RELEASE DATE: 01 Feb, 2012


It’s February, and it’s time for Alasita. Welcome to the toy-town of Bolivian beliefs, and a uniquely An- dean New Year festivity. Alasita, the annual miniature models fair in La Paz, is a joyous and lively celebration that both encapsulates Bolivians’ diverse past and, many believe, holds the key to their future. The word ’Alasita’ derives from the Aymara language, meaning ’buy me‘, and, as Patrick Dowling investigates on p10, the fair is characterised by commerce in miniatures of all kinds. But it doesn’t end there. Eating well is an equally important festival feature, which Helena Cavell indulges in on p18. Nevertheless (and not unlike Christmas), beyond the consumption of all things material and culinary there is a deeper spiritual tradition at work. The festival’s origins are in part symbolised through the Santa Claus–like figure of the Ekeko, an Andean god whose significance is explored by Matthew Grace on p8.

But is it really just Andean belief? Controversy surrounds the interpretation of contemporary Bolivian customs that are the result of Andean and Catholic syncretism. Alasita and the Ekeko legend would not be complete without reference to the role that the Spanish invaders played in shaping these traditions. The extent to which the belief systems have become amalgamated is illustrated by Patrick Dowling’s investigation into the Bolivian Virgin Mary on p6. Some post-colonial cultural theorists are worried by that fact that many modern practices, which today are simply accepted as Bolivian, are in fact the result of a legacy of suppression that has quashed the original Andean customs. Camilla Swift takes a look at one these practices, that of the Bolivian Kallawayas, or traditional healers (p4), who only recently have been able to live a fragile revival.

Nonetheless, it seems simplistic to reduce modern Bolivian culture to ’pure‘ or original beliefs versus bas-tardised customs. Bolivia today is a country that has developed away from the inferiority complex of the colonised: Alasita and the Ekeko are not Spanish traditions. In Spain, New Year’s resolutions are made whilst eating 12 grapes at each clock stroke of midnight. In Bolivia, the purchasing of miniature models at Alasita Fair gives material reality to people’s hopes for the year to come. Alasita is not about squabbling over entangled origins, but about new resolve and faith in the future.


Scattering seeds: Catholicism and the pachamama

28 Feb, 2012 | Patrick Dowling

Pachamama has provided fertile ground for the growth of Catholicism in Bolivia. Coming from a Catholic high-school background, I thought I'd find plenty of common ground with the people of Bolivia....


28 Feb, 2012 | Mathew Grace

Cast a look into many Bolivian homes, and you'll likely spot a small, moustachioed ceramic figurine called an Ekeko. These jolly-looking statuettes resemble small men in Andean attire with enormous sm...

Dining at Alasita: A cornucopia of culinary delights

28 Feb, 2012 | Helena Cawell

As a lover of food, I have tried some of the best (and worst) of market stall food from a variety of countries. At best it is delicious and authentic, giving a peek at life behind the tourist façade;...

Nomadic Healing

28 Feb, 2012 | Camilla Swift

Every one of us lives bound by nature. Modern medicine may seem to heal quicker, but natural medicine is still the most pure. It heals slowly but lasts forever! Travellers only usually encounter Bol...

Honey, I shrunk a festival

28 Feb, 2012 | Patrick Dowling

You buy small, fake money with life-sized, actual money in hopes that you will become rich? Am I the only one not lost in the irony? Bolivianos! Dólares! Euros!' shouts the street vendor directly i...

Voices from the fairground

28 Feb, 2012 | Patrick Dowling

A selection of interviews documenting the Alasita fair as lived by pacenos. Name: Teresa Ticona de PizarroAge: 52Occupation: Artisan selling toy cars I have been an artisan at Alasita for 20...