Aymara New Year and Dia de San Juan

June 21st marked the Aymara new year in Bolivia. The Aymara are one of many groups of indigenous people who form a part of the population of Bolivia, and the Andes region in general. June 21st, in the Northern hemisphere marks the summer solstice, while here it marks the winter solstice, and the shortest and coldest (supposedly, although it’s been colder since!) day of the year. It is an ancient celebration of the first rays of the sun during the winter solstice, after the year’s longest night.

There are large festivities in traditionally sacred places, such as Tiahuanaco – the most important architectural achievement of pre-Inca South America. The rays of the sun shine through the temple entrance on the winter solstice. Rituals are carried out to celebrate the god Inti (fertility and good luck with crops for the year to come). This year, they rang in the year 5515.

Following Aymara new year was the Dia de San Juan last Saturday, June 24th – a celebration for San Juan Batista (St. John the Baptist) and the Christian version of Aymara new year. Large bonfires are lit, and fireworks go off all night long. The reason behind it is the fires keep evil spirits away on the coldest day of the year. It reminded me of Guy Fox Day in the UK, where large bonfires and fireworks are a part of the celebrations. As usual with any fiesta in Bolivia, much drinking is involved, and for some reason so is eating hot dogs. I was unfortunately sick and my participation was limited to listening to fireworks all night long!

There has recently been somewhat of an environmental movement against the traditional fires and fireworks of San Juan due to the pollution that is produced from so many fires and so much smoke. Cities run public service announcements to dissuade residents from lighting fires. In La Paz, you can be fined if you are caught lighting a bonfire. Many Bolivians feel that this is an assault on their traditional celebrations. One website I read brought up the very good point of the lack of pollution control measures in general – so why pick on one day when the rest of the year you can nearly be suffocated from the black exhaust from many cars and trucks as they drive by, not too mention the lack of wastewater treatment, deforestation, as well as pollution from the mining industry and industry in general.

Although it’s not Canada Day, we have had a few celebrations recently. I wasn’t able to participate in either (do to working and being sick), however it is certainly interesting to learn about the festivals and their cultural significance. Happy Canada Day everyone! Thanks to Dave, I have a few Canadian beers to celebrate with!

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Posted in bolivia Submitted by Meg on Sat, 2007-06-30 15:21

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