Randy Chavez reports for Pagina Siete:
Alasita, the La Paz party who wandered all over the city
It started in Churumbamba, with the indigenous people, arrived in San Francisco and even the Plaza Murillo.
Before the Spanish arrived to the Chuquiago valley, what is now the city of La Paz, the Aymara and Quechua Indians who inhabited there, celebrated Ch’halasita, a holiday that translated into Castilian would mean “change me”. The party was marked to the day that began the summer solstice (December 21 in the Gregorian calendar), when the rainy season began and the growth of the crops.
In the holiday it was customary the exchanging of illas (little stones) consecrated to the sun, representing fertility and reproduction. Next to that exchange worshiped the Iqiqo, the god of fertility of the valley’s inhabitants.
It was represented with a statuette forged in gold, silver, tin, or simply carved in stone or modeled in clay, which they offered fruits of their crops. Smaller iqiqos were strung into necklaces, that were displayed in the necks or in the hair of young women, with the belief that serve as amulets against misfortune.
All this ceremony had a space: Churubamba, now known as the Plaza Alonso de Mendoza.
When the Spanish arrived to Chuquiago and founded there the city of Our Lady of Peace (1548) observed the feast in which people used stones as currency to acquire idols and other objects in miniature. Convinced of the importance it had, they decided to move the Ch’halasita to October 20th, to commemorate the founding date of the new city.
The decision provoked the displeasure of the clergy, who considered that the celebration resulted in licentious habits, by which the bishops decided to ban it. But the Indian siege of 1781 was issued, and was Sebastián de Segurola, the mayor of La Paz governor, who had saved the city from the indigenous harassment, which decided to restore the festivity. However, it changed its name, was called Alasita and was moved to January 24 in honor of the Virgin of Our Lady of La Paz.
The cult to the Iqiqo remained, but the statue was renamed Ekeko and from been carved in stone or other material became to be elaborated in plaster. The stones for the exchange were replaced by glowing yellow buttons, called cover shot. Over the years these buttons were replaced with currency.
A fair for the city
The Ch’halasita festivity had so much strength that the early years of its implementation in the city of La Paz took place in the atrium of the most important temple of San Francisco of the city until then. But not only the Indians came to the celebration, but much of the population that lived then in Our Lady of La Paz.
After been held in the atrium of San Francisco, the authorities decided to take the festival to another scenario: the Murillo Square, the center of the city, where every January 24, thousand of paceños gathered to buy the objects of their desire in miniatures, waiting for them to become reality.
After the main square of La Paz, the Alasita was taken to the Alameda (now known as the boulevard of El Prado), where by the edge of the parade through which transited the carts, craftsmen set up their stalls offering miniatures to those Ekeko paceños believers.
But the miniature fair did not stop there. It went on to settle in St. Peter’s Square and years after to the Montes Avenue, where the offices of the Customs were. From there, it was taken to the avenue Tejada Sorzano and then to Camacho, one of the most important backbones of La Paz. Finally, the exhibition was installed in the Central Urban Park, where it is still held every January 24, from 12:00, when people come loaded with miniature objects and faith.
Randy Chavez’s historian.