Sunday, July 22, 2007

Mercado De Las Brujas
"The Witches’ Market"
La Paz - Bolivia

All the Harry Potter madness, the fantasy, good, evil, estrange creatures, sorcery and magic spells brought to my mind a real witchery fact from Bolivia: El Mercado De Las Brujas or The Witches’ Market....

The mystic street of Calle Linares hosts a crowded line of unusual stores collectively known as El Mercado de las Brujas, The Witches’ Market, located in downtown La Paz; behind San Francisco’s church, notable for its intricately carved façade, one the finest examples of baroque-mestizo architecture in the Americas. This peculiar market sums up Bolivia's strangeness and mysterious spirit, a mix of Native Andean knowledge and pagan Catholicism.

Bolivia, my beautiful country, is where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and also Camarada Che Guevara met their fate and where Mariano Melgarejo, a mostly insane Bolivian president (that resembles somehow to Mr. Evo Morales). Wearied of the complaints of the British ambassador in La Paz in the 186o’s, lifted his mistress' skirts Miss Juana Sánchez and told the uppity envoy to kiss her bare bottom. When the diplomat declined the honor, Melgarejo forced him to drink a huge quantity of hot chocolate or cocoa after declining to drink the local “chicha” that was quite raw and spoiled for his exquisite European palate.

Following the cocoa incident, Our Excelentisimo Presidente Mariano Melgarejo, had him paraded on a donkey, facing backwards around La Paz. Queen Victoria and Prime Minister Palmerston ordered landlocked Bolivia's capital to be bombarded by ships of Her Majesty's navy that were near the Chilean coast…. Bad news your majesty, La Paz is over 200 miles inland from the Pacific and totally out of gunshot range, they contented themselves with having Bolivia erased from British maps for several decades.

Bolivia is the place where Garden of Eden is located (or so the locals colorfully exclaim). Bolivia’s diversity goes from the eternal glaciers of the Andes, through colorful valleys and piedmonts all the way to the Amazon’s jungle; salt hotels are built at the largest salt ocean known by mankind while the tallest statue of Jesus in the world open His arms to the modern Cochabamba and Chapare’s illegal coca plantations while companies from India sign billionaire contracts with the government to exploit the world’s biggest reserve of iron-ore at the Mutum area, a country of odd extremes, culture and also poverty; where history and reality get mixed in the past with legend folklore, tradition and madness and give us as result : The honor of being called Bolivian.

The witches’ market resembles a horror movie, a mix of New Orleans old Voodo, Cuban Santeria, Brazilian Macumba and Aymara's Yatiris, it is the mystical home to a variety of religious beliefs as evidenced by the ceremonial items sold: animal heads glare at me with unseeing eyes, llama’s fetuses, bottled potions, amulets and strange items adorn the tables, herbs and k’oa preparations are sold for personal and business purposes as Thee Way (Andes believe) to balance evil, good, religion, faith and belief.

Love amulets are among the most popular items, sugar-made figure of a naked couple embracing to improve the sex life, dried frogs for more money, magic charms, animal skins, medicines and remedies many of which are used in Aymara traditions and to honor the earth goddess Pachamama. At the same place where all the witchery is found it is easy to uncover multicolor candles, one for each reason under the sun, in addition to pictures, cards of statues of your favorite saint, virgin and Jesus.

Coca leaf is present in every ritual..... native, pagan and even catholic, represents the mother earth and her spirit, a gift from the Gods to an ancient slaved nation, coca remains an an integral part of Andean Bolivian culture. The leaf is used for medicinal purposes by the witches and wizards of the Andes and also as an appetite and thirst suppressant to counter the effects of altitude sickness. In most rural areas of Bolivia, workers carry little pouches of coca leaves in their pockets to get the energy and nutrients necessary to complete their daily tasks. Chewing coca is considered an important social skill; adults gather to chew it after meals and pause for coca breaks.

Coca was always there, close to the Bolivian People and seems like it will be there for ever and no king, law or human can take it away. In the colony time, King Philip II of Spain declared coca a product for the welfare of the Andean natives. The Church lifted its prohibition from the Church Council of 1569 where was decreed the eradication of coca plantings because they believed that the plant had satanic powers and established a ten per cent tax on coca and maybe some day, coca will be legal worldwide not as a main ingredient of cocaine but as an alternative of a healthy life and a powerful organic supplement to our diets.

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