Let's Make a Deal: Using Alasitas to Bargain with the Pachamama
Davis, Mary W.
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Alasitas, miniature physical representations of material desires, embody reciprocity, a fundamental principle of Andean society and cosmology. While the appearance of alasitas suggests pure materialism, their ritual deployments by contemporary Aymara people enact and depict a traditional and metaphorical connection to the earth and its spirits. I observed the construction and ritual use of alasitas on Cerro Baul in Peru, and at fiestas ostensibly devoted to the Virgin in Copacabana and Quillacollo, Bolivia. Believers choose specific and achievable alasitas for themselves that are given power and vitality in a ritual by a yatiri, on a “mini-mountain” during the fiesta. The alasita becomes the centerpiece for a performance that consists of the believer’s family “residing” for an hour or two inside the tiny and ideal world that they have created, enacting daily life. Alasitas are an ancient Aymara practice; their continually changing forms are emblematic of the ongoing negotiations and adjustments between indigenous and non-indigenous people in the Andes that have taken place for centuries. Alasitas have retained their original purpose – as aids to humans pursuing abundance – in forms that are freely appropriated from traditional, non-traditional, contemporary, colonial, and ancient sources, and that change continuously to reflect contemporary desires.