November 2012


La chicha was, is and will always be an important part of Bolivia’s culture. Walter Sánchez Canedo takes us on a trip of this beverages development throughout history, explaining its origins and importance to the people of Cochabamba.

By: Walter S√°nchez C.
Instituto de Investigaciones

Keru vessel in silver Chafalonia
Photo: Walter S√°nchez

The origins of la chicha In the imagination of the people of Cochabamba, la chicha is being associated with the valleys. Without constraints this beverage is consumed in all parts of the country, prepared in different ways and with various tastes. Its production and consumption comes from the first cultures that populated the Andes, in which alcohol, drugs and stimulants were common ritual elements. Although asserting that an important chicha production existed during the period of the domination by the Tiwanaku (between the 6th and 12th century) in the valleys of Cochabamba as well as the zone of the plateau, the drink became overflowing and an important economic factor in the Incan empire in the middle of the 16th century under the presence of the Tawantinsuyu. Two factors were linked: (1) the state generosity which functioned as a base of mutuality and (2) the fact of being an essential ritual element regarding the relationship with the gods. As a result in all of the Incan empire la chicha was crucial in the ceremonial system, strongly associated not only with the production of corn, but also with state celebrations. No wonder, the achieved drunkenness was important in both state and religious events. In this condition it was highlighted that the Incas and the local leaders drank with el Sol and los ushnu (ritual altar).

La chicha under the Spanish

In the early colonial times, la chicha was defined as a ‚Äúcorn wine‚ÄĚ for the Spanish. The seeker of religions, the Jesuit Joseph de Acosta, in his Historia Natural y Moral de los Incas, written between 1588 and 1590, classifies the different kinds of la chicha, according to its virtue or its satanic qualities: ‚ÄúThe corn wine, in Peru called azua, and in the vocabulary of the Incan commonly referred to as chicha, is made in various ways. The usual way being the one similar to beer, firstly moistening the grains of the corn, until it starts to spring up and afterwards cooking them in one order, they start out hard and gradually become soft: this kind is in Peru called sora, and is prohibited by law, because of the serious injuries strong intoxication can cause; but the law only serves few who make use of it as the rest is dancing and drinking all day and night‚Ķ Another way to make azua or chicha is to chew the corn and thus yeasting it and afterwards cooking: it is still the opinion of the indigenous that by well yeasting the corn, you chew on the old rotten grains which make a disgusting sound and can be spit out in order to not being put in the wine for drinking. The most clean and sanitary way, and which makes the people feel the least dizzy, is to roast the corn: the most perfectionists indigenous do it and some Spanish for medical reasons: it has been discovered that for the kidneys and urine it is a very healthy beverage. It is hard to find indigenous being sick, as they stick to drinking their chicha‚ÄĚ.

La chicha de sora, used by the indigenous people for their rituals, not only remains prohibited, but very quickly becomes an object of pursuit. Pablo Jos√© de Arriga, one of the most famous destroyers of idolatry, describes in his Manual para destruir y descubrir idolatr√≠as, published in the first years of the 17th century: ‚ÄúThe commandments were guarded by the priest of the village who had an agreement with the kings, because he was considered the most effective medium to destroy the idolatry, get rid of the drunken happiness amongst the caciques and the rest of the indigenous, carrying out all the instructions and resulting consequences in case of disregard in his sermons, prohibiting chicha as a payment for labor just as the consumption in the days of Pascua and the feasts dedicated to the villages in which it was no secret that the indigenous came together in public and got drunk more severely than usually, and to demonstrate to the indigenous that get drunk carry out the verdicts on the caciques and their supplied happiness, and therefore set their heads right to become a good example for the rest of the indigenous‚ÄĚ. Chicha, drunkenness, orgies and an uncontrolled sex drive were the ideal chain which was intended to be eliminated.

Since this occurred on a frequent level in the Andes, in Cochabamba, la chicha became part of the everyday life for the people. It was consumed by indigenous just as much as by mixedraced indigenous and Creoles. The latter, with also some being mixed-raced, had their own traditional laboratories in which they produced chicha for their proper use. For their part, the mixedraced indigenous supplied half of the chicherías, places of production and outlays in which also food (picantes) was sold. This union of chichería/ picantería made up of the most important recreational activity centers in the little colonial villages, furthermore being places in which the people, after a certain hour which was generally in the night, spend their time with music, dancing and probably other types of passions.

Trying to combat the problems caused by la chicha

The presence of those taverns was so important, that in 1753, a ‚ÄúBando de Buen Gobierno‚ÄĚ was sent out to the members of the known Cabildo, who were the judges and representatives of the village of Oropeza and published in a compilation about digestion and orders being principles of the 20th century, and was approved of because ‚Äúlas chicheras do not supply bonfires in public streets, and those which do are being punished immediately‚ÄĚ. This was not irregular for 1793, Francisco de Viedma, in his Informe sobre la Provincia de Santa Cruz de la Sierra, highlights that a problem of the Cochabambinos is ‚Äúa lot of passion or vice for la chicha de ma√≠z‚ÄĚ, therefore he denounces: ‚Äúthe disturbance caused by la chicha is so severe, providing that it is consumed, that in only one district of the ancient adjustment of this city more than 200.000 corn bushels are used to produce this repulsive beverage‚ÄĚ. This consumption increases during religious festivities, to which the same governor has the following remarks: ‚ÄúLater when they are done with their function in the church, the majority gets together in the house of the sub-lieutenant and a verily show of intoxication and obscenity can be found; there is no other form of fun nor feast than the one with chicha, during which many rounds of this disgusting brewage take place. The permanent drunkenness holds on for four, eight or 15 days, and those seriously offending God by abandoning work, settle down more and more on laziness, because they remain weak in their fellow group and need some more time to recover‚ÄĚ.

This unstoppable fondness for la chicha causes that the public authority starts efforts to control its production and consumption and therefore, the moral and the intemperance of the people. In this sense, during the end of the 18th and throughout the 19th century assigned politics set up to: (1) state that las chicher√≠as would no longer be in public places and instead introduced them near the private rooms of a housing or business, (2) move them away of the principal zone of urban residence, meaning outside of the city, (3) look after unwanted impulses of drunkards. Hence, throughout the whole city, los Digestos y Ordenanzas del Concejo Municipal de la ciudad de Cochabamba demonstrated their harsh arrangements that took place in 1840: ‚Äúit is prohibited to have a small store of liquor, which means selling chicha in approximately the first two blocks from the main plaza in this city‚ÄĚ.

Woman selling tutumas in Tarata
Photo: Walter S√°nchez

Near the end of the 19th century the main way the municipal authorities encountered to combat the wasteful state associated with la chicha, was to charge a fixed price from all, depending to the closeness of the chicher√≠a to the Plaza Principal. Towards this measurement, many moved out of the sight of the population, living in the center of the city, and with them a great number of drunkards and ladies and half-indigenous accustomed to the art of drinking ‚Äúcorn wine‚ÄĚ. The public morality therefore remained safe of these ‚Äúfondas del conejo blanco‚ÄĚ as many of these women secretly worked as prostitutes. Also, the authorities were able to clean the streets from signs indicating the way to the vice, move away the attractive, snug women and eliminate the idolatrous suggestive glasses which lead to the lust.

At the moment, the consumption of la chicha and other stimulating beverages follows the movement between licentiousness, drunkenness, sexuality and disorder. Because of this, the debate about its restrictions not only became a current issue again, but also the methods of solution are similar to the ones from the 19th century: (1) higher taxes (2) sanctions on the drunkards (3) control of the body (4) surveillance of sexuality. The reason for the first action is the ‚Äúurban security‚ÄĚ; for the others, it is the hygiene and the public health.


Instituto de

Translated by
Joanna Filejski

Calendario NOVIEMBRE 2012


6 de noviembre 19:00
Ingreso libre
Organizan: South Group/ Proyecto CERCA


12 de noviembre
Inauguración con película francesa- Vino de honor

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