Ancient Andean Deity Brings 'Wealth' to Believers
The pursuit of wealth and riches can take different forms, but many Andean people place their faith in a tiny, smiling ancient deity who is said to arrive festooned with gifts, food and cash.
If he fails to show though, you can go to an open-air market and buy miniature cars, furniture, food -- pretty much anything -- and then ask a shaman to invoke the gods of civilizations past to make the items real.
"I just bought a tiny suitcase full of money, there is lots, lots of money -- $50, $100, $1,000 bills," said
13-year-old Jonathan Balcazar excitedly.
Balcazar is one of thousands who have flocked to a market in the Bolivian capital, La Paz, selling Alasitas, which in Aymara, the language spoken in region around Lake Titicaca, means "buy me".
During a month-long Alasita festival here, men, women and children of all social classes buy miniatures of the riches they desire.
Principal among the figures is the Ekeko -- miniature in Aymara -- a tubby, cheerful man with a mustache and open arms who is believed to represent an ancient god of abundance.
Ekeko figures can carry everything from musical instruments to food, boxes of gifts, and suitcases overflowing with cash.
Balcazar made his purchase at exactly mid-day, which many believe is the best time to buy.
"I want this wealth to become real," he said, after paying eight bolivianos -- just over one dollar -- for his pile of fake cash.
Carola Noguer, a 40 year-old housewife, was at the open-air market buying "money, food and everything that I want to get this year".
Years ago Noguer said she bought a miniature house -- "and that made it easier for me to buy a real home."
Miniature cash, especially bolivars, dollars and Euros, is especially popular.
A stack of 100,000 Euros in bills of 500 costs five bolivianos (less than a dollar). The color and picture on each bill is similar to the original.
True believers then go to Aymara shamans, who for a small fee invoke ancient Andean deities to intercede and make their purchases real.
A female shaman named Francisca sprinkled alcohol and holy water on items that customers brought her, and then blew smoke on them. The two-minute ceremony cost 40 cents.
"The holy water is for success and the alcohol is for the devil -- we ask him nicely for success too," the shaman said.
Folklore experts trace Ekekos back to the Tiwanaku culture, some 1,500 years BC The Tiwanakus had enormous cultural influence in the Andes for centuries, and their main ceremonial center was on the Island of the Sun, on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca.
Others have linked Ekekos to the Thunupa, a 16th-century personality early in the Spanish colonial period.
According to legend, the Thunupa converted to Catholicism and walked from town to town carrying a cross and performing miracles.
A third version traces the god's origin to 1781, when Aymara rebels led by Tupac Katari laid siege to La Paz, hoping to starve and kill their Spanish colonial masters.
Again according to legend, an Aymara woman working for the Spanish governor secretly received food from her lover, who was among the rebels.
Wondering where the food was coming from, the governor searched his servant's basket and found a small Ekeko figure.
Similar Alasita festivals are held in parts of Peru, northern Chile and northern Argentina.