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Thursday, September 19, 2013

¿Que será el futuro de tradición en Bolivia?

Walking down the streets in central La Paz, it is near-impossible to walk for more than two feet without catching sight of a brightly-dressed Cholita. Bolivia is a country where tradition is at the heart of culture and attitude. However with the country becoming more globalised and accessible to travelers, is tradition in Bolivia becoming less important?

As a scot, it seems that countries which have faced particularly bloody pasts, such as Scotland and Ireland, tend to be all the more patriotic, and Bolivia is certainly no different. For a country which has faced years and years of oppression, the people of Bolivia are genuinely united in their sense of Bolivian culture.  

Over the three months that I have worked as a volunteer for Up Close Bolivia and International Service, I have noticed that on-the-surface this sense of tradition seems to be strongest in the older generations. It seems Cholitas of the younger generations are a dying breed with women in their thirties and downwards more commonly seen sporting jeans and a top. Indeed, this certainly seems to be the case in La Paz, however in the more rural areas of Bolivia, such as the surrounding areas of Lake Titicaca and the Yungas, the presence of younger Cholitas is somewhat higher.

The mark of globalisation can be seen slowly creeping its way through Bolivia. A clear example of this is in the affluent district of Zona Sur in La Paz where the streets are plastered with artisan coffee and designer brand shop, and a distinct lack of traditional dress. This contrasts starkly with the less affluent city of El Alto where there is a noticeably higher number of Cholitas. Though such a correlation seems bizarre as the ‘Cholita’ custom is an expensive one - the hat alone costing upwards of 600 bolivianos.

In comparison to many other South American countries, Bolivia seems (relatively) untouched by the gringo traveler, though this is also changing. Bolivia, and in particular La Paz, is becoming a hotspot for travelers seeking exciting nightlife in South America and the stronger presence of tradition makes visiting Bolivia a unique experience.

Both the government of Bolivia and the people have actively rejected the imposition of Western culture. It is impossible to find a McDonald’s or Starbucks. Furthermore, the economic model which Evo Morales has used during his time in power has limited foreign intervention in areas such as market and trade. Also through the government’s increased social spending, attempts have been made to improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable in society, such as the elderly and newly-wed couples. This indicates Bolivians’ desire to remain focused on the improvement of their country, and not on developing its international global relations.

Although the presence of traditional dress is declining, there are aspects of Bolivian tradition which are still as prominent as ever. For example, the withdrawal of McDonald’s was due to the lack of demand in the market. Bolivians simply didn’t want to eat from this globalised chain as it was not in-sync with their cultural identity. Instead, they favour eating local Bolivian cuisine. Observing the Aymaran calendar, such as the month of the Pachamama, is still a widely-recognised custom for all generations in La Paz and the festivals in the city remain vibrant and popular.  


For these reasons, I think that Bolivia may look like a very different country in ten or twenty years’ time when the younger generation ‘come of age’ and have to decide whether or not to carry on the tradition of their mothers and grandmothers. But this will only be a superficial change. Bolivia may be less outwardly traditional through dress, but the important aspects of the traditional culture will probably remain, as these are an essential part of the identity of the Bolivian people, at least for the moment.

Written by Miriam Malek
Edited by Sarah Cassidy

Miriam´s article was submitted to represent International Service in Inspira magazine, a development magazine pulished in Bolivia.

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