Arts & Entertainment

Stair-shaped bread to guide souls part of Bolivia’s Day of the Dead altars

By Gina Baldivieso

La Paz, Oct 29 (EFE).- Bread in the shape of stairs to facilitate the transit of souls or of horses to help them carry edible gifts back to the spirit world form part of Bolivia’s traditional Day of the Dead home altar offerings.

According to local belief, the souls of the deceased arrive from the heavens on Nov. 1 at midday to eat and drink the delicacies they used to enjoy on Earth and later depart the terrestrial realm following their one-day visit.

With that holiday fast approaching, street fairs in La Paz have been selling the various altar items – mainly breads, pastries and sweets – that are intended to lure back the souls of dead loved ones.

One of these fairs is located in the San Francisco main plaza, one of the busiest in La Paz’s historic downtown, where bakers and confectioners hawk their delicacies and tout their knowledge of that festival that originated in and is chiefly associated with Mexico.

One of those individuals is Mabel Rivera, who sells traditional t’antawawas (anthropomorphic bread representing the deceased) and maicillos (a type of cornmeal cookie), as well as bread in the shape of stairs and horses and cookies in the form of suns, moons, crosses and stars.

The stairs allow the deceased loved one to descend to the Day of the Dead altar and also leave when it is time for it to be cleared, Rivera told Efe, adding that the sun and the moon symbolize the soul’s arrival during the day and departure at night.

Other food items include bizcochos (rectangular pieces of sponge cake) that, according to Rivera, represent the coffins of the deceased.

Sweet empanadas, similar to maicillos but with marmalade fillings; empanadas filled with lacayote (a species of squash); chocolate bread, alfajores (caramel sandwich cookies) and meringues also are part of the varied altar offerings.

Yolanda Llanque, another baker taking part in the fair, said the stairs help the souls go up and down the hills they encounter on their journey and the horses, llamas or donkeys help them carry away their gifts of food and beverage.

The t’antawawas (bread babies in the indigenous Aymara language) feature small plaster masks that identify the deceased as a man, woman, elderly person or child or as a member of a certain profession, the seller told Efe.

“If a woman died, it (has the mask of) a woman, with a skirt or a dress; if it was a man, it’s done how the gentleman was, with his moustache,” Llanque said.

Large quantities of these masks are sold in places like Santa Cruz plaza in the densely populated El Rosario neighborhood, a few blocks from San Francisco square.

Besides those representing the deceased loved ones, other masks in El Rosario depict horses, dogs, folk dances, superheroes and television and film characters that reflect the tastes of the deceased.

The tradition of fondly remembering the dead is one that dates back many generations in Bolivia and “all of Latin America,” Rivera said.

“We shouldn’t let that fade. We (should) keep waiting for (the return of) our dearly departed,” Llanque said. EFE


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