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Uru Chipaya – Pachamama offerings in Bolivia

stove with incense

I went to the museum for ethnic folklore in Sucre the other day and just by chance there was a cultural event to showcase a traditional Pachamama ritual from one of the most ancient tribes of South America: the Uru Chipaya. These people have been living on the Bolivian high plateau for   thousands of years and resisted the Spanish inquisition to this day but there are only around 800 people left living in the village of Chipaya today.

We shyly (my partner and I) stepped into the courtyard and were both made welcome and warmly invited to watch the ceremony. We savoured some traditional dishes consisting of quinoa, giant corn and potatoes with peel (minus the fish and the lama meat) and got served Chicha, an alcoholic corn beverage not unlike the fermented pre-stage of wine.

Pachamama offerings

Pachamama is the goddess or mother of earth to many indigenous people in South America. They worship and pray to her for a good planting and harvest season. She gives life to all creatures and nurtures all souls. For many, she is an almighty power and a hope for a good life.  The big celebrations are usually around the month of August, when the planting season in South America starts.

The ceremony began with a small stove filled with firewood and paper lit with alcohol. It was then placed in front of a small clay statue that resembled a typical Chipaya house. The group of traditional dressed people knelt down in a half circle around the altar and one of them stepped in front, and as an offering to Pachamama, strew incense, coca leafs and other small items into the fire. He took the stove and he crawled on his knees around the altar. A girl followed suit. He then filled up his bowl with Chicha, took a sip and started to sprinkle it around the altar. The girl then did the same once more and finally they started dancing around the altar with other people joining in.

An old, obviously poor but charming lady sat next to us and tried to chat with us in Quechua. She touched my partners white skin and long ginger coloured dreadlocks and produced a wide toothless smile. I think she liked him very much. She was really lovely and with her appearance drew the organisers attention who promptly invited her for some food and dance.

Of course the ceremony wasn’t the real thing but it wasn’t the typical tourist trap either, instead it was an event to showcase the customs and traditions of one of Bolivia’s oldest tribes so that these beautiful traditions don’t die out in an age of smart phones, Americanised music and cheesy fashion trends.

It really touched my heart as I really like the old beliefs, the knowledge and traditions of these indigenous people. They are so pretty and spiritual, so full of hope and beauty. To me they are Pachamama.

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