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.