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    Land of winds > The people > Culture | Issue 19 (May.-Jun. 2014)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Chapacas traditions


Chapacas traditions

The tarijeña or chapaca culture (Tarija department, south of Bolivia) is not only different from that of Bolivia's western highlands (which has Quechua and Aymara roots, and is often wrongly regarded as being the country's "standard" culture), but also from that of Bolivia's eastern lowlands (which is known as "camba"). It resembles and is linked to traditions existing in the Southern Cone (mostly in north-western Argentina and the Argentine-Paraguayan Chaco), carries a strong Iberian component (Andalusia) and a number of indigenous influences (mostly Guaraní, but also Quechua).

An important part of the traditional chapaca culture lies in its musical instruments, coplas (sung verses), dances, typical clothing, strong devotions (e.g. to the Virgin of Chaguaya) and celebrations. Among the latter are the famous Festival of St. Roque, the Festival of Saint James (Spanish, Fiesta de Santiago), the Festival of Saint Lawrence (Spanish, Fiesta de San Lorenzo), the Festival of Saint Anne (Spanish, Fiesta de Santa Anita, similar to the Alasitas Fair celebrated in the highlands), and the Carnival.

Typical Carnival celebrations include the popular encounters between compadres ("cumpas", male mates) and comadres ("cumas", female mates), similar to those held in Argentina's northwest region (e.g. in the province of La Rioja, during the Chaya Festival). The request to establish a "compadrazgo" relationship is made on the "compadres' day", in February, and is accompanied by a basket full of pennants, streamers, candies, a cake and seasonal fruit. During the encounters, compadres and comadres exchange the famous chapaca "coplas de Carnaval" (Carnival songs), which have racy and humorous lyrics, and are sung in counter point.


Chapacas traditions

The chapaca gastronomy includes ajíes (stews spiced with yellow chilli), asados (roasts), empanadas (type of pasties), humintas (corn husks filled with corn pudding), soups, chanfainas (dishes based on lamb blood and entrails), locro, picantes (stews with potatoes, rice and other ingredients, with lots of chilli), tamales, pasteles, sonsos (manioc and cheese cakes) and dulce de leche (literally, "milk candy" or "milk jam", prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk). Among the most traditional dishes are "cangrejitos" (crayfish), the keperi (roasted beef with garnish), the saice (minced beef accompanied with potatoes, chilli and lettuce), the ranga ranga (minced beef tripe, potatoes, onion, condiments and yellow pepper) and the arvejada (peas, fried potatoes, onion, egg and condiments, accompanied with rice or salad). Typical beverages include regional wines, singanis (liquors), aloja (fermented beverage based on maize or peanuts) and mate.

In addition to its well-known and most typical characteristics, the traditional culture of Tarija displays a number of old customs such as the practice of using nicknames instead of family names. In many indigenous communities (e.g. Avá/Guaraní and Weenhayek/Wichi), traditional medicine continues to play an essential role in health care and is still a huge part of their culture

Tarija lies between the "camba" world to the east of Bolivia and the "colla" world to the Andean west, and the cultural collision between both worlds is evident to this day. However, Tarija natives have managed to retain many of their local manners and customs, and encourage their children to know their roots and their history, and to be proud of their differences and cultural heritage.


Article. "Carnaval chapaco: La fiesta de las comadres", by Elías Vacaflor D. [es].
Article. "Historia cultural de los sabores de Bolivia", in Kantuta - Lluvia de sabores y aromas de café de Charito [es].
Article. "Yasarekomo: Una experiencia de comunicación indígena en Bolivia", in FAO [es].
Article. "Diversidad florística medicinal y usos locales en el pueblo Weenhayek de la provincia Gran Chaco, Tarija, Bolivia", by R. Quiroga, S. Arrázola and E. Tórez. In Revista Boliviana de Ecología y Conservación Ambiental, 25, pp. 25-39 (2009) [es].
Article. "Tarija en los imaginarios urbanos", by S. Lea Plaza. In Temas Sociales, 24 (2003) [es].


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