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Rabbits, Aymara, Catholic prayers highlight Bolivian festival of abundance

La Paz, Jan 24 (EFE).- Andean rituals, Chinese amulets and Catholic blessings marked Tuesday’s start of Bolivia’s Alasita festival where thousands come to buy miniature objects representing their hopes and dreams for the year.

In the capital, hundreds of artisans opened their market stalls full of miniature suitcases, houses, food, high school or university degrees and vehicles for customers to buy, symbolizing their wishes in the hopes they come true.

The ritual journeys in La Paz during Alasita were inscribed by UNESCO on its representative list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2017.

The fair will run for at least three weeks, and on Tuesday people came en masse with bags and aguayos, the multicolored indigenous fabrics, loaded with miniatures to be blessed.

A Catholic priest led a prayer before throwing holy water over the crowd and the miniatures.

At the same time, several “amautas” or Aymara wise men offered rituals of “ch’alla” or blessings of these goods, with incense and “jallallas” or cheers, so that the prayers are heard.

Among the miniatures and lucky charms, bunnies stood out, coinciding with the Chinese year of the rabbit. In recent years it has become customary for Bolivian artisans to offer plaster representations of the animals of the Chinese horoscope according to the corresponding year.

There were also other animals that cannot be missed at the fair, such as chickens, which are usually given as gifts to those looking for a partner, and toads, considered sacred in Andean culture.

La Alasita, which means “buy me,” is one of the oldest traditions of Andean culture. The festival originally celebrated the southern summer solstice on Dec. 21, with the figurines offered to Andean deities so that their wishes would come true.

Both the festival and its symbols have transformed over the years into the present-day expression of the ancestral fused with the mestizo and urban, which can also be seen in the figure of Ekeko, the ancient Andean deity of abundance and fortune.

In pre-Hispanic times, what is now known as Ekeko was represented by an illa or stone effigy of the god Tunupa, while during the Colonial period the figure seen today emerged – a plump doll with white complexion, fair hair and rosy cheeks, loaded with goods on its back.

A huge stone Ekeko is one of the main attractions at the fair, with people “returning” the miniatures purchased the previous year at its feet, to express gratitude for wishes that were fulfilled and for the blessing of those acquired for new desires.

“People come from different places to ask for what they want. We smoke to make it come true. It can be a house, work, health or money,” the amauta Saturnino Mamani told EFE.

Another smaller Ekeko stands out in the antiquities sector of the fair.

Baptized as Juanito, this Ekeko belonged to Doña Cecilia Herrera, a woman who took the effigy to the fair every year for cleansing, a tradition that is now continued by her daughter, María Uscamayta.

“My mother served here years ago. She has passed away. Because of her, we go out there and people continue to come because Juanito is over 30 years old,” Uscamayta told EFE.

“People come, I cleanse them for their health, work, business, for a degree that they want to get, or for a trip (…) So that everything goes well for them, that there are no problems – above all, health for the family, for study and so that they never lack money or work, that the whole family keeps moving forward,” she said.

According to Uscamayta, Juanito is jealous and that is why he must be in the care of a person who is single, “and you have to make him smoke on Tuesdays and Fridays so that everything goes well for you and you never lack for anything.”

“The important thing is to buy the miniatures and cleanse them with faith so that they work,” she added. EFE


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