Culture of Bolivia
Bolivia is the reflection of a past that is rich in rituals, cultures, traditions. All these brought together in a diverse geographical space, a space in which day by day, in spite of everything, a vibrant culture can be perceived. To know her not only implies traveling across her isolated places, her cities and small towns; to know her really means to know what her people do, what they think, what they feel and why they do so. Below you can read more about the culture of Bolivia.
Festivals in Bolivia are generally pagan and are expressed by means of rituals and dances, these are motivated by the Faith/Belief that any one of the desires of prosperity can be granted. According to a religious Cosmo Vision, pre-Hispanic cultures are revealed through their deities and gods; one of the oldest being the Pachamama, to whom tribute is given by means of the ch’alla. Religious syncretism is represented by the union of these practices, with the catholic religion and the patron saints. Each village has a date set aside to celebrate their Saint also known as “Chicus Mass”. After the mass, the parishioners go out in a procession. With the passing of time many changes have occurred. For example: the Oruro Carnival now opens with a “Folkloric Festival .” Spectators enjoy a colorful parade of folkloric dances in devotion to the Socavon Virgin. Over the years dances styles change and the costumes are modified. Festivals in the east of Bolivia have more passive processions such as long walks. In the Chaco area, the festivals that take place are not accompanied by alcoholic beverages, a procession is carried out and regional products are sold, this practice is different from all the other festivals in Bolivia.
Read more about specific festivals:
Urkupiña Virgin Lord Jesus of Great Power
Socavon Virgin Cotoca Virgin
BOLIVIA…ONE THOUSAND FLAVORS
The variety and flavors of Bolivian cuisine are directly related to its varied geography and climate. From north to south, from east to west, each city, each village has its unmistakable flavor. Cochabamba, a district unlike others, is a city is characterized by its sophisticated Bolivian gastronomy. It succeeds in uniting and combining aromas, flavors and sensations guaranteed to tickle the palate. Cochabamba is the gastronomical city par excellence. Amongst the more popular dishes and treats found are the hearty corn beverage api served hot with a delicate pastel (thin fried pastry), salteñas (a juicy meat pie), sausages, stuffed potato, chank’a de pollo (chicken stew) , picante de pollo (spicy chicken), lawas (thick soups), pique macho (a diced mix of meats, potatoes and vegetables), chicharron (fried chicken or pork), charque (dried meat), huminta (corn pastry), puchero (mixed meat stew), cinnamon popsicles, pampaku (a variety of baked meats), silpancho (chicken fried steak), trancapecho (a big silpancho sandwich), lapping (roast beef), anticucho (beef heart/potato shish kabob), etc.; and all other Bolivian flavors are present. If something has not been created here, it is the custom of the Cochabamba people to improve it up to the point where all forget where it came from and it becomes for evermore a “cochabambino plate.”
Moreover, every plate is accompanied by the llajua (a kind of spicy salsa prepared with locoto
chili pepper, tomato, quilquiña herb and a touch of salt), this sauce has the distinctive feature of garnishing even the most insipid dish. For the cochabambino, llajua is like the cherry on the ice cream. In the impressive city of La Paz you can´t miss tasting the fricase paceño (pork stew), or a hot cup of coffee with a marraqueta (crunchy bread roll). If you continue to travel towards the south of Bolivia and you visit Oruro, don’t miss out trying the rostro asado (baked lamb´s head) and the charquekan (dried llama meat). After visiting the House of Coins in Potosi, try some salteñas. In Sucre, after walking around the Museums, Churches and Recoleta, you can have delicious creole sausages for lunch. In Tarija, after visiting the vineyards, the saice (spicy braised beef) cannot be missed. Santa Cruz bakeries offer a good majadito, sonso and cuñape to enjoy with a hot cup of coffee. Beni and Pando welcomes you with a delicious masaco (smashed plantain with charque (dried meat) , tamal (ground corn stuffed with meat or cheese then steamed in a leaf) and locro (soup with potatoes, corn and avocado). Upon your return to Cochabamba enjoy once again the delicious delicacies that the llajta (Cochabamba) offers.
Pachamama is the supreme goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes . Pachamama means "Mother Earth" in the native Quechua language. She is considered to be the mother who provides life, food, and protection. Rituals for the Pachamama are characterized by the burial of cooked food, coca leaves, grains and corn flour, cigarettes, and chicha to nourish the mother earth. People toast to her honor before every meeting or festivity, often spilling a small amount of their drink on the floor before downing the rest. Burnt offerings (q´owa) are also made in which they ask for good health, money, good fortune in business and work. Celebrations for the Pachamama include a respect for all living things, for they are not only the fruit of her creation but also form part of the Pachamama herself.
ANDEAN COSMO VISION / LLIUPACHA YUYAYCHAY:
The Andean Cosmo Vision is the relationship between the human being -runa- and all material and nonmaterial things that surround him from the beginning of time and throughout the evolution of all things. It is not exclusive, rather everyone evolves and fulfills a permanent role; the Andean Cosmo Vision is fundamentally based on a “Unity” of the cosmos, nature and family. The sacred symbols of this culture are essential guides in our evolution. They suggest a life well organized in the service of others and not of oneself nor of selfish individual interests. All is a holistic “Oneness” in unity. People change, but Andean wisdom does not, nor will it change, for it has remained on the sidelines without being in the least bit affected. This Andean Cosmo Vision is explained in the most objective manner from a mental point of view that is psychic and evolutionary, because a Unity cannot be separated. To live the Andean Cosmo Vision is to live a balanced and humane lifestyle. Any harm inflicted on another being halts evolution. This evolution and all our actions are recorded in our conscience; thus, we are responsible and we are judges of our actions as we pass from one stage to another.
Cacho and rayuela, as well as other folk games are supposedly becoming outdated; yet there are always those who, in spite of everything, keep those habits alive by initiating a game of cacho or rayuela at parties or with their friends and family. The origin of the Cacho game, originally called Alalay, is not very clear. It is a traditional game that is practiced by both young and old alike. To play cacho, you need five dice and a special cup (made out of thick leather). This "Yahtzee" like game tests the players’ luck and wit. There are different forms and versions of cacho, for example: the General, Alalay, Throw with a twist, Triplet, the Witch, etc. Over the years game rules have been created and even championships have taken place allowing the enthusiasts to show their abilities at this game.
The Cancha is an open air market in the city of Cochabamba, the biggest in Bolivia and Latin America. It is a place where you can buy basic food supplies, clothes, furniture, electronic equipment and even cars. The Cancha is a colorful marketplace, it is a mixture of products and people, and it is full of activity seven days a week. There is a greater influx of collectors and merchants on Wednesdays and Saturdays, days in which there is a great show of variety and where haggling techniques are used by those selling and buying. This open air commercial area offers tourists a handicrafts section where Bolivian souvenirs can be purchased.
THE ORURO CARNIVAL
The Oruro Carnival, a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity, takes place in the city of Oruro – folkloric, mining and ceremonial center of great importance since pre-colonial ages. It is a pagan-religious festivity in which preparations take place throughout the year, with innumerable ceremonies and rituals. A variety of folkloric dance groups such as the diablada, morenada, caporales, tobas, and a variety of Andean rhythms will start to prepare while musicians begin to perfect their choreography the first Sunday of the month of November up to the Saturday – celebration day of the Oruro Carnival. The devotion with which dancers and musicians venerate the Socavon Virgin, patroness of the Bolivian miners, is something that stands out. Saturday, the first day of Carnival, is the day of the Grand Pilgrimage Entrance. Dancers delight the spectators with a diversity of dances as they head to the temple of the Socavon Virgin. The essence of the Oruro Carnival is the diablada (dance of the devils), that represents the battle between good and evil.
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Chicha, a brew made out of corn, inherited from our ancestors, has its origins in the Inca period. An intoxicating drink, amazing for its singular manner of preparation, and its importance in community ceremonies and celebrations, it was also part of the offering to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) goddess. The chicha has traditionally been considered the “Nectar of the Valley”. During the colonial period it was looked down on with disdain because it was considered the drink of the “Indians”. Later on the chicha began to gain popularity up to our days and now it has even become the main source of economical income for Cochabamba. Today, the best quality chicha is considered to come from Tarata.
The coca leaf, a sacred leaf that has been used since pre-Hispanic and colonial times, is of great importance in the Andean cultures because of its organized manner of cultivation and because of its great importance for the Aymara people. The coca leaf is one of the benefits that Mother Nature has given to the cultures of the Amazon Andean regions and it has been part of their every day life for a long time. The coca leaf was and is an accomplice and witness of the sorrows and joys of the people. It is part of q’owa rituals, in which it is chewed as a form of respect to the co-existence of our culture. It is a sacred leaf that has nutritional, healing and spiritual qualities.
An indigenous leader and the national head of the political party Movement Towards Socialism (MAS). He was born in a small community in the Altiplano of Oruro (Isallavi). Evo Morales, son of Dionisio and María, comes from an Aymara family. His parents had seven children, three lived and the other four died because of the stigma of poverty in the peasant communities. He desired to study and become a journalist. In 1979, he moved to the tropical region of Cochabamba and a few years later Evo Morales began his career in the Union which set him as the head leader of the six coca confederations. At the same time he founded the MAS political party with the idea of making it a confederation of social organizations in which reformation projects that are needed in Bolivia can be developed. Evo Morales proposes the establishing of a dignified, sovereign and productive National State in which Bolivians will found a new Bolivia that will overcome immediately social and production structures that were imposed by the colonial state.
The Q’owa ritual is part of the millennial Andean tradition of Bolivia. Today it is practiced in the valleys and in the eastern part of Bolivia. Depending on the situation at hand, a series of herbs and other specific and significant elements are used in preparing the Q’owa. Its significance may vary in each case, but most importantly the Q’owa is a means of presenting an agreeable offering to the millennial spirits that govern these customs, specially the Pachamama (Mother Earth). This offering is given with the purpose of receiving protection and blessing from the gods. It is a reciprocal process: we feed the Pachamama and she protects us and helps us with our families, love, work and business. The ideal day for offering a q’owa is the first Friday of each month, as well as the Tuesday in Carnival, nevertheless this ritual can be observed every Friday in homes and businesses that range from coffee shops to construction companies. In spite of many people saying that they don’t believe in Andean traditions, the number of those who practice the q’owa ritual has increased in the last years; maybe because they don’t want to miss out on one more possibility of having luck in their work or business. Also, an important element that accompanies this ritual is the coca leaf.
Rayuela is a very well known and much practiced game in many countries of Latin America and Spain. Its name and some of its characteristics vary according to the region where it is played. It is a game that requires great ability and concentration. A sort of platform or base is set up into which a disk is thrown; the disk must fall into a hole in the base. More points are gained if the disk falls into the hole or within a determined distance closest to the hole, and fewer points are obtained depending on how far the disk falls from the hole. The platform or base consists of a slightly inclined rectangular box with a hole in the bottom that is the size of the disk. The disk is a circular lead or bronze piece which today has been replaced by a coin. Rayuela is played in teams and each participant stands at a certain distance from the platform. The winning team is the one that has thrown the disc closest to or into the hole, the most number of times. Cacho and rayuela are games of great passion for Bolivians in the same way soccer is, especially for the people of Cochabamba.
It is the longest night and the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere. The Aymara New Year begins on the 21st of June with the winter solstice and the initiation of the new agricultural cycle. The Aymara New Year is a time of celebration for it is the time of the “mara t’aqa” or gratitude to the Sun and to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) for the harvest. As of this moment a new sowing season begins and it is the sun that must give energy towards a good harvest. The ancient indigenous farmers from the Andean Altiplano were governed by the observation of different astronomical phenomena, thus, they would know when to initiate the different agricultural and cattle raising tasks such as sowing, harvesting, and shearing. This festivity is perfectly integrated into our culture and nothing has been able to uproot it from our hearts.
Amongst these ancient ruins a colorful indigenous ceremony is carried out every June 21st, bringing to memory a past full of splendor. In this ceremony the amauta is situated at the door of the Kalasasaya Temple and presents the wajta (offering) to the Pachamama (Mother Earth, germinates) and to Inti Tata (Father Sun, fertilizes); all this takes place at the Puerta del Sol (Door of the Sun). Thousands of visitors await the arrival of the sun’s first rays with their palms lifted upwards in order to receive energy from the Father Sun. This marks the beginning of the Andean New Year and it is also an offering of gratitude to the Sun and to the Pachamama. This New Year (machaq mara in the aymara tongue) coincides with the winter solstice as the sun’s first rays appear right through the entrance of the Puerta del Sol. According to the Aymara culture, engraved on the frieze of the Door is a calendar that marks the two solstices and the two astronomical equinoxes.
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The Wiphala is a symbol of national and cultural identification from the Amazon Andes; it is an emblem of national collectivity and harmony. For more than 500 years it has been a symbol of fraternity, reciprocity, ritualism, a representation of unity in the diversity, and of the Ayllus community of Pusy Suya Tahuantinsuyo. The Wiphala flapped in times of insurrection and in battles for independence from the suppression of the crown. The checkered figures of the Wiphala have seven colors that are the colors of the rainbow, and it has seven boxes for each color that are distributed diagonally; the white line is the central point of convergence of the kollas and the kambas. The slanted seven-colored line is also the point in which Urinsaya and Aransaya come together. The Wiphala has probably been used since the creation of Tiwanaku, more than 2000 years ago.
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