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I Ate’nt Ded

…but somebody close to me is, and rather suddenly too, so blogging has been suspended for a wee while in favour of things like emergency plane trips and memorial services. Bear with the t’anta wawita: I’ll be bringing the snark to snarchaeology&anthropology again in no time. Have some Vichito Mamani in the meantime. Everybody loves Vichito Mamani, right?

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What’s cooler than four rappers from different countries having a head-to-head battle rapping in three languages, English, French and German?

That’d be one group who take turns rapping in Aymara and Quechua, together, in the same song. Step forward Wayna Rap.

Seriously, is there *anything* that sounds better than Aymara hip-hop? Wayna Rap can even make public health appeals sound good. Here’s an ad that the La Paz city authorities used to run on ATB trying to persuade people to make less noise pollution in the city. My Aymara isn’t good enough to understand most of it, apart from jani waliki – not good – but IIRC they’re saying, ‘All these people making a racket, night and day, honking their horns and that, it’s doing my head in, mate’. Something about it’s even catchier than the preceeding.

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Admittedly, I’ve been a S.R.C fangirl ever since I first read ‘Oppressed But Not Defeated’. But bearing in mind folk wisdom about heroes – never to meet them, they’ll only be rude and shorter than you expected, and that later in life they may disappoint you by authorising nakedly commercial album re-masters – I must say that despite the sometimes impenetrably academic tenor of her written Spanish, she’s yet to publish anything that didn’t make me sigh and be glad for her existence. Check out the poetics of this open letter published on Ukhampacha News, with its rich allusions to the daily niceties of Bolivian cultures, casual slinging of not-easily-translatable Aymara phrases into discussion and urge to go beyond the good start of laws which outline a new approach, and to start putting flesh on the bones by grounding the legal changes in a holistic re-connection with the environment and ancestral wisdom. Only in not such hippyish phrasing. Most of all, read it for her warning against the temptation to turn the multiple, overlapping and fascinatingly complex political processes in Bolivia into an easily reducible set of new models that fit neatly onto a page.

Community must be reinvented, made to live again. We Bolivians—unlike those in our brother countries—are lucky in that our communal strength has not yet been locked away in museums or reservations, or in archeological sites for tourists. It is this polymorphism, its diverse and ch’ixi character, that has allowed our indigenous community, from the Andes to the Amazon, to still be a dynamic force and a collective creation.

in the long-term context, which no doubt is a Pachakuti cycle (though many idiots confuse it with a millennium, and Evo as the new Indian Christ), the debate itself of the constitution is just an epiphenomenon. The whole world is part of this process; it is an emerging and multiplying clamor to LIVE WELL (not live better), of restructuring our relations with the world, with the land, with the universe and its multiple signs. How great is it that we don’t even talk about that whole “development” thing anymore? It’s fantastic that this shift resonates in the new constitution! But it doesn’t do anything to know those slogans by heart if we can’t grind our own llajwa (traditional Bolivian salsa), or if we waste water like idiots during Carnival or if we get drunk until we lose our dignity or if we don’t look into the eyes of those who talk to us or if we use hired domestic help to do something as simple as serve us water or if we are not saddened every day by the growth of the black stains of bare earth on Illimani.

Full text below, but do visit the UB News site, there’s much to see. (more…)

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One of the major rallying-points for those campaigning for a No in this referendum has been religion. A rather minor change of phrasing in the new constitution shifts the relationship between the Catholic church and the state from one of official support to detachment. In the previous constitution (which now looks to have been voted out of existence), the Bolivian state ‘recognise(d) and sustain(ed) the apostolic Roman Catholic religion’, while guaranteeing the freedom to practice other faiths. In the new constitution, the state is declared independent of the church for the first time, while religious freedoms are guaranteed, including freedom of religious instruction. But don’t take my word for it, let’s ask Xavier Albó, Jesuit priest, anthropologist, national treasure and one-man publishing industry:

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Three years ago this weekend, Evo Morales was sworn in as President of Bolivia, having campaigned hard on a number of issues: nationalisation of natural resources, greater inclusion of indigenous peoples with official support for their languages and legal recognition for their systems of justice and landholding, agrarian reform, social justice and a roots-deep reform of the country’s consitution. Today, the Bolivian people vote again and decide how far the former are to be shored up by the latter, Constitutional reform. Does the Bolivian electorate support the current change in the country’s politics enough to alter its foundational legal document? Right now, early reports are indicating that yes it does.
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Alright, so it might not get you in a party mood for the weekend ahead, but if you’re in London you might be interested in tonight’s screening of ‘Child Miners’, followed by a Q&A session with the director, Rodrigo Vazquez. The film focuses on two young boys who are forced by family circumstances to earn a living as miners in Bolivia, during the dawning months of the Morales presidency. Another film by Vazquez, ‘Looking for the Revolution’ was screened on British TV last year, and I enjoyed it a lot: it was thoughtful and non-hyperbolic, and got inside the political dynamics of the MAS government as well as showing the sometimes difficult job done by grassroots leaders. Tonight’s event is at journalistic organisation the Frontline Club, and their blurb goes as follows:

‘Child Miners is a poignant observational documentary from acclaimed director Rodrigo Vazquez (Inside Hamas, Bolivia, Looking for the Revolution) that follows the plight of two young Bolivian tin miners. Jorge and Alex are two of 3,000 children working in Bolivia´s tin mines. This film follows their lives as they struggle to survive on less than one dollar a day while fighting against hunger and silicosis, the miners disease. It is set against the backdrop of the country’s newly elected indigenous president, Evo Morales, a man of principle who promises to improve the lives of ordinary Bolivians. The question is, will his promises ring true for the two young miners?

Director, Vazquez states:

“I filmed child miners Alex Choque and Jorge Mollinedo in December 2005, when Bolivia’s first indigenous President Evo Morales won the elections with the promise of transforming poor people’s lives. Evo promised to give miners a better life by re-nationalizing the industry.

Jorge’s father has contracted silicosis, the ‘miners’ disease’ and now is out of work, so Jorge had to increase his work load to keep bringing food to the house, thus increasing the chances of becoming ill like his father. Newly-arrived Cuban doctors sent by Evo’s government establish that Jorge has begun developing the “miner’s disease” and advised him to stop working immediately. But now more than ever, Jorge needs to keep working.”

The Frontline Club is at 13 Norfolk Place, W2 1QJ, and the film starts at 7pm. Entry is £8. See you there?

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Inauguration Week

Thousands assembled, tears were shed, beautiful words were spoken, history was made and a new era of hope and challenge arose before us. Yes, people of the Internet, this week the Karaspita blog was brought into the world weighing several megabytes, in rude health. Also, in the USA, a new president was sworn in, which made a lot of people very happy. But enough about him (for now), what are you doing here?

Well, I could start by telling _you_ what I’m doing here and why. I am a research student at the University of London and I have spent the last few years neck-deep in the study of Bolivia, specifically the politics of the place and the indigenous people who live there. I carried out PhD fieldwork in Cochabamba, arriving a month before the election of Evo Morales and leaving a year and a half later, and even in cold, colourless London Bolivia-geekery is my main occupation and recreation of choice. I read the Bolivian newspapers (itself an action requiring a hefty rightwing-bias-filter) and write digests of the news for a British audience, plus articles here and there (which I’m hoping to do more of).

‘Karaspita’ was the preferred swearword of one of my favourite informants when doing anthropology research, a peasant grandmother of formidable character. When exasperated, she would let fly a string of insults culminating in ‘karaspita, che!’ tutted with a shake of the head. It’s an expression of the same sentiment I feel when reading that, for example, the US State Department has called the government of Evo Morales ‘undemocratic’ just weeks after it was reinforced with a 67% vote of confidence from the general public in a referendum. Or when the BBC reports on rioting, sabotage and destruction of government installations in the East of the country and attaches a request for information by anyone on the scene, in the style of citizen journalism, ‘Are you looting any ministries in Santa Cruz today? We want your side of the story’. Karaspa is what I think, admiringly, when Bolivia’s league of disabled people stages a gruelling march on the capital over hundreds of mountainous miles, and once there sets about rioting and trying to storm Congress. Don’t mess with the disabled people of Bolivia! By discussing some of these stories in English, here, I hope to convey some of the enthusiasm I feel about this smashing wee country and the people who live there, and some of my exasperation at the reporting of it in the English-language press.

Hello to you if you’ve travelled over from Jonathan Jarrett’s mediaeval history blog. You’ll be after some more of those colourful pictures and descriptions of rural markets, religious ritual and indigenous language, amirite? Well, there’ll probably be a good dose of the anthropological, given that that’s my day job, but don’t get too turned off if you discover that what I write about here is primarily political. You see, in Bolivia at the moment, indigeneity and political practice inform each other in many ways, not least in a robust tradition of direct action. With a 65% indigenous population and 36 native languages spoken in national territory, how could ethnicity and culture ever be separable from national political discourse? And the fact is that local struggles over land, water and the continuation of tradition also feed into and are influenced by resistance to international forces which encourage casualised labour, privatised resources, lopsided concentration of wealth and power and crowbarring open the markets in vulnerable countries to dump subsidised products on them, while taking away trade preferences at the drop of a hat, or the expulsion of an ambassador. So when you get locally-grounded processes of resistance and social change which throw up challenges to the forces of global economic hegemony, how can you not be fascinated by them? My posts will probably feature more swearwords and fewer footnotes than Jonathan’s, and certainly less mediaeval history, but it’d be grand if you would stick around anyway.

Hello to other bloggers writing about Bolivia! Now, starting my own blog doesn’t mean I don’t think you’re all lovely, especially you. Otto at Inka Kola News and The Dude especially are jewels in my bookmarks folder for their, ahem, balanced analysis. It just seems a shame to spend this much time immersed in Bolivian political geekery and not be able to share it with you. Besides, I’ve yet to notice an English-language Bolivia blog coming out of the UK, perhaps for obvious reasons, but we do have stuff going on here too.

So anyway, k’aj! Salud, slainte mhath ma tha, welcome to all, please bear with me while I get links and so forth all put up and see you all later to start talking about this Sunday’s referendum.

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