27 April 2017, The Tablet

Saviour of the Southern Cross


Every year in early May, crowds flock to a poor barrio in central Bolivia for a four-day celebration that unites Christian worship and Pre-Columbian fertility rites

The cross might seem the most specific of all Christian symbols, but it has an older significance for the Andean peoples, which is vividly and colourfully lived out at the beginning of May each year in one of the poorest barrios of the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba.

The Fiesta de Tatala (from tata, the word in both the indigenous languages, Quechua and Aymara for “father”) is particular to the Jesuit parish of Santa Vera Cruz (the “Holy True Cross”), in southern Cochabamba. It was officially recognised by the Government in 2012 as part of the cultural patrimony of Bolivia, and attracts tens of thousands of people each year. Even before Columbus arrived  in America, the indigenous people were celebrating a feast of fertility in early May (autumn in the southern hemisphere, the time of the harvest), connected with the symbolism of the cross. The constellation of the Southern Cross, pointing to north, south, east and west, was a sign of cosmic harmony and unity. Crosses are placed in the fields to seek protection for the crops until the harvest.

The Fiesta de Santa Vera Cruz Tatala combines deeply rooted pre-Christian traditions with Catholic beliefs, creating a style of popular religiosity known as Andean Christian. It attracts devotees from far and wide, but particularly poor campesino families, with the women in their bunched skirts with horizontally worn sombreros over two long black plaits, and colourful bundles on their backs, carrying a baby or just their belongings.

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