Leading up to the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage worked in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, to facilitate a cultural exchange between Siletz Indians from Oregon and the Bolivian Kallawaya. Representatives from both groups participated in the Festival’s One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage program, and in August 2014 the Siletz traveled to Bolivia to continue sharing traditional knowledge and practices with the Kallawaya and other indigenous peoples from the Andean highlands. Siletz tribal leader Bud Lane sent us this account of their trip.
At the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, we made a connection with the Kallawaya, participating in their traditional ceremonies and exchanging gifts between our peoples. Their spiritual leader, Walter Alvarez, invited several members of our group to come to his homeland and visit his people. Little did we know that when we cordially accepted his generous offer, things were set in motion that would result in us actually making the long trip to Bolivia.
The first order of business after arriving in La Paz is simply to adjust your breathing. We had never been at that high an altitude. Driving into the city in the early morning darkness with a million lights was so beautiful, but we took most of the day to acclimate to our new surroundings.
Our inter-generational group consisted of all Siletz tribal members, Sonya Moody-Jurado, Gabriel Moody-Jurado, Teila Salas, Alissa Lane, Halli Lane-Skauge, and myself.
La Paz is so full of history and rich in culture. It is interesting to me that the great buildings we visited were sometimes as old as the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but really they were very new compared to other structures, constructed by the indigenous people of Bolivia thousands of years prior to the arrival of the Europeans, still in use to this day.
Our first visit was with Walter Alvarez and the Kallawaya at the Tambo Quirquincho Museum, a beautiful building with a central courtyard. We participated in the Kallawaya blessing ceremony and then performed our own Nee-dash dance ceremony. In typical Kallawaya fashion, when their dances begin they just grab your hand and take you to dance with them. It was so good to see our friends again and dance in that sunny courtyard to their beautiful music.
Later the same day, I was invited to give a lecture on Siletz history and culture at the Universidad Mayor de San Andres for sixty university law students. They were an interesting group and asked lots of questions about how we keep our traditions going and about modern-day tribal government. I always enjoy speaking with students with fresh attitudes and new ideas.
The next day we were off to Tiwanaku, a sacred temple site. I had read about this ancient place and watched TV documentaries about it all my life. We were so excited to actually be going there! Fernando Huanacuni, the Ambassador for the Amauta National Council, welcomed us, and his mother, council chairman Señora Huanacuni, led us to the Temple site and led a ceremony. They invited our group to do our dances, too. The sharing of our two cultures in that sacred place is something I will never forget.
After touring the site we went back to the courtyard for an Apthapi, a delicious traditional shared meal served on the ground and eaten by hand. In the Tiwanaku museum, we marveled at the many fantastic carved stone monoliths from the area. After exchanging gifts and saying goodbyes, we headed to the town of Huatajata on the shore of Lake Titicaca.
That night we had a nice dinner hosted by Peter Brennan, the Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia. He and his wife accompanied us on our travels to Tiwanaku and Lake Titicaca; other members of the embassy graciously accompanied us everywhere we went.
After breakfast we all got on a boat and headed out onto the lake—so large it should be called a sea. Our first stop was Totora Island. This place is unbelievable. It is a floating island of reeds, cut and laid down by the villagers. Everything in the village is made of reeds: houses, chairs, tables, seats, hats, baskets, boats. They must cut a new layer every two weeks to keep the island floating, as the reeds on the bottom get water logged and sink. The villagers hunt birds, gather eggs, and fish for their food. And, yes, the base of the reed is edible, too.
We continued on to Sun Island, home of the Yumani people. As we approached the island we could see stone terraces made long ago by the Incas. We were greeted by a group of village elders, who showered us with flower petals and hung garlands around our necks.
We performed our dances, and then they shared their dances with a group of adults and then the young performers. We exchanged gifts until we ran out of things. I so wished we had more to give. They were all so excited about us being there with them. Before long it was time to say goodbye, so we loaded up on the boat had headed back to Huatajata, then back to La Paz.
The National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore (MUSEF) in La Paz had set up a local fair of traditional and contemporary arts, and we were asked to display our regalia and baskets. While my crew interpreted our traditional crafts for visitors, I gave a lecture on Siletz history and culture for fifty students.
Directly after my lecture, I was off to teach a Siletz basketry 101 class. There were supposed to be twenty students, but many more arrived, all excited to learn Siletz twining. I would have liked to spend a full day there with those students, but it was not possible.
That evening in La Paz’s central San Francisco Square, different groups presented their cultural dances and performances, and we were invited to do our dances. It was so nice to watch the traditional dances from all over Bolivia and share our own in that venue. I will never forget the hospitality and warm greeting from the people of La Paz that evening.
The next day we went to the PIPIRIPI, a children’s museum that is just amazing. We did our dances for a very large group of kids, and then they did some of their dances. It was so nice. A few of the kids and the kids in our crew got to play afterward while the adults visited.
Later that evening, we went back to MUSEF for what would be our final dance in Bolivia. It was sort of a farewell to those who we had the pleasure of meeting in La Paz. As usual, we were in this magnificent courtyard with very old architecture. We left with a feeling of relief to have completed what had grown to be a very rigorous schedule, but also sadness to know that we would very shortly be leaving our new friends.
On our final day members of the Amauta National Council took us out of La Paz to a sacred site called La Cumbre, so high in the mountains that it is totally barren. Yet it is strikingly beautiful in its barrenness, with the snow-covered peaks contrasting with the dark rock and dirt of the mountains.
Señora Huanacuni and the other women did a blessing ceremony for our group. It is almost impossible to describe, and it probably should not be described in detail. Many prayers went up to our Ancestors. They insist that our Ancestors knew each other and had predetermined long ago that we would be in this spot together in fellowship as long-separated relatives. It is beyond explanation the feelings we felt, other than to say that our Ancestors spirits were there with us.
We shared another communal Apthapi dinner, and then said very sad goodbyes to our friends and relatives.
On behalf of our Siletz group, we want to thank the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage staff, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires and staff in La Paz, and all of the many tribal groups and communities, museums, cultural institutions, and offices in Bolivia for making this happen and for their generosity and hospitality. We all consider this experience as one of the best in our lives, and we are forever changed for the better by it.
Alfred “Bud” Lane III is the language and traditional arts instructor and member of the Tribal Council for the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians in Oregon. He worked closely with the One World, Many Voices program team to coordinate the Siletz participation in the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.