RELEASE DATE: 13 Jan, 2016

EDITORIAL BY William Wroblewski

In parts of Bolivia and across the Andes in general, one can learn to see time as through a mirror. After spending your life ‘looking forward’ to the future, or ‘thinking back’ to the past, taking in the view of some of the locals here just may turn you around.

Rafael Núñez is a professor at the Department of Cognitive Science at the University of California, San Diego. He has spent years studying the languages and gestures of the Aymara – one of the two main ethnic groups in the Andes – in Bolivia, Peru and Chile. In a famous study carried out 10 years ago, he visited regions of rural Chile interviewing monolingual Aymara speakers as well as bilingual Aymara and Spanish speakers. Taking care to note physical gestures as well as use of language, he noticed a few interesting things about the way his interviewees communicated notions of time.

For one, when referencing the past, the Aymara speakers tended to gesture forward, extending their arm further and further in front of them as they moved deeper into the past. As they discussed the future of their children, they flicked their thumbs back, over their shoulders. The same notions are apparent in Aymara vocabulary. Nayra is the word for ‘past’, which can translated as ‘eye’, or ‘sight’. Conversely, ‘future’ is written as q’ipa, often translated as ‘behind’ or ‘back’.

Nearly all understandings of time are constructed using metaphors of space, in which a person moves forward, with the future approaching. In nearly all cultures, a person is perceived by moving in this way through time, with the past behind him and the future laying ahead. But here, high in the Andes, this may not be the case.

And this approach to understanding time makes a lot of sense. Memory is its own kind of vision, supplying us with a rich (though perhaps flawed) resource to understand and see what has happened in our lives. Meanwhile, the future may seem a dark, mysterious void, a big unknown.

Perhaps we are walking backwards through time after all.

In this issue of Bolivian Express, we thought about ‘time’, and how it affects ourselves and the places we inhabit. We wrote about people and places that, on the surface, it seems time forgot. We explored deep into Bolivia’s history, to a time before humans, to the age of the dinosaurs. And we visited more relatively recent times, writing of the rich history of Bolivia’s precolonial, colonial and postcolonial past. And we wrote about some of the most important histories being written today, as significant changes in the role of women are being forged across the country.

In June 2014, the Bolivian government famously reversed the clock on its congress building on Plaza Murillo in La Paz. It’s hands now turn in a counterclockwise direction, and its numbers are reversed, with the number 1 to the left of the 12. A political act for certain – serving as a bold statement of southern identity and seen by many as a big symbolic step in Bolivia’s process of decolonization. Here in Bolivia, it may just make sense. Time does mean something different here, and we hope this issue helps you see and enjoy this mirrored point of view.


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