Museum of Ethnography and Folklore


Story: Camille Tapia Delgadillo
Photography: Camille Tapia Delgadillo
Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The museum “Ethnography and Folklore" is located in the city of La Paz, Bolivia, a few blocks from the Plaza Murillo. This museum is dedicated to the preservation of tradition and Bolivia’s diverse and independent cultures.

In one of my visits to the city, I discovered this museum and was amazed by its decorative exterior; on the outside it had dark silhouettes outlining dances typical to this country. I walked into the museum and was offered a guide that would accompany me on the tour.

First, the guide explained the museum’s construction. It is located inside an eighteen century house belonging to the Villaverde family. The design is a mestizo-baroque style, meaning that the decorations present a mixture of animals, fruits, etc. of the region, in addition to a huge family shield that greets you at the entrance. We then passed to the room of Andean textiles, where our guide explained techniques for shaving the llama, the coloration with natural elements, and the designs that were used by the country’s ancient cultures. What I liked most of this was the part of the Chulos or Lluchus, which are hats used by these traditional cultures. The guide explained their role after the cranial deformation of the Sons of Kings, and how they also served in their walks to collect water, as they were so tightly woven.

Then we went to the numismatic room (everything related to coins), where we could observe the first coins of Latin America and learn about the role of the "House of the Coin" in Potosí in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The factory was mandated by Europe, especially Spain, to make coins which were also called Macuquinas (a Quechua term that means struck by a hammer). In this room are also found the first banknotes of this country. One thing that surprised me was learning how wealthy entrepreneurs could have photographs of their loved ones on their banknotes.

Then we went up to the second floor to the exotic bird room. We were received by images on screens projecting endangered birds and the exotic birds of the country. It was very interesting since you could see replicas of the birds, and you can see the costumes and the dances of various traditional cultures, which used the feathers of the birds. On the one hand, it is sad that they had to hunt birds for the costumes, since for this reason some are in danger of extinction, but on the other hand, it is wonderful to see the creativity of these cultures - how each colour and size of feather had its place and its meaning, according to different regions, legends, etc. It was impressive!

Then we went to the mining room - an outstanding issue in Bolivia due to its cultural impact - where the guide first showed us how metals were melted using traditional methods, for example, pre-Hispanic ovens resembled towers with hollows or domes (Tocochimbos). In this room we also saw various jewels, silver and gold. What I found interesting was their role in society; it was usual for women to wear silver and males gold, as it represented the eternal duality of the Moon and the Sun. They used metals like copper for their weapons.

Then we passed to the representation of a mine entity called "The Uncle” or “el tío”. Many interpreters have mistaken this entity or idea for the devil, but the guide explained that this was a statue found below the Earth, which was venerated by those in the region. Upon the arrival of the Spanish, El Tio was the victim of religious syncretism that mixed religion with the belief of the people of the place, and the Catholic church called it evil to be under the Earth.

Today it is believed that this is a protector of the miners, so the local miners worship him each day they enter to labour; they have to speak with him for at least half an hour, make a smoke, chew Coca, and at certain dates slaughter animals in his name.

Finally, we went to the ceramic room. In this room is found all kinds of ceramics from several different eras; we saw ceremonial vessels of the ancient cultures of the region, such as the Kerus vessels, which have incredible designs illustrating their belief system and how these changed over time, some improving, and others not so much.

It was a nice experience and I recommend that if you pass through Bolivia, go and visit this museum. The staff and the guides are very attentive and patient.

Hours

Monday to Friday
09:00 to 12:30
15:00 to 19:00

Saturday
09:00 to 16:30

Sunday
09:00 to 12:30

Cost

National and resident
Bs. 5

Foreign
Bs. 20

Under 18 years
Free entrance

http://www.musef.org.bo/

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