The Bolivia Reader: History, Culture, Politics
According to Catholic teaching, All Saints Day, on 1 November, is a time to celebrate the saints and martyrs who reside in the celestial sphere, and All Souls Day, on 2 November, a time to pray that the deceased may find new life in heaven. In Andean popular culture, one of the distinctive features of the religious ceremonies is the baking of small, childlike figurines (t’antawawas; literally, children made of bread) representing the souls of the departed and a feast with alcoholic libations and festooned cornucopia of fruit and bread. The ceremonies culminate on the 2nd, when family members receive the spirits of the dead who return momentarily for the feast.
On 1 November 1979, General Alberto Natusch Busch launched a vicious coup in the capital. Popular protest was met with open assaults in the streets. Hundreds of people were killed or disappeared over a two-week period, and La Paz was plunged into mourning. The poet Blanca Wiethüchter (1947–2004) captures the tragic moment in densely textured language that evokes the sinister repression and the indignant resistance. With a sense of shock and an awareness of the transcendent, the poem draws on symbolic elements from popular religious culture and iconography and inquires whether the painful, polarized cycles of Bolivian history will be overcome.
Note: In this piece, ornaments indicate page breaks in the original.