Bolivia, Jaqichasiña: the Aymara Wedding

The Aymara wedding ceremony is a social ritual in which all the community takes part.  After this rite the individual is afforded a different social status, hence the couple becomes an integral part of its community and is committed to offering it its support and collaboration.

In the Andean Aymara world, jaqi (personhood) is not granted to the individual but to the couple. Only when a wayna (young man) and a tawaqo (young woman) marry and procreate are they considered complete and are recognized as adults. That is why life as a couple is of utmost importance among this group, because through it a wayna (young man) and a tawaqo (young woman) gain jaqi (personhood), chacha-warmi (husband-wife), with all their rights and obligations within the ayllu (community to which they belong) by being active members.

After the falling in love phase, the young lad and the girl may even run off, disappearing for a couple of days – the young man ‘steals’ the girl away (irpantasiria), – and when they come back the irpaqa (hand request) follows and then the sirwisiña (co-habitation) which precedes the jaqichasiwi (marriage ceremony).

The date of the ceremony is decided by the parents of the couple. Some days before the celebration the couple’s relatives along with some members of the community set up the Ramada, a sort of hut adorned with branches of the eucalyptus tree and flowers that must be white, the colour that represents purity.

At the central part of this structure is an altar (a large table with two seats for the bride and the groom) which is also adorned with white flowers and covered with a white cloth. Two white flags on the opposite sides of the altar represent the bride and the groom. The Ramada is set up at a central place of the house with a view outside, so that the sun (Tata Inti or Willka Tata) can be the eternal witness that the ceremony is carried out with transparency and in front of the members of the community.

On the day of the celebration, at dawn, the jach’a irpiri (godfathers) along with the parents of the groom and the bride, pray the achachilas, uywiris, kuntur mamani, pachamama, ispallas (guardian beings) for the happiness of the couple making offerings of alcohol and coca.

Then the relatives of the couple, along with authorities and community members, attend the wedding ceremony which is held in a temple. The celebrations start after the wedding rite and they usually last three days. On the first day, the chacha (groom’s) day, relatives and friends give him all kinds of gifts, which are placed around the Ramada. On this day the couple also receives the blessing of the parents of the groom. The second day is the the warmi (bride’s) day.

The new couple and their friends head to the house of the bride’s parents, singing and dancing at the rhythm of the music played by a band. When they enter the house they seat at the Ramada which has been set up for them. This time, relatives and friends offer gifts to the bride, and her parents bless the new couple.

On the third day the newly-weds invite the in-laws, godparents, relatives and the community for the counting of the gifts especially the arku qullqi (money); if the total amount is odd it is rounded to even. After the counting, people drink and dance the irpastay in a circle.

This is how marriage is celebrated among the Aymara communities of La Paz highlands, obviously with some variation depending on the different regions. However, the process of becoming jaqi (gaining personhood) does not end here; the newly-weds also perform other rites such as the tuti (rite of inheritance), the satancha, the achuqalla, etc.

The Aymara wedding is a social ritual by which a couple becomes an integral part of that community with all their rights and obligations. The community is the protective centre for the individual, family and social life. The community is the one that testifies the marriage union of a man and a woman (chacha-warmi), who through this rite become complete individuals (jaqi ). The community consecrates them as a new family and marks its identity, so they will provide their services to their community.

Therefore, the community, as a cultural value among the Aymara, is the vital centre of their existence, it is the place where they belong to and the place that marks their identity. Being members of an ayllu (community) means sharing activities such as the building of a roof of a house, or attending wedding ceremonies, the burial of a community member, ritual ceremonies, etc. Family and community life are strictly connected among the Aymara, since families makes up the community and within it people make decisions, share sorrows and joys, promote community activities and deepen their values, customs, traditions and religious experiences.

(Martín Mamani Yujra)