Alasitas Fair

Alasitas Fair

Type of Holiday: Folkloric
Date of Observation: January 24
Where Celebrated: Bolivia
Symbols and Customs: Blessing Ceremony, Ekeko, Miniature Objects


The Alasitas Fair is a festival of good luck. It is observed throughout Bolivia, but the largest celebration takes place in Bolivia's capital city, La Paz. The festival traces it roots back to the time before the Spanish conquered Latin America. In those days, a native American ethnic group called the Aymara lived in what is now Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. They honored a number of gods, including a god of abundance called EKEKO . The Aymara were conquered by another group of Indian people, called the Incas, who were in turn conquered by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. The Aymara people survived all these battles, however, and so did elements of their culture and religion. During the Alasitas Fair, people make little offerings to Ekeko, hoping he in turn will bless them with money and material possessions.

The festival as we know it today got its start in the eighteenth century. At this time, the country was already under Spanish rule. A joint Spanish and Aymara festival that resembled the Alasitas Fair had already been established in La Paz. The local Catholic bishop, however, forbade the holiday, fearing the celebrations were taking on rowdy, sexual overtones. Although the Spanish had lived in Bolivia for two centuries, many native people still resented the foreign conquerors. In 1781, a group of Indians rebelled against the Spanish and set siege to the capital city of La Paz. During this time, the Spanish people living in La Paz flocked to church to pray to the Virgin Mary in the presence of a beautiful statue of her that was given to the city by the Spanish king Felipe II. Although the siege lasted for months, the Spanish eventually put down the rebellion. They credited the divine intercession of the Virgin of La Paz with ensuring their victory. In gratitude, they reinstituted the joint Spanish Aymara holiday, declaring it to be a feast day in honor of the Virgin Mary and moving it from October to January 24. Although special Roman Catholic religious observances were scheduled on this day, the native people preferred to continue their devotion to Ekeko. Over time, the Catholic observances diminished, and the activities surrounding Ekeko grew in importance. This event became known as the Alasitas Fair.

The name "Alasitas" comes from an Aymara word that may be translated as "buy me" or "come and buy." The name refers to the large markets that provide Bolivians with MINIATURE OBJECTS with which to adorn their Ekeko statuettes. In addition to the markets, the fair also features performances of Bolivian music and folk dancing.


Blessing Ceremony

Many Bolivians believe that EKEKO is more likely to respond to their offerings if they take their Ekeko statuette, laden with its miniature possessions, to be blessed by a Yatiri. A Yatiri is a practitioner of traditional Aymara folk medicine. Yatiris use herbs as well as spiritual practices to heal. A yatiri will bless an Ekeko doll with prayers, the smoke of burning herbs, and incantations. In some places, people will take their Ekeko to a Roman Catholic priest to be blessed.


Archeologists have found statuettes of Ekeko that are more than 2,000 years old. Just as today, the ancient Aymara identified this god as the patron of good fortune and abundance. These days the Aymara people still create Ekeko statuettes. They usually fashion them out of clay, but other materials, such as wood, might also be used. Aymara artisans usually depict Ekeko as a short, round man with open arms, rosy cheeks, a big smile, and a mustache. He often wears items of clothing that identify him as an Indian, such as a poncho and the colorful knitted wool caps worn by mountain people. Historians believe that the Indians honored Ekeko with a festival before the arrival of the Spanish. Evidence suggests that it was celebrated on different dates in different locations.

During the Alasitas Fair, Bolivians adorn their Ekeko statuettes with miniature objects of all kinds. These objects represent the money and goods they hope to obtain in the year to come. The wide open arms of the Ekeko dolls provide ample space to load them up with goods. The Aymara hope that the miniature objects will please Ekeko and inspire him to bless them with the real thing.

Miniature Objects

The open air markets that spring up to meet the demand for miniature objects with which to adorn Ekeko are a highlight of the Alasitas Fair. Local artisans create an immense variety of the tiny trinkets, to suit each individual's needs and desires. Those who want to ensure a good food supply in the coming year will find tiny bags of sugar, cans of coffee, sacks of grain, and more. Farmers will find llamas, sheep, chickens, and all manner of agricultural animals. The tools of many trades are also represented. Those who are hoping to build a new house might purchase miniature bags of cement and wheelbarrows. Many people purchase household goods, such as washing machines, stoves, refrigerators, and computers, hoping that this will inspire Ekeko to improve their household appliances in the year to come. For those who believe that their fortune lies elsewhere, vendors offer tiny passports and plane tickets. Finally, many Bolivians feel that offering Ekeko a gift of cash is the best way to insure abundance in the year to come. To that end, Aymara craftspeople create paper money of all kinds. In addition to Bolivian currency they offer miniature American dollars, Euros, and even bills stamped "Bank of Fortune," or "Bank of Alasitas." Each year, many people equip their Ekeko doll with a small suitcase filled with a million of these "dollars."


Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Milne, Jean. Fiesta Time in Latin America. Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1965.

WEB SITES (in Spanish)

BBC popular_fairs/html/1.stm

Bolivia Embassy

Bolivia Travels (in Spanish)
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Alasitas Fair

January 24
Each year on January 24 a large marketplace in La Paz, Bolivia, is full of merchants who traditionally call out, " Alasitas," an Aymara word meaning "buy from me," to potential buyers of their miniature wares. Shoppers can find tiny replicas of just about every kind of object—cars, houses, foods, furniture, clothes, tools, household goods, and, especially, money—and seek those which represent items they would like to have in the coming year. After purchasing the miniature object of one's desire, the next step is to take it to church to have it blessed.
Presiding over all this downsized commerce is Ekeko, an Aymara god of material wealth, fertility, and good luck. Ekeko is represented as a portly little man who wears a backpack full of goods and whose arms are stretched out, as if in an attitude of acquisition. Many people keep ceramic figures of Ekeko in their homes for good luck.
Bolivian Embassy
3014 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-483-4410; fax: 202-328-3712
AnnivHol-2000, p. 14
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 17
BkHolWrld-1986, p. Jan 24
DictFolkMyth-1984, pp. 33, 342
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 46
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.