An Odd Mixture of Beliefs in Bolivia
By “Awake!” correspondent in Bolivia
OF THE approximately five million people living in Bolivia, about two million are Aymara and Quechua Indians. Though professing Catholicism, they confuse the “saints” with the gods worshiped by their ancestors. How is this possible when the Catholic Church has existed in Bolivia for about four centuries?
In his book A Short History of Bolivia, Robert Barton comments on the work of Catholic missionaries: “They began working for large numbers of converts rather than trying to make Christianity understandable to the natives; in fact, many pretended a resemblance existed between their own creed and the superstitious beliefs of the barbarians. This accounts for the mixture of the two lasting to this day.”
This “mixture of the two” is clearly in evidence in connection with Todos los Santos, All Saints’ Day. Kip Lester and Jane McKeel, in their book Discover Bolivia, state: “For the campesino [the native farmer] the fiesta of Todos Santos is a combination of the Christian form of observance of these Holy Days and the cult rendered to the chullpas.” The chullpas are round towers of uncut stones found in the Titicaca basin. They are supposed to have been originally the tombs of Indian chiefs.
It is of interest that the Catholic Church has adjusted many other pagan practices and perpetuated them under the label of being Christian. “All Souls’ Day” did not originate with true Christianity. Regarding its roots, we read in Funk and Wagnalls’ Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend: “Essentially, All Souls [Day] is the adaptation of an almost world-wide custom of setting aside a part of the year (usually the last part) for the dead. The Babylonians observed a monthly Feast of All Souls in which sacrifices were made by priests.”
Understandably, the early Christians held no celebration for the “souls” of the dead. They knew that the inspired Scriptures teach, “the soul that sinneth, the same shall die.” (Ezek. 18:4, Catholic Douay Version) Yes, they appreciated that the dead are truly dead, awaiting a resurrection.—Acts 24:15.
Another example of an odd mixture of beliefs is the Diablada (Devil Dance). The book Gate of the Sun, A Prospect of Bolivia says the following regarding it: “Rooted in a combination of pagan and Christian myth, it is an interesting example of the duality that still runs through everyday life in Bolivia.”
According to the non-Christian tradition of Bolivia, the Devil lives in the mines and is the owner of the minerals and the metals. He is invoked daily by the miners to protect them from cave-ins. In the choreography, the folkloric dance groups (representing every level of society in the mining city of Oruro) take the role of the Devil, with highly ornamented masks and costumes. They petition the Virgen del Socavón, the Virgin of the Mine, in their own behalf. In the Catholic mind, the virgin, of course, is Mary.
Pointing to the involvement of the Catholic Church with the Devil Dance, Discover Bolivia observes: “in addition to their dance performances, many religious rites are ceremoniously carried out by the Devil Dancers. At the foot of San Felipe Hill at the famous Church of the Socavón, they first pay homage to the Virgin and they hold mass on certain specified occasions during and following Carnival.”
Those dressed in “Devil” costumes may be seen entering the Catholic chapel and partaking of Communion officiated over by Catholic priests. Upon entering the chapel, the Devil Dancers address the Virgin of Socavón with the words: “We come from hell to ask your blessing, all your sons of the Devil, little Mother of the mine shaft.” And on the last occasion of their entering the chapel, they say their farewell prayer for the year, as follows: “As in the hills of tin, pour out your light of the sun, upon our hearts pour out your blessings. Don’t deny us your protection Divine Mother of God until the next year little Mother! Until the next year, Good-bye!”
Further commenting on the double character of the Diablada, author Margaret Joan Anstee states: “The duality is given a new twist when, at Carnival time, the miner reaffirms his devotion to the Virgin by identifying himself with the diabolical personage whom he reveres throughout the year. This ambivalence is not exceptional but a particularly striking expression of the Andean-Indians’ syncretic [the combination of different forms of belief or practice] approach to religion. The new faith does not supersede the old one. Nothing is discarded, but the new dogmas are absorbed into the existing framework of beliefs, and the two become so closely intertwined that it is no longer possible to unravel them.”
Many people may not be particularly disturbed by this strange mixture of beliefs. But the vital question is, How does the Almighty God feel about it? The apostle Paul wrote to Christians at Corinth: “The Gentiles sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to become sharers with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and likewise the table of demons.” (1 Cor. 10:20, 21, Catholic New American Bible [NAB]) “Do not yoke yourselves in a mismatch with unbelievers. After all, what do righteousness and lawlessness have in common, or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What accord is there between Christ and Belial, what common lot between believer and unbeliever?’’—2 Cor. 6:14, 15, NAB.
Does not the odd mixture of beliefs in Bolivia illustrate that these inspired words have been disregarded? How, then, could God approve of this “mixture”? The Son of God said that his Father is looking for persons who would “worship with spirit and truth.” (John 4:23, 24) Clearly, non-Christian mythological beliefs are not the truth. Hence, those holding onto them cannot render acceptable worship to God.
Happily, however, because of the zealous activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses, many sincere Bolivians have come to appreciate Bible teaching and have rejected non-Christian practices. They are heeding the inspired counsel: “Come out from among them and separate yourselves from them, . . . and touch nothing unclean.” (2 Cor. 6:17, NAB) Is this also what you have done or are planning to do?