15 Jul, 2011 | Juan Manuel Miranda Martinez
Forget Christmas: it's January. Which, in the Bolivian calendar at least, means it's time both for the Alasita Festival ('Alasita' thought to be derived from an Aymara word meaning 'to buy for oneself) and for the Ekeko to take centre stage. He's like Santa Claus- he has the same rosy cheeks, the same air of jolliness, and (often) a big round belly like a bowlful of jelly - but instead of wearing all red, he dons a llama-wool hat and miniature objects hang from his body.
The Alasita Festival - also known as the Miniature Festival - has the Ekeko as its symbolic figure. Loaded with money, food and other objects, he also carries the desire of those who hope that the miniature objects they hang on him will become real as the year goes on. For example, if you hang a small plastic car from your Ekeko figure, you hope to get your hands on a life-size model later in the year; likewise, hang a small box of matches from the Ekeko and you just might have the fortune to get a slightly larger version before the year's end. Every year at midday on the 24th January, tributes are made to the Ekeko in various parts of the city.
The festival finds its beginnings in the pre-Hispanic period, when the Aymara god Ekeko (also known as the 'Thunupa') also become known as the 'god of abundance/prosperity'. The festival gained success and recognition in colonial society from 1782 onwards, the year in which the festival's official day of celebration was first established by Sebastian Segurola, a Spaniard who succeeded in defending La Paz from an indigenous siege. Today it is regarded as one of the most important folkloric festivals in Bolivia.
This year sees the opening of an exhibition entitled ' Las Alasitas: traditions of La Paz, in miniature', which features miniature handicrafts and Ekeko figures belonging to various collections of museums local to La Paz. The exhibition, organised by the Union of Local Museums, opens on Friday21st January in the Temporary Exhibition Room of the Museo Costumbrista Municipal 'Juan de Vargas' (see Cultural Calendar, pi 6); it will also feature various prizewinning works from the Alasita Festival alongside works that have won local competitions in previous years.
According to Daniela Guzman, the head of the Union of Local Museums, many of the Ekeko figures were made anonymously; most of them date from the second half of the twentieth century, and some as far back as the Thirties. The handmade figures of this rather peculiar character - over thirty in total-were made using different techniques and materials, some using plasterwork, some carved from wood, and others made using metals such as silver or copper.
The exhibition will be available for viewing until the 20th February, and if you're fortunate enough to be in La Paz during the Alasitas Festival, make sure to buy yourself an Ekeko figure complete with plastic cars, miniature matchboxes, or little copies of the Bolivian Express, and you just might be lucky enough to get what you want this January.