Aymara New Year in Bolivia

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ESPAÑOL On the 17th of June, 2009, by means of supreme decree Bolivian president Evo Morales, of Aymara origin, declared that every 21st of June to be a national holiday to celebrate the winter solstice. On the 7th of June 2010 the law was passed and the holiday is to be called the ‘Aymara New Year’ and must be celebrated as a national Holiday which means that all public and private institutions, companies and schools throughout the entire nation must suspend their activities.

What is this holiday? Basically, the Aymara New Year is a ceremony involving the Winter Solstice. In pre-Colonial America, the native peoples of the Andean highlands depended on agriculture and their agricultural rituals were carried out to obtain the blessings of the gods, above all the Pachamama (Mother Earth) and Inti (Father Sun), to ensure an abundant harvest. The Quechuas and Aymara celebrated two annual festivities: the planting season and the harvest, coinciding with the summer and winter solstices. Some Amazonian tribes also celebrated the solstice, with other rituals and in a different manner, each according to their customs.

Aymara New Years - Public Holidays in Bolivia

However, let’s focus on what this celebration is according to the Aymara. Every 21st of June, from very early in the morning, when dawn is beginning and the first rays of sun have not yet shone, a group of amautas (a type of priest) meets with various ceremonial objects in the Temple of Kalasasaya, in Tiwanaku and they make toasts (wassail), burn offerings, and sacrifice tiny immaculate llamas as they wait for the rays of sun to pass through the Gate of the Sun, located in the same temple. This officially initiates a new agricultural cycle. They don’t measure time by the Western system of 12 months and 4 seasons. They have two ways of dividing their time: the first is a solar year which is divided into two periods, the summer solstice (December-January) and the winter solstice (June-July). The latter ends precisely on June 21st, and on this date one solar year ends and a new one begins. The second manner in which they divide their calendar, is in three seasons called ‘pachas’, each of which is divided further, and this is based on the climate.

Aymara New Year Activities

In a country of nearly 10 million, only about 2 million people identify themselves as Aymara and of those, many are actually mestizo (indigenous/European mix). People throughout the country who are not Aymara are very upset at having the Aymara New Year imposed upon them. In any case, those companies that do not shut down and whose employees work on this date will be fined and will be forced to pay their workers double for the day.

According to Aymara timekeeping, whose history has been passed down orally, the 21st of June 2019 will mark the 5,527th year of the Aymara culture. The Ministry of Culture plans and promotes celebrations in La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Uyuni, and other cities and towns.

In La Paz there are usually celebrations in Tiwanaku, Sorata, El Alto, Copacabana, the Valley of the Moon, Lake Titicaca, at the base of Mount Illimani, and in Pasto Grande.

In Cochabamba, at the ruins of Incallajta, there are ceremonies and rituals to welcome the Aymara New Year.

In Santa Cruz, at Samaipata, the winter solstice will is celebrate as an astronomical phenomenon, (although the ruins at Samaipata are also not of Aymara origin).

In Potosí, there are typical music and dances at Tahua, a visit to the ruins in Vinto, and at dawn participants go to the island of Tajarete to await the sunrise.


Arguments Against Aymara New Year

Cultural argument: The most vociferous argument made by those who oppose this holiday is based on the fact that Bolivia is not an Aymara nation. In fact, there are dozens of native Bolivian cultures and therefore, they argue, the rituals of only one culture are being imposed upon all the other cultures, some of which are also very large ethnic groups, such as the Quechua and the Guaraní. It’s not that they are against the festivity itself; after all, it’s perfectly understandable that the Aymara culture should continue with its customs. What they are against is the fact that the entire country is being forced to obey with complete disregard for those who are not Aymara, those who are of different ethnic groups, those who are mestizo (mixed race), and worse yet, those who are not even remotely indigenous. Therefore, they argue the Aymara New Year should be limited to the regions where the Aymara population is numerous, in other words, Western Bolivia.

The Constitutional argument: The new Bolivian Constitution, passed in 2009 at the insistence of the current government’s political party, establishes Bolivia as a ‘plurinational’ state, and guarantees respect for the customs and lifestyles of each and every one of the 36 ethnic groups that inhabit Bolivia, no matter how large or small they are. This would make imposing the Aymara New Year on non-Aymara peoples unconstitutional.

Historical argument: There are those who argue that there is no evidence the Aymara ever celebrated a New Year prior to the arrival of the Spanish. They also affirm that this “Aymara New Year” is nothing more than a celebration of the potato harvest which doesn’t actually occur on the 21st of June. The first existing evidence of this celebration is from the 16th Century when Incan Emperor Pachacutec imposed the celebration of the Inti Raymi (the festival of the Sun god) on all people Incas or not, free or colonized, throughout the entire Tawantisuyo, the territory over which the Incas ruled. In addition, writings from the era when the Spanish arrived contain no evidence of an “Aymara New Year” but do mention the Inti Raymi.

The vindicative argument: There are those who explain that, taking into account historical evidence, this celebration is very recent, and is actually an attempt to vindicate the Aymara culture and that these ceremonies were created for this sole objective. They claim that the ceremony uses the customs of other cultures to give it an “ancestral” feel, not to mention what a great tourist attraction it makes. There are also those who argue that elements not native to the Aymara culture are included in order to manipulate ideologies, and that this is actually detrimental to this culture as it corrupts their identity even further.

Archeological argument: This argument states that almost nothing is known about the Aymara culture as they have no written history and very little archeological evidence of their culture has been found. In addition, because they were conquered by the Incas they were “Quechua-ized”, and in fact, their very name “Aymara” is actually a Quechua word used to describe natives who are not Quechua, who were deported as slave labor to the Inca Empire. The word is not original to their true ethnic identity and was grossly mispronounced by the Spaniards. Therefore, there is no evidence that the origins of this festivity are Aymara. In addition, the location where they now celebrate this Aymara New Year, the ruins of Tiwanaku are not Aymara ruins. They belong to the Tiwanakotas, a different culture. Finally, there is concern, among archeologists and local inhabitants of Tiwanaku, that the ruins will be damaged.

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