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Urban Dreams/Sueños Urbanos

Santa Clara University Archives :: Exhibits :: Urban Dreams / Suenos Urbanos :: Funeral in El Alto
University Archives - Urban Dreams / Suenos Urbanos - Rituals and Beliefs in the City - Funeral in El Alto
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Funeral in El Alto
  Funeral in El Alto, 1996
One day Alvaro went to visit his friend, business associate, and longtime resident of El Alto, Erusebio. Upon arriving at his home, he found the front door shrouded in black cloth, and the traditional funeral dirge blaring out across the neighborhood from a large, amplified speaker placed in the second floor window. Inside, the home was filled with smoke and packed wall-to-wall with family and friends. Surrounding a casket on the other side of the room were large sprays of flowers, candles, and people quietly saying prayers and lamenting aloud. Men sat on one side of the room, smoking and chewing coca leaves, while the women congregated on the other, talking with each other and crying. To Alvaro's surprise, his friend died the day before, and he had come upon the wake in progress. For the next two days Erusebio's family and friends stayed with his body before taking it to a cemetery on the periphery of El Alto. In the shadow of Mt. Illimani, the family recesses from the gravesite to receive condolences from friends and visitors who knew Erusebio.

Thus is the routine of life in the city and campo, people striving to make their lives better through a variety of means. The city provides new opportunities for Aymara peasant farmers, offering commerce, employment, social, religious and political alternatives while maintaining a cutthroat atmosphere in which survival requires that residents persevere, depending upon their family ties and other forms of social security for support. Death in the Andes, like anywhere else, is part of the cycle of life. Alvaro and his family strive to make the most of their lives in El Alto, knowing that one-day their spirit will be with those living in the sacred mountains nearby.

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