January 24, 2010
Today La Paz, Bolivia, begins a month-long observance of Alacitas, the annual festival of hope for a bountiful future. A mix of indigenous and European traditions – what in Bolivia isn’t?— Alacitas encourages the purchase of miniatures in anticipation that with enough faith and effort from the devotee, they will grow into the real thing before the next January 24th rolls around.
The miniatures have morphed over the years with advances in technology and expectations. Trucks, cars and houses along with dollars and Bolivian currency used to dominate. Now currencies are world-wide with Euros, Yen, and yuan entering the market basket. I did not see many trucks this year, but busses abound and Hummers have supplanted sedans. Another interesting twist for 2010 is a miniature house construction, with reinforced concrete pillars erected and sacks of cement, corrugated roofing panels and floor tiles laid nearby.
To add to their prospects, shoppers can also purchase a blessing. The blessers, most looking like curanderos brought in for the day, burn offerings of coca, honey and flower petals over tiny braziers and pass the miniatures through the smoke. Another technique employs intinction, using a flower dipped in solutions whose compositions I could not discern.
The icon of Alacitas is the Eke’ko, a jolly, little man offering an expansive gesture with his arms and sometimes accessorized with a cigarette thrust between his parted lips. “Eke’ko” means “buy me” in the Aymara language. Thus named, he is the pitch man for Alacitas’ miniatures, some of which he carries on his arms and back. The Eke’ko also references Pachamama, the Andean earth mother, and is appropriately venerated as the sustainer of life.
Another item associated with Alacitas is the “periodiquito,” a miniature edition of Bolivia’s major news dailies. These mini-jounals, which began at the end of the 19th century, combine an approach reminiscent of The Onion— one headline reads “For Tiger Woods, Eighteen Holes are Not Enough,” with biting political satire. This year president Evo Morales appears as a super hero called Egoman, the futuristic Evotar and a bumbling detective, looking for corruption in his administration. Evo’s unsuccessful rival in the last election is held up to particular ridicule. Manfred Reyes, who surreptitiously fled Bolivia last year, has his escape ascribed variously to: disguises, a tourist with pot belly and shorts or a tall chola with exceptionally long skirts, but more likely reverting to his true nature as vampire who winged it out of the country in search of new prey.