral seams and can bestow or withhold wealth and success. He gives minerals as gifts or hides them. He can provide safety or cause accidents; he can lead someone out of the mine or cause them to become hopelessly lost. Supay causes and prevents mine tunnel collapse.

He is an ancient, local deity who has been displaced above ground by Christianity. Miners do not invoke other deities or saints, at least not while in the mine, to avoid offending Supay and raising his wrath. Supay lives underground and resembles a red devil. Those who would like to suppress folk religion identify him as the devil, but his devotees do not consider him to be so. He is either referred to by name or as El Tio, “the uncle below ground.” (El Tío literally means “the uncle” in Spanish.)

Supay guards the mines and miners—providing they pay him his due. Supay considers what are called offerings to be payments. As landlord of the mines, Supay expects to be paid by those who hope to profit from them or who labor within. He protects those who make offerings but punishes those who do not. Supay is given daily offerings with larger, more lavish payments offered on the first and last Friday of each month. El Tio’s image is placed within a niche in a passageway within a mine so he can accept offerings directly. Supay must be honored in order to escape his wrath and receive his protection.

Supay emerges from the mine to dance at the famous Carnival celebrations in Oruro, Bolivia. Supay’s associations with Carnival began in the late eighteenth century, and he is now its star and main symbol. According to legend, El Tio lives underground in mines and caves. He only ventures out one day a year on Carnival Sunday, the day of temptation.


Supay is envisioned as a red horned spirit with an erect phallus. Statues are crafted so that arms, hands, and mouth are open to directly accept offerings. Sometimes mouth and penis are linked by an inner tube so that liquids poured into Supay’s mouth exit via his penis as if he’s truly urinating.


China Supay


Alpaca, llama (beasts of burden that carry what’s been removed from his mines)


August, the month when miners traditionally buy their annual supplies and equipment. Supay is also celebrated at the Oruro Carnival, which begins the Saturday before Ash Wednesday and features a masked procession. Archangel Michael leads the opening parade, followed by Lucifer, who is accompanied by Supay.


Candles, cigarettes, coca leaves, liquor



Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.