By Gina Baldivieso
La Paz, Dec 21 (EFE).- An ancestral ritual with offerings for Pachamama, or Mother Earth, a small fair of miniatures and an enormous cake in the image of “Illa,” an Andean deity that is said to bring prosperity, are all part of a festival celebrating the Southern Hemisphere’s Summer Solstice in Bolivia.
The event, called “Ispalla Illa Phaxi, the time of fertility,” was organized by the Municipal Secretariat of Cultures on Tuesday on Tejada Sorzano square in La Paz, where a replica of a semi-underground temple or shrine from the Tiahuanacota culture was on display.
Inside the small temple, a group of “amautas” (Aimara wise men) prepared the offerings that included fruit, different sweets, medicinal plants, incense, aromatic vegetable resins and llama fat, which then were placed on altars of firewood to be burned as part of the ceremony.
The “amautas” recited prayers in Aimara asking for prosperity and good omens for the city, the mayor of which, Ivan Arias, participated in the ritual along with Secretary of Cultures Rodney Miranda, and other municipal officials.
“The Andean worldview includes a series of rituals like this one, and the importance of this one is precisely the start of a new (agricultural) cycle,” Miranda told EFE.
According to the official, the ritual was undertaken to “recharge energies” and officially begin the activities in the run-up to the next Alasitas, the fair of wishes in miniature that was declared in 2017 to be part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Originally, the Alasitas fair was linked to the Summer Solstice and was a time when indigenous peoples exchanged miniatures, agricultural products, circular colored and unusually shaped stones.
Alasita, which means “buy me” in the Aimara language, is one of the oldest traditions of the Andean culture, with La Paz residents blessing the miniatures representing their aspirations and wishes on Jan. 24.
The festival was originally celebrated on Dec. 21 with miniatures presented to the deity so that he would transform the wishes into reality during the coming year.
Bolivian historians say that the celebration was transferred from December to January in 1873 on the order of the then-governor of La Paz, Spaniard Sebastian Segurola, to commemorate Spain’s victory over an indigenous uprising led by indigenous chieftain Tupac Katari and in honor of the Virgin of Our Lady of La Paz.
As a preamble to this festival, outside the temple a small fair was set up with a number of miniatures and typical handicrafts, including furniture, clothing and small Nativity scene figures of animals and people.
Ornamental plants and food are also sold, along with various items that can be offered to the deity on the altars.
The participants in the festival were members of the National Federation of Artisans and exhibitors at the Christmas and Alasitas Fair (Fenaena), some of them accompanied by their children.
One group of chefs presented the huge “Illa” cake or pie covered with gray icing.
Miranda announced that on Jan. 24 a UNESCO commission will arrive in La Paz to inspect the Alasitas exhibits.
Meanwhile, Arias asked the artisans to organize “the best fair of all time” featuring items made by Bolivians and not selling imported products, especially those from China.
“There are other fairs where you can buy imported things. This is the artisans’ fair and you must be the monitors,” the mayor said.