Of the many festivals in the Andes, one is venerated as the celebration of hope and abundance. This is the ancient Fiesta of Alacitas. Though first officially sanctioned in 1781, the roots are to be found deep in the native peoples of Lake Titicaca. At present the highest concentration of enthusiasts is to be found in the city of La Paz, Bolivia. In busy days of preparation participants scurry to purchase miniature objects then implore the Aymara deity “Ekeko” through the solicitations of black-robed priests & yatiris (shamans) to convert the miniatures into the real thing!
On the first day (Jan. 24th) of this multiple week festival, many attend a Morning Mass with their miniatures. The objects are varied and express the needs of the celebrants. They range from work tools to a university degree a worried student is toiling to achieve, a little store whose income would stabilize a family, a stove for ease of cooking or most anything worth praying for. Upon leaving, there is a line of yatiris with smoking braziers on the church steps who through muttered ceremony strengthen the requests chanted inside.
Participants move then to fairgrounds where yet more Yatiris and other spell-casters offer their services along with food vendors, sellers of bric-a-brac and balloons, hawkers of all sorts. Now the deeply felt becomes cause for fiesta. Families stroll up the fairway with babies and grandparents in tow; teenagers check out one another while playing Foosball meantime youngsters play and laugh chewing on their cobs of corn. In the crowd I asked a young boy carrying a statue what his Ekeko was for. He responded with a twinkle, "For good luck and for a good future." His smile was radiant and his eyes shiny and clear. And I couldn’t help but think his future would surely be bright.
I don't know a more pronounced melding of the native with the Christian. This is syncretism (fusion of differing systems of belief) lived and demonstrated in open, full and modern terms. One faith is old, the other even more ancient. Both bolster a people as they face the unknown and uncertain. There can be no gesture more human than this. In all the smoke the shiny little boy asked me, “What do you hope for?” Well, my hopes are simple. I wish that every participant receives what they desire and that each may be made whole. I beseech any and all gods who might be listening. And I shall return to ask for the very same...
Copyright © Mick Huerta 2011. Text & Fotos by Mick Huerta. All Rights Reserved.
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