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  HOME | Bolivia

Symbols Made of Bread Put the Living in Touch with the Dead in Bolivia

LA PAZ – Pieces of bread in the shape of stairs, crosses, stars, horses and birds serve as channels for receiving the spirits of the dead, which every Nov. 1 visit the world of the living, according to the Andean tradition on All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

With two days to go before this mystic moment, the streets of La Paz display an eagerness to celebrate these festivals. Bakery fairs are installed and ovens rented to families eager to bake the many forms of dough they have prepared, and whose price will vary according to their weight.

The head of Folklore and Popular Arts Promotion of the La Paz municipality, Nicolas Wallpara, told EFE that this custom is “deeply rooted” in the population, for whom bread is the basic element of the tradition.

The city official said that the principal, most typical representation is known in the Aymara indigenous tongue as “t’anta wawa,” or bread child, but which can also have the facial features of an adult man or woman.

In the Andean region it is believed that at noon on Nov. 1, the souls of the deceased visit the living to keep company with their family members for several hours, after which they return to the afterlife with all they have been offered.

“It’s the only day when they can be with us, so we have to receive them with all we have,” Nelly Huanca, a vendor of different shapes of bread who inherited the business and tradition of her grandparents, told EFE.

She said it’s important to receive the souls “with all we have,” since if a spirit visits a house and isn’t even given a glass of water, “it goes away crying.”

For that reason, tradition has it that when the soul of the dearly departed comes to call, families must have a big table ready with their favorite dishes and the photo and name of the dead, and must also chant prayers that merge local customs with Catholicism.

Placed on the table, which is also an altar, are foods like the different shapes of bread along with dishes especially prepared for the departed, plus candies, cookies, cakes and glasses of beer, wine and whisky.

The ancestral tradition has expanded and grown stronger in recent years thanks to a deep spirituality, and despite the increasingly popular foreign festival of Halloween.

 

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