Land of winds. Digital magazine on Andean music. Header picture
Andean festivity Andean music
Land of winds > Traditions > Festival | Issue 02. Sep.-Oct.2010
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Alasitas Fair

Ekekos and Alasitas
The Alasitas Fair or Festival is a crowded street market where miniatures that are going to be offered to Ekekos and Ekekos themselves (see) are sold. The festival’s name derives from the Aymara verb alaña “to buy”, and can be translated into English as “I am (or you are) just going to buy”
Originally, the Alasitas Fair used to be celebrated at the summer solstice in the southern Hemisphere, that is, on or around the 24th of December. During the Colony’s early years this tradition remained unchanged among popular strata of the population. However, after the siege of La Paz in 1781 by Aymara leader Tomás Apaza Nina best known as Tupaq Khatari, and his subsequent defeat, the Spanish governor Sebastián Segurola moved this celebration to the 24th of January to thank Our Lady of Peace (the holy figure from which the city of La Paz was named) for his victory against the native rebels. Ever since that time the Alasitas Fair is held on that date and joins craftsmen from all over Bolivia, as well as miniatures buyers arrived from different regions of the country.
At the beginning, the “illas” or amulets to be offered to the Ekeko, which were acquired at the fair, were not sold but exchanged for other things. Their commercialization came afterwards.
Even though everybody appoints his/herself to talk in the name of tradition, curiously enough no one agrees on what such tradition says about the Ekekos. For some people, those objects should be acquired at noon with as much faith put in them as possible. Later on, they have to be ch’allados, that is, to get them wet with the same drink that is offered to the Pachamama (Mother Earth). On the other part, there are those who state that it is the ch’alla itself what has to be celebrated at noon. Besides the alcoholic drink it can also be used an aromatic smoke, even rose petals, and the ceremony must be conducted by a person specialized in these questions. Many Ekekos’ owners go also to church for the priest to bless those small figures with holy water. After so many years of coexistence, Andean priests have finally accepted this icon representative of Andean culture, and take part in those ceremonies despite the fact that, on some occasions, they contradict their own religious principles and Christian liturgy.
At the Alasitas Fair, artisans exhibit true works of art in miniature made from a wide range of materials such as clay, plaster cast, wool, fabric, wicker, metal, stone, leather and plastic. The stalls at this huge market are arranged according to these materials: houses, a small animals are made of plaster; cars, different means of transport, computers and fridges are made of tin; kitchen tools and furniture are made of wood; small animals are also made of leather; musical instruments are made of cane; and there are also pinches of cereals, legumes, flour, sugar, pasta, coffee beans and so on stored in tiny bags.
The money to be offered to the Ekeko is very special: dollar, euro and boliviano banknotes and coins in miniature with the legend “Banco de la Fortuna” or “Banco de Alasitas” (Back of Fortune and Bank of Alasitas). Though the La Paz Alasitas Fair is the biggest, there are a lot of Alasitas fairs throughout the country, and in some places banknotes and coins have other legends indicating the name of a particular event, Virgin, town, etc., for instance “Banco de Urkupiña” or “Banco de Copacabana”.

Disclaimer of Land of windsEditorial staff of Land of winds