Llama Fetuses at the Shamans Market in Bolivia

May 05, 2016 3 min read 0 Comments

Llama Fetuses at the Shamans Market in Bolivia | A Map to Anywhere

The Shamans Market in Bolivia

What do llama fetuses and construction have in common? More than you would think at the Shamans Market in Bolivia.

When you are visiting La Paz, if you take the time to wander your way through the dusty, cobblestone streets towards El Alto, you will eventually find stalls piled high with obscure curiosities. These may include dead cats, cures for infertility, and dried llama fetuses. 

Even though the majority of the population is Catholic, most people still practice the old, pagan rituals. This includes giving offerings to Pachamama, the Earth goddess, to ensure her favor. 

If you read my previous post, it also involved splashing rubbing alcohol on our bikes and drinking some ourselves before traversing the Death Road.

shamans market

What to Expect at the Shaman's Market

La Paz is a city of 2.3 million people, and that can mean a lot of superstition to support. The non-touristy version of the market is up in El Alto. It’s one of the biggest open-air markets in Latin America. And let me just warn you, the experience is going to be weird for most people.

There is a bit of everything from love potions to sacrifices, from a cure for alcoholism to remedies and spells for and against whatever you desire and whatever ails you.
The government cracked down on the sale of parts of endangered species around 2010, but you may still see those items hanging in dusty shops. The owners will say they aren't for sale but are still there to entice tourists. 

Something for Everyone at the Shamans Market

When I think of superstitions and sacrifice, I think of timeless human challenges that you may buy items for; such as love potions or sacrifices for better crops.
The thing that surprised me is that these trinkets are evolved to meet our modern-day needs as well. 
Want to sell your car? There are some herbs for that.
Broken computer? Ask the lady behind the counter to give you something for good luck.
For miners, there are sweets, alcohol, and coca for Pachamama and Tio. These sacrifices are intended to make up for the riches the miners take from the Earth. They believe that sacrificing helps them to stay safe, and with mines like the one I went to in Potosi, I don't blame them for trying.

If you own a store and want to see business improve, anything with the symbol of a frog can be helpful. For some reason, a real dried frog with a cigarette in its mouth seems to be the most favored choice. 

If you are going hiking in the Andes, it's also a good idea to bring talismans to repel the dark spirits that can be found in the wild places. 

Shamans Market


What a Llama Fetus Has to do with Construction

By far the most popular items are llama fetuses. The llama fetus is placed in the wet cement of the foundation in a significant ceremony.

This involves the company that is going to construct the building as well as the owners.

I was told that if the ceremony doesn’t take place, most of the workers think the project is cursed and won’t take part in building the structure. That probably doesn't have anything to do with the large amounts of beer that are also a part of the ceremony.

Usually, after the ceremony, the construction workers continue drinking for several days.  So, it’s a tradition to schedule the actual construction start date for one week after the ceremony.

This seems wise.

The Shamans Market in Bolivia, next to the hardware store

And as for where to buy the cement to go with the llama fetus… My hostel roommate and I were walking around the city today and happened to go down the street near the Shamans Market that sells all the building supplies.

They are sold in open-air markets like almost everything else. I have only seen a handful of enclosed indoor stores here, even in the city center. So whether you want to buy Quikcrete, electrical supplies or a kitchen sink, it is all found in the outdoor market.

Shamans Market

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