Celebrating the Aymara New Year

by Alexis Guild, KF11 Bolivia

Happy Aymara New Year! What? You didn’t realize that Monday was the Aymara New Year? Did you know that it was a national holiday? I didn’t realize it either until a couple of weeks ago.

The Aymara New Year coincides with the winter solstice, June 21.  (Remember, we are in the southern hemisphere so it’s winter here right now). Traditionally, the Aymara New Year dates back to pre-colonial times as an agricultural ritual to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and Inti (Father Sun).  The biggest celebration is in the city of Tiwanaku near Lake Titicaca – the ancient center of Aymara culture – and begins just before dawn as the first rays of the sun hits the Puerta del Sol (the Gate of the Sun).

Since I was here, I wanted to see the festivities. No, I did not go to Tiwanaku. Too far. Too many tourists. Instead, I went to El Alto where there was a smaller celebration taking place.  In El Alto, which is about 90% Aymara (so I was told), there were about 200 people taking part in the festivities.  Unlike Tiwanaku, my friends and I were the only gringos. The ceremony began around 6:30am and consisted of drums, horns, a bonfire, dance, and prayers. The bonfire was people’s various offerings to the gods; small replicas of houses, animals, cars, etc. I was told that these are there wishes for the New Year. As the sun rose over the mountains of La Paz, people raised their palms towards the sky, praying in a combination of Aymara and Spanish. I did not understand the prayers so I could not tell you what they were praying for but I was happy to be able to take part in the celebration.

Interestingly enough, Evo Morales figured prominently in the ceremony. One man, brought a campaign poster and pumped his fists in the air everytime Evo’s name was mentioned. In fact, Evo Morales (who himself is Aymara) was the one who declared the Aymara New Year a national holiday last year.

Discussions with colleagues brought up some interesting questions about the Aymara New Year and the complex nature of Bolivia and Bolivian politics today. According to the CIA factbook, Aymara comprise 25% of the population while Quechua comprise 30% of the population. They are the two largest indigenous groups in the country but not the only ones.

Some questions to consider (which I do not have answers for but would be interested to hear your thoughts): Is the declaration of the Aymara New Year as a national holiday a step in the path of indigenous empowerment? Should other indigenous festivals (Quechua or Guaraní) also be declared national holidays? What does it mean to live in a “plurinational state”, as declared in 2009 when the new Bolivia consitution was passed?

I am not sure if these questions have answers but I thought I would pose them to you. I look forward to hearing your thoughts or any other questions you may have about Bolivia.

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