Alasitas

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I bite into the puffed, greasy, savory, syrupy concoction of a pastel, and look at the little man on the counter. He’s surrounded by wads of dollar bills and Bolivianos, packets of cigarettes and a brazier. He’s wearing a green, knitted hat with ear flaps and peaked pilot’s hat. He has a cigarette butt hanging from his lips, his face blackened from years of smoking. His shiny, plastic eyes stare unblinkingly at the crowds that walk by.

He is Ekeko.

The height of the Alasitas festival takes place on January 24th, at midday. People buy miniatures of things they would like in the coming year and have them blessed by an Aymara holy person and also, sometimes, a Catholic priest. Dollars, Euros and Bolivianos. Houses, cars, business premises. Husbands and wives, or babies. Boxes of food, bottles of beer and building materials. Degrees, land decrees and marriage or divorce certificates. Roosters, frogs and snakes (signifying a mate, good luck and el zodiaco chino). Everything in miniature.

As I went to work that day, I saw stalls set up on street corners and smoke rising from braziers. Alcohol was spilled, flower petals sprinkled and incantations spoken. At my clients’ office I was given 2,550 Bolivianos, €7,300 and $4,900 in miniature bills (the smallest were just 2cm across). No one could explain clearly whether you were meant to give what you hoped to get, or what you thought the recipient should have. I noticed that the unmarried secretary had been given quite a collection of roosters over the years.

Ekeko watches over Alasitas, receiving offerings in return for bestowing prosperity. Made of stone, mud and gold, in a pre-colonial, pre-Incan form, he received miniatures too. Now he sits in plastic and ceramic, inhaling the greasy fumes of frying pasteles.

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