Bolivia, the fifth-largest country in South America, shares its borders with Brazil in the north as well as east, Paraguay and Argentina in the south, Chile in the west, and Peru in the west. A land-locked country not much explored but boasts of diverse cultures, much of which is less known. It is undoubtedly the highest and most remote country in South America. The political instability of the region is an issue that the country needs to resolve for the peaceful existence of the diverse cultural residing in the state. This paper intends to explore the culture of Bolivia, paying attention to the cultural diversity and historical relevance of the same. The issue of the political instability of the country will be evaluated and a suggestion for solving the same will be proposed.
Population – A vast majority, about two-thirds of the population, comprises the native people. The Bolivian culture is quite diverse and includes people of Spanish origin, descendants of immigrants as well as native groups hailing from the Andes and Mestizos. The population count of Bolivia is 10,969,649 comprising Quechua at 30%, mestizo at 30%, Aymara at 25%, and whites at 15%. (“The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency”, 2017) The Spanish inhabited the area during the 16th century stifling several local traditions and introducing others. Religious arts introduced by the Spanish for instance were further developed by local artists to create distinctive styles. Just prior to the Spanish incursion, portions of Bolivia were merged into Inca territory, which implied that few of the native groups including the Quechua and Aymara were descendants of the Incas. During the 20th century, local traditions became more popular and the local languages were acknowledged as official languages.
Languages – Spanish happens to be the common as well as official language of Bolivia. Nevertheless, there would be about 39 other languages such as Aymara, Chiquitano, Chiriguano, and Guyara, spoken by people in different regions of the country. About half of the population has a native language as their mother tongue.
Diet – The daily diet though plentiful in carbohydrates is lacking in other food categories. The highlands have potatoes as their primary staple and grains like oca, quinoa, barley, rice, and maize, as well as legumes, especially broad beans.
During special occasions especially the life cycle events such as baptism, marriage, and death, the people have the most lavish and sumptuous meal with ample fresh vegetables and beef, chicken, or pork.
Clothing – Bolivian clothing, dress, and hat styles vary with region owing to its diverse cultures and ethnic groups. There would be thirty different yet typical Bolivian dress styles flaunted by the native Bolivians influenced by the cultures, with distinct styling for men and women and would include various kinds of masks and hats. (“Bolivian Clothing. Bolivia Clothes, Dress, Hats. Bolivia Culture Customs Lifesty”, 2017)
Religious Beliefs – Bolivia is a mix of various cultures. There exist around three dozen varied native cultures in Bolivia, each having a separate set of faith and rituals. Many still continue to pray to their ancestral gods. However, Bolivians are majorly Catholic with the Catholic Church having tremendous influence for ages. Nevertheless, religious views and practices create a system of “popular religion” which includes ceremonial elements of Catholicism as well as Protestantism (particularly rituals) along with pre-Hispanic Andean beliefs and rituals. (“Culture of Bolivia – history, people, clothing, traditions, women, beliefs, food, customs, family”, 2017) The native Bolivian indigenous cultures do not abandon their religious beliefs and customs. Instead, they simply amalgamated them into the Catholic religion and practiced them, which resulted in the upsetting of the Catholic Church.
Political scenario –Prior to President Evo Morales coming to power, the political outcome of the issue was instrumental in toppling two presidents and led to demands for regional autonomy which included the flourishing, oil-producing Santa Cruz. Poverty is widespread in Bolivia with regional inconsistencies in wealth circulation. Mr. Morales opposed free-trade policies and stiffened state control over the economy, nationalised the energy sector as well as other key utilities. Mr. Morales happens to be a strong critic of the US which has expressed concern regarding Bolivian coca cultivation. Bolivia is among the world’s largest producers of coca, which is the raw material used in cocaine. A crop-eradication program implemented as criteria for enabling the flow of conditional US aid has enraged several of Bolivia’s poorest farmers for whom coca was usually the only source of income. (“BBC News – Bolivia country profile”, 2017)
To conclude, although Bolivia is rich in mineral and energy resources, it continues to be among South America’s poorest countries. The affluent urban elites, predominantly Spanish, have over the years continued to dominate the political as well as economic scenario, while the majority of the Bolivians comprise low-income group farmers, miners, small-time traders, or artists. In spite of Bolivia having the second-largest reserves of natural gas in South America, it has been marginalised by the long-prevailing tensions and feud over the utilization and export of the resource. The native groups are of the view that the country shouldn’t renounce its control over the reserves, which they consider to be the country’s only available natural resource. An amalgamation of the diverse needs and visions of all the varied cultural groups in the country will do wonders for their peaceful existence together.
BBC News – Bolivia country profile. (2017). News.bbc.co.uk.
Bolivian Clothing. Bolivia Clothes, Dress, Hats. Bolivia Culture Customs Lifesty. (2017). BoliviaBella.
Culture of Bolivia – history, people, clothing, traditions, women, beliefs, food, customs, family. (2017). Everyculture.com.
The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency. (2017). Cia.gov.