Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ancient Melodies of the Future


The thing I loved the most about Bolivia was the fact that while the reach of Western culture was certainly palpable, so was the presence of indigenous Andean cultures. Conquered by the Incas in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Bolivian altiplano in which Cochabamba lies served as the breadbasket for the Inca empire. Today, most Bolivians identify as at least partially indigenous.

I tasted Andean culture in various venues. Visiting a local school [below], I saw kids perform traditional dances and act out plays organized by Foundation for Sustainable Development volunteer Liz Shriver. I didn’t need any lessons beforehand when people invited me to dance to Andean panpipes at a party. At a concert of the Cochabambino folkloric band called Los Kjarkas, I clapped to beat with the rest of the audience so hard that my hands hurt by the end of the show. The audience also sang along in Spanish and in Quechua, the language of the Incas. In a mix of European and traditional culture at the Festival de la Virgen de UrkupiƱa [above right], troupes from all over the country played horns and danced in costumes.

Last January, Bolivia elected their first indigenous (specifically Aymara) president, Evo Morales of the party MAS, Moviemento al Socialismo. Fulfilling a campaign promise to divert local resources towards helping the nation’s large poor population, Evo irked a few nations and impressed others when he nationalized Bolivia’s natural gas on May 1. After spending a month in the most indigenous nation in South America, I went to the least indigenous one.

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