On June 17, 2009, by means of supreme decree, Bolivian president Evo Morales, of Aymara origin, declared that every 21st of June was to be a national holiday throughout Bolivia. Known as Aymara New Year and also celebrated in Chile and Peru, it is a celebration commemorating the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.
Whether Bolivian people actually identify as Aymara (indigenous people of the Andes and Altiplano region of South America) or not, the day must be recognized and celebrated as a national holiday. This means that all public and private institutions, companies and schools throughout the entire nation must suspend their activities.
Aymara people lived in the Andes and Altiplano region for many centuries before becoming subject to the people of the Inca in the late 15th century, and later of the Spanish in the 16th century. Most present-day Aymara speakers live around the giant freshwater Lake Titicaca spread across the border of Bolivia and Peru, with the urban center of the Aymara region being the sprawling city of El Alto in Bolivia, the highest major metropolis in the world.
Current Bolivian president Evo Morales is not only the longest serving Bolivian president in history, but also the countries' first indigenous president - himself of Aymara descent.
But what does the Aymara New Year actually stand for? Well, in pre-Colonial America, the livelihoods of Aymara people depended on agriculture. 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 Aymara people followed a solar year which was divided into two periods, each celebrated as an annual festivity:
The latter ends precisely on June 21, and on this date one solar year ends and a new one begins. Early in the morning every 21st of June, a group of Amautas (Aymara priests) would come together with various ceremonial objects in the Temple of Kalasasaya, in the ancient city of Tiwanaku. The Amautas would make toasts, burn offerings, and sacrifice baby llamas as they waited for the rays of sun to pass through the Gate of the Sun, located in the same temple. This officially initiated a new agricultural cycle.
Fast forward to modern day Bolivia and there are numerous intriguing events to attend for Aymara New Year. You can see the sun rise at the ruins of Tiwanaku about 60km from the cities of La Paz and El Alto, and learn how the winter solstice was important to ancient Aymara farmers. Here you can also explore the amazing topography of the Aymara homeland, from steep, snow-capped Andean peaks to the shores of Lake Titicaca, one of the most elevated freshwater lakes in the world.
Other prominant Bolivian cities also have their own unique activities:
With 39 ethnic groups speaking a total of 37 officially recognized languages, Bolivia is packed full of cultural diversity. One of the most widely recognized cultures and languages, 42% of Bolivians identify as Aymara, and as such Aymara New Year is one of the biggest celebrations on the Bolivian calendar.
The Aymara culture is known to be traditional and, above all, resistant, because they exist to this day in spite of Inca and Spanish invasions.
A yearly celebration in its honor therefore sounds pretty deserving to me!
Written by Steve Connors
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