Magazine article Americas Quarterly

Bolivia's Fiesta De Las ÑAtitas

Magazine article Americas Quarterly

Bolivia's Fiesta De Las ÑAtitas

Article excerpt

Praying to a shrine featuring a real human skull may seem macabre to some. But since preColumbian times, inhabitants of what is now the Bolivian Altiplano have made the veneration of human skulls a central element of their spiritual life. The tradition continues to this day with an annual celebration on November 8 called Fiesta de las Ñatitas ("the little pug-nosed ones").

The Aymara people of Bolivia add a contemporary twist. The skulls, often adorned with hats and sunglasses, are taken from the home shrines of their living owners and carried to cemeteries, where they are blessed and presented with floral crowns, cigarettes, coca leaves, candy and alcohol-all in the name of ensuring good fortune.

The earliest documented celebrations resembling today's festival occurred in Potosí at the beginning of the 20th century. According to Paul Koudounaris, an American art historian who has attended the festival for the past decade, these early rituals involved decorating and communicating with skulls in cemeteries. …

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