Arts & Entertainment

Bolivia’s Alasitas festival draws large crowds of believers despite pandemic

By Gabriel Romano

La Paz, Jan 24 (EFE).- The ritual journeys during the Alasitas festival, inscribed in 2017 on UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage of humanity list, began on Monday in this Bolivian city to great enthusiasm despite the ongoing global health emergency.

Several minutes before midday, hundreds of sellers kicked off that month-long cultural event by hawking good-luck miniatures associated with Ekeko, the Aymara god of abundance.

“We wanted to hold the fair, but we’re not going to do any (opening ceremony) like what’s typically done,” La Paz’s culture secretary, Rodney Miranda, told Efe.

The official said the vendors of miniature items are required to ask for proof of a full two-dose Covid-19 vaccine series from would-be buyers, adding that other controls have been put in place to ensure social distancing and the use of face masks.

People came out in droves on Monday to procure miniaturized versions of real items they would like to have in the coming year: from plastic cash and food to miniature cars, houses and plots of land. The next step is to have those items blessed by Andean ritualists (known as amautas) and/or Catholic priests.

Later, those items will be offered to Ekeko – depicted as a man who wears a moustache and traditional Andean attire and carries money, food and a wide array of other material items on his body.

One of the vendors, Adolfo Encinas, got a head-start on his customers, buying tiny fake bills and other miniatures before noon and then taking them for consecration by an amauta, who blesses the items in a ritual involving incense and powders.

He said he saw the faith his family placed in the Alasitas (“Buy Me” in Aymara) fair when he was a young child and now keeps that tradition alive as an adult.

One amauta, Mariano Condori, said people will only see their wishes come true if they have faith and pursue their dream with determination.

Sandra Lanza, a Bolivian woman who lived in Venezuela for 30 years, bought a new Ekeko on Monday because her previous one got broken at the airport while she was returning to her homeland six months ago.

“I’m a big believer in Ekeko and I waited for this beautiful day to get one in the company of my family, she said enthusiastically.

One of the Alasitas customs indicates that Ekeko’s cigarette needs to be lit every first Tuesday and Friday of the month so the god of abundance grants the believer’s wishes.

The dedication on the part of Ekeko’s devotees also involves speaking to the figurine and sitting and chewing coca leaves by his side as if it were alive.

Bolivian President Luis Arce also took part in the event when he visited a stall set up at Plaza Murillo (home to both the presidential palace and the National Congress) on Monday, purchased miniature bills and then received a blessing from an amauta.

Last year’s event was postponed for two months after Bolivia was hit hard by a second coronavirus wave.

The La Paz mayor’s office authorized this year Alasitas festival even though the country is now facing a fourth wave of the pandemic and on one recent day the number of new confirmed cases surpassed 14,000. EFE


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