Sell­ers find an en­chant­ing way to honor gods at Bo­livia shops

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Nation & World - By Car­los Valdez As­so­ci­ated Press

A shop­keeper of­fers An­dean amulets at the Witches' Mar­ket in La Paz, Bo­livia.

LA PAZ, Bo­livia — At the Witches’ Mar­ket in Bo­livia’s cap­i­tal city, llama fe­tuses hang above stalls as of­fer­ings to the mother earth spirit known as Pachamama. Tourists and res­i­dents line up to buy medic­i­nal plants to heal their bod­ies and ward off curses, while “yatiris,” or indige­nous heal­ers, of­fer to read their for­tunes on coca leaves.

In­cense per­fumes the air.

It’s all part of the mys­ti­cal aura of this col­or­ful mar­ket de­voted to the wor­ship of an­cient An­dean gods. The mar­ket seems stuck in time amid the ur­ban chaos of La Paz, in a neigh­bor­hood just blocks from the pres­i­den­tial palace.

“This is live an­ces­tral wis­dom mixed with new el­e­ments, but it keeps its roots,” said David Men­doza, a so­ci­ol­o­gist and mem­ber of the La Paz mu­nic­i­pal­ity pat­ri­mony di­rec­tory.

Be­fore the Span­ish col­o­niz­ers ar­rived, this was sa­cred cer­e­mo­nial ground where an­i­mal blood was of­fered to thank the gods for an abun­dant har­vest. Those sac­ri­fices don’t take place now, but other prac­tices once con­sid­ered pa­gan have sur­vived ef­forts to up­root them. And the site has be­come a tourist at­trac­tion.

“Witch­craft is not ours, it’s re­lated to the devil (be­liefs) that were brought by the Span­ish col­o­niz­ers,” said He­lena Martinez, a spir­i­tual guide. “Our thing is all about cul­ture. And the of­fer­ings to the gods seek har­mony with na­ture.”

In this same place in 1549, the Fran­cis­can or­der built a church. It was re­built some 200 years later by indige­nous peo­ple who had con­verted to Catholi­cism. In its baro­questyled fa­cade, they carved in stone the head of a bull, a sym­bol of the col­o­niz­ers, as well as Fran­cis­can shields, and a bare-breasted god­dess, who Men­doza says is Pachamama, a sym­bol of earth’s fer­til­ity for An­dean cul­tures.

An­thro­pol­o­gists say that the indige­nous would cam­ou­flage their be­liefs un­der Catholic ones. That cre­ated a blend of Chris­tian and an­ces­tral rites, called re­li­gious syn­cretism. It is rec­og­nized by the Bo­li­vian Con­sti­tu­tion un­der the term “An­dean cos­mo­vi­sion,” and it is prac­ticed by many in the mostly indige­nous South Amer­i­can coun­try.

Llama fe­tuses re­main one of the most pop­u­lar and ex­otic of­fer­ings to Pachamama at the mar­ket.

“Ev­ery of­fer­ing is pre­pared by us and has its own mean­ing,” said Veron­ica Quispe, a rit­ual or­ga­nizer. “It’s like of­fer­ing a plate of food to Pachamama as a way to thank her.”

The llama has tra­di­tion­ally been re­garded as sa­cred to the In­di­ans of Bo­livia and other An­dean coun­tries be­cause it was a source of wool, trans­porta­tion and food. The fe­tus of the an­i­mal sym­bol­izes the mes­sen­ger that takes re­quests from peo­ple to the gods, Quispe said.

A plaque at the atrium of the San Fran­cis church that is part of the mar­ket reads: “What be­gan caus­ing di­vi­sions, ended up unit­ing two cul­tures in a rich blend of cul­tures that marks the iden­tity of this unique city.”

The of­fice of the La Paz mayor is now pro­mot­ing a law that would pay trib­ute to the mar­ket. It is as a first step be­fore au­thor­i­ties re­quest UNESCO World Her­itage sta­tus for the site.

JUAN KARITA/AP

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