Bolivia welcomes summer solstice with ancestral rituals

 An ancestral ritual with offerings to Pachamama or Mother Earth and the ‘illas’, the Andean deities that bring prosperity, were part of Thursday’s celebrations marking the change in the Bolivian agricultural cycle, starting with the southern summer solstice.

The event is also a preamble to the Alasitas heritage festival that is celebrated in January. In recent years, some authorities and indigenous communities decided to rescue this festival, which is not as popular in Bolivia as winter solstice or Andean New Year.

The place chosen for Thurday’s celebration was the Plaza Mayor of San Francisco, in the historic center of La Paz, which the Aymara call the main ‘waka,’ a site considered sacred within the Andean worldview, or a ‘taypi’ or central place.

Municipal officials painted a huge ‘chakana’ or Andean cross on the floor and in each corner they placed sculptures of representative figures of the Andean world, such as a ‘chachapuma’ or feline, a fish, a condor and an ekeko tuno, which symbolizes a person, as sociologist David Mendoza told to EFE.

The Mayor’s Office called the event ‘Ispalla Illa Phaxi, time of fertility’ in Aymara.

La Alasita, which means ‘buy me’ in Aymara, is one of the oldest traditions of Andean culture, when the people of La Paz bless the figurines that represent their aspirations and desires at noon on Jan. 24.

The festival originally celebrated the southern summer solstice on Dec. 21, with figurines placed on Andean deities as the ‘illas’ so that throughout the year the wishes they represent would become reality.

According to Mendoza, on these dates, throughout Tahuantinsuyo, the ancient Inca empire, invocations were made to rain, “but a benign rain, that does not bring floods” and favors sowing.

Historical references indicate that on this date, people gathered in ceremonial places and carried their ‘illas’ or amulets and ‘ispallas’ or seeds, and exchanged them, he commented.

On the other hand, it was customary to make small clay effigies symbolizing people’s wishes for the year, something that was replicated on this day.

Bolivian historians report that the celebration was moved from December to January in 1783 by order of the then governor of La Paz, the Spaniard Sebastián Segurola, to commemorate the victory of his people against an uprising led by the indigenous leader Tupac Katari and in honor of the Virgin of Our Lady of La Paz.

Thus, the festival and its symbols were transformed until the current expression of the ancestral fused with the mestizo and urban, and its protagonist is the Ekeko, the god of abundance today represented in a plump doll, with white skin and rosy cheeks, small and loaded with various goods on his back.

To receive the summer solstice, the municipal authorities and artisans of Alasita, together with ‘amautas’ or Aymara wise men, presented four offerings to Pachamama.

The offerings included sweets, medicinal plants, incense, aromatic plant resins and stuffed llama fetuses, which were then placed on wood-burning altars which were then set on fire.

The ‘amautas’ recited prayers in Aymara to ask for prosperity and good omens for the city.

At the same time, a small fair was set up with an exhibition of some figurines and crafts characteristic of Alasita, such as furniture, piggy banks and clothing.

There was no shortage of other traditional sectors, such as the sale of ornamental plants or food, where the offer of small anticuchos stood out, skewers with pieces of beef heart roasted on small grills and served with hot potatoes and a “llajua” or spicy peanut sauce