Tag Archives: Aymara New Year

Hold the champagne…a controversial Aymaran New Year

22 Jun

The Aymara flag

This June 21, on winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, the day when the Earth’s axis is furthest away from the sun, falls the New Year, according to the Aymara calendar.  (Like in the U.S., the year starts off in the cold…whose idea was that??).  There’s only about 2 million Ayamarans, located in Bolivia, Peru, and Chile, but the indigneous culture has a large influence in Bolivia, esp. in La Paz & El Alto (the really cold, sprawling and poor city right above La Paz where your airplane lands)–you see so many cholitas wearing cute little bowler hats and poofy, extravagant skirts (remnants of the old Spanish colonial regime)–and esp. in recent years, due to Evo, the first indigenous president of Bolivia who used to be an Ayamaran coca farmer.  Actually, he’s still Aymaran and the first thing Evo did in office was to put up the Ayamara flag (a very colorful looking quilt) outside the capitol building.  He also declared the Ayamara New Year as a national holiday, which has caused a bit of controversy in Bolivia.

How can a holiday be controversial?  Well, my beef would be that Bolivia is constantly partying with their random national holidays (I’ve seen 3 official days of no productivity in the last three weeks…not to mention all the unofficial days of no productivity), but the actual controversy is that some people are viewing this gesture by Evo as favouritism toward a particular indigenous group.  Evo hasn’t declared the holidays of other religions as official holidays and Aymara is really a minority group here.  I asked one of my associates at a survey firm how he celebrated the new year and he said, “I did nothing,” and then went on to add, “I don’t like the way the country is going under Evo.  I don’t feel represented.”

The slight tension in Bolivia between indigenous groups and the Spanish-speaking people can be akin to the tension between whites and blacks in America: not terribly overt or malicious, but still there.  There’s the paler-skinned Santa Cruisin’s (ha, sorry, people from Santa Cruz) who want to separate from Bolivia [they resent the rule from the indigenous], kinda like how Texas sometimes wants to separate from the U.S., except Texans resent the rule of Democrats.  The view the non-indigenous have of indigenous celebrations is, “Oh, those crazy indigenous practices.  Probably will be a lot of drunks.” Anecdotaly, I’ve heard that the Bolivians who work at the U.N. have told my friend not to attend the Aymaran celebration at Tiahuanaco because it was just an indigenous practice celebrating the rising of the sun with offerings and not terribly interesting.  I didn’t go, but only because it was too damn cold.

A BBC article also adds, interesting enough, that there’s some controversy over whether the year 5,518 which the Aymara calendar is celebrating is actually accurate.  The archaeologist Jedu Sagárnaga believes that Evo has “committed a legal error by declaring a holiday for that date” because the holiday has “no basis.”  Five thousand years ago, the people in Bolivia were hunters and gatherers.

If you’re interested in hearing about celebrations and festivities, Alexis Guild (Kiva Fellow in La Paz) has an excellent post about what she experienced in El Alto.  Interestingly enough, El Alto is 90% Aymaran and out of the population of approx 1.1 mil, only 200 people were there for the celebration.