Issue - August 2010

August 2010


In this edition, Rutter gives a review of the Cementerio de los Elefantes film; Will Dowlin tell us about the most dangerous road in the world, The Ekeko, a Bolivian tradition by Lena Midrez; and ultimately Walter Sanchez lets us know about Violin in Boliviaread more...

august 2010

El Ekeko: how peace and happiness defeated the conquistadors

Today, he is the one who may bring you luck or make your dreams come true, but many years ago, this little smiling god who loves life’s simple pleasures frightened the first Hispanic conquistadors and saved the life of a rebel’s lover.

Lena Midrez
Projects Abroad
Liege - Belgica

El Ekeko, the god of abundance is the figurehead of the festival of Las Alasitas. Each year, on the 24th January, many thousands of people go to La Paz for this festival. Once they are there, they buy small images of the objects or aspirations they hope obtaining during the New Year. According to tradition, El Ekeko has to receive a cigarette once a year, alcohol, and other tiny donations. If he does, he will bring prosperity and abundance to the donors, and will realize their wishes and expectations. Other than the elementary needs which are brought by most people (a bag of rice to have food all year, good luck frogs, small monopoly notes to have money, …), some Alasitas are more original: a chicken to help the donor find a girlfriend, or a small university degree to pass his studies. After having brought the donations to El Ekeko, the objects are either blessed by a traditional shaman with incense and flower petals, or by Our Lady of La Paz in the Roman Catholic Cathedral.

So how did El Ekeko come to be worshipped in this way? His history combines local age old Aymara traditions and more recent Roman Catholic beliefs. According to many theories, El Ekeko’s story finds its origin in the Tiwanakan civilization, which extended to the Altiplano and the area around Lake Titicaca. He represented abundance in Aymaran mythology. According to the Bolivian archeologist Arthur Posnansky, on 22nd December each year the population used to offer miniatures of what they would like to have during the year.

Later, the Incas adopted El Ekeko’s image, originally called Iqiqu, and changed it to a divinity for good luck and fertility. According to the legend, the Iqiqu (El Ekeko), a generous and cheerful little man bringing harmony and tranquility, lived in the Bolivian’s Altiplano Mountains. When they arrived in the New Continent, scared by the power of his peace and joy, the first Hispanics persecuted El Ekeko, caught him, killed him, and cut his body into pieces. The different parts of his body were dispersed in different distant places, in order to prevent him being reborn.

However, the Ekeko’s legend did not stop there. In 1781, with the indigenous uprisings of La Paz, the small god found himself in the middle of a love story.

Paulita Tintaya was the servant of the wife of Don Sebastian de Segurola, governor and major of the armies of La Paz. Paulita’s lover, Isidoro Choquehuanca, served in the indigenous rebel army, and when he had to leave, he gave her a plaster amulet as a proof of his love. The statuette had a human’s shape; Isidoro copied the picture of the grocer Rojas on it, and filled it with small bags of food and goods so that his lover would not miss out on anything during his absence. From then on, the lovers’ destiny was linked to the amulet.

Before long, La Paz was under siege and within a few months a famine fell over the city. The situation was getting worse every day, so Isidoro decided to save Paulita by smuggling more supplies to her. Doña Josefa Ursula de Rojas Foronda, the governor’s wife, was also suffering from hunger. As her loyal servant, Paulita took responsibility for her protection, and offered her some of her food. When the siege ended and Sebastian de Segurola found his wife in good health, he thanked Paulita and questioned her about the victuals’ origin. In order to protect her lover, she affirmed to the governor that the amulet filled with corns had given them the food, and had saved their lives.

Following the liberation of La Paz, and to pay homage to the Virgen de Nuestra Señora de La Paz, Sebastian de Segurola chose the date of 24th January to be an annual celebration of the small god who had saved his wife. A tradition that is still alive today.

The Violin in Bolivia

The violin, a musical instrument brought by the conquerors and European missionaries, has a strong presence among peasants and many indigenous villages although facing the risk of disappearing in lots of them. If the latter ever took place, along with the violin a large variety of execution techniques, repertoires, construction techniques, etc., would disappear; in other words, a whole constellation of knowledge and aesthetics that every indigenous village and peasant have been building in their long relation with this instrument.

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