Manuel Seoane

2016 - Ongoing

La Paz, Bolivia

Some months ago a statistical research that measured the level of happiness around the globe was published. According to this article, Bolivians have the lowest level of happiness of the world, along with some very conflictive Middle East countries. A few weeks later, a study about celebrations in countries revealed that Bolivia occupies the highest rank of the globe, having more than 800 popular festivities per year officially registered (averaging 2.2 per day), only in the capital, La Paz.

The question is obvious: How can the most partying people be also the saddest one?

The idea of happiness varies very much between cultures. For the Aymara indigenous culture from the Bolivian Andes, for example, a "state of happiness" is more close to the idea of well-being. Since ancient beliefs, people is related to Pacha Mama (mother earth) and so it obeys its laws and follows its given duties. To work, to form a family, to give birth and to continue the chain of life, those are the key factors in accomplish such wellness. Only the completion of such duties can lead to a celebration time, which in that case, becomes a duty that is meant to happen as well. Through celebration people benefits from what the earth has given to them and such gift has to be honored and accepted without question; It is how life pays back the effort. Hence, food, alcohol, music, fun; everything has to be consumed in excess and without any control. As working is taken seriously, celebrating must be also.

During the last 10 years, a big emerging economic elite formed by some of these migrant communities in La Paz has brought such traditional events to the urban environment and introduced to them a unique self-interpretation of fashion and modernity, in order to be recognized and accepted as part of a new higher social status. Through their most important celebration, the Fiesta del Preste, they foresee an opportunity to reaffirm their rural roots while literally show off openly their new urban success, expressed mainly through ostentation and excess. This project tries to explore and discover the distinctive meanings of such idea of celebration inside urbanized Aymara culture; a distinctive symbol of tradition but also modernity and success, two views apparently contrary. Only in La Paz city, more than 800 of these popular festivities are celebrated every year (averaging 2.2 per day). During the Fiesta del Gran Poder (the Greatest Power), the biggest popular celebration in La Paz, thousands of Bolivians celebrate life and well-being. Each year, around 30 million dollars are spent in beer, in one day only.

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