Applied Research in Quality of Life

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 47–75 | Cite as

‘SUERTE’ (Luck): Spirituality and Well-Being in El Alto, Bolivia

Article

Abstract

This paper addresses the importance of faith and the consequent resort to supernatural forces to acquire a sense of well-being in a poor neighbourhood in the city of El Alto, Bolivia. Religious beliefs and practices have provided an important idiom for the expression of aspirations and the pursuit of ideals. The social role of emotions and its effect on well-being have been widely investigated in anthropology, especially in relation to issues of solidarity, feelings of confidence, and a sense of full personhood and empowerment (Barbalet 2001; Turner 2002; Bendelow and Williams 1997). The importance of faith is emphasised in my ethnography, showing how people’s loyalty to their notions of self-worth and the cosmological order is essential for their sense of fulfilment and empowerment. Thus, faith principles are fundamental to shed light on ideas of what people identify as well-being and fulfilment. My informants believe that luck can be controlled and changed by treating the spirits better. It can be bought and acquired by asking for protection from the spiritual forces living in the Bolivian plateau. Luck is inextricably connected with ideas of protection, destiny control and future aspirations. Bad luck is a moment of passage that leads to good luck. However, this is not a simple process. It requires a complex involvement of people, who carefully have to invest their time and money in changing their situation through various cultural practices of divination and control of destiny. Unless you are a breech baby, you are not born lucky, but you become so if you invest your resources in nourishing the forces that support the world. In exchange, these forces will assure and control an individual’s luck, freeing him/her from evil eye and envy-major sources of ill-being. This can be achieved through a ritual performed by a yatiri—local shaman, or other means, such as participating and dancing in a religious celebration in honour of a patron saint or engaging in regular acts of faith. The paper is based on ethnographic research carried out in Senkata, a poor neighbourhood in the city of El Alto, between November 2003 and November 2004. I spent 12 months in Bolivia in order to collect data for my Phd thesis. My methodology was mainly based on participant observation, informal conversations and a few formal interviews.

Keywords

Well-being Spirituality Anthropology Bolivia El Alto Luck 

References

  1. Abercombie, T. A. (1998). Pathways of memory and power. Ethnography and history among an Andean people. Madison, Winsconsin: University of Winsconsin Press.Google Scholar
  2. Alba, J.J. (1989). Jampiris y Médicos en Rakaypampa. La Restructuracìon de sus practicas curativas: una experiencia con el Centro de Comunicación y Desarollo Andino CENDA. Paper presented at the Congreso de Medicina Tradicional, Cochabamba.Google Scholar
  3. Albó, X. (1992). Rostros Indios de Dios. La Paz: CIPCA, HISBOL, UCB.Google Scholar
  4. Appadurai, A. (2004). The capacity to aspire: Culture and the terms of recognition. In V. Rao & M. Walton (Eds.), Culture and public action. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bandelow, G., & Williams, S. (eds). (1997). Emotions in social life: Critical themes and contemporary issues. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Barbalet, J. M. (2001). Emotion, social theory and social structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bloch, M. (1992). Pray into hunter: The politics of religious experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Brock, K. (1999). It’s not only wealth that matters—it’s peace of mind too: a review of participatory work on poverty and ill-being. www.worldbank.or/poverty/voices/reports.
  9. Buechler, H., & Buechler, J. M. (1996). The world of Sofia Velasquez: The autobiography of a Bolivian Market Vendor. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Calestani, M., Kyriakakis, I., & Tassi, N. (2007). Three narratives of anthropological engagement in anthropology matters. London: October 2007.Google Scholar
  11. Clifford, J., & Marcus, E. (1986). Writing cultures. The poetics and politics of ethnography. London: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  12. Cuentas, E. O. (1984). El Ekeko y las Alasitas, Manifestación de Aculturación Religiosa. In Boletín de Lima, Lima: Mayo 1984.Google Scholar
  13. Dasgupta, P. (1993). An inquiry into well-being and destitution. Oxford: Claredon.Google Scholar
  14. Diener, E., & Suh, E.M. (Eds.) (2000). Culture and subjective well-being. Cambridge, MA: MITT.Google Scholar
  15. Escobar, A. (1995). The making and unmaking of the third world. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Fernández Juárez, G. (1993). Sullu, mesa y lógica social aymara. In Rebista de Dialectologia y tradiciones Populares. Tomo, XLVIII, 85–114.Google Scholar
  17. Fernández Juárez, G. (1995). Modelos Aymaras de Salud: Ajilata Grande (Provincia Omasuyos). Etiologia, terapia e Identidad en el altiplano aymara. In Reunion Annual de Etnologia, Tomo I, Anales de la Reunion Annual de Etnologia, La Paz: Museo Nacional de Etnologia y Folklore. Fernández Juárez, 1993, 85.Google Scholar
  18. Fernández Juárez, G. (1996). El Mundo Abierto: Agosto y Semana Santa en las celebraciones aymaras. In Revista Española de antropología Americana, 26, 205–229. Madrid: Servicio Publicaciones UCM.Google Scholar
  19. Fernández Juárez, G. (1999). Medicos y Yatiris. Salud e Interculturalidad en el Altiplano Aymara. La Paz: CIPCA y ESA, OPS/OMS.Google Scholar
  20. Giorgi, L. (1990). Aspects of the subjective culture of modernity: an analysis of the European value survey (1981) on European attitudes towards religion, work, politics and well-being, PhD Thesis. Anthropology Department, Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityGoogle Scholar
  21. Goldworth, A. (ed). (1983). Deontology together with the springs of actions. Oxford: Claredon.Google Scholar
  22. Graeber, D. (2001). Toward an anthropological theory of value. New York: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Greenwood, S.E.J. (1997). The British occult subculture: Identity, gender and morality, Doctoral Thesis. Anthropology Department: Goldsmiths College, University of London.Google Scholar
  24. Harris, O. (1987). Dinero y Fertilidad. In Economia Etnica. La Paz: HISBOL.Google Scholar
  25. Harris, O. (2000). The condor and the bull: The making of masculinity. In To make the Earth Bear Fruit: Essays on Fertility, Work and Gender in Highland Bolivia, London: Institute of Latin America Studies.Google Scholar
  26. Harris, O., & Bouysse-Cassagne, T. (1988). Pacha: En Torno al Pensamiento Aymara. In A. El Mundo, & X. Albó (Eds), Raices de América. UNESCO: Allianza America.Google Scholar
  27. Hekman, S. J. (1990). Gender and knowledge. Elements of a postmodern feminism. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  28. Jimenez, A. C. (ed). (2008). Culture and well-being: Anthropological approaches to freedom and political ethics. London: Pluto.Google Scholar
  29. Lambek, M. (2008). Measuring or practising well-being. In A. C. Jimenez (Ed.), Culture and well-being: Anthropological approaches to freedom and political ethics. London: Pluto.Google Scholar
  30. Layard, R. (2005). Happiness. Lessons from a new science. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  31. Lewis, G. (1975). Knowledge of illness in a sepik society. A study of the Gnau, New Guinea. London: The Athlone Press.Google Scholar
  32. Mancini Billson, J., & Fluehr-Lobban, C. (2005). Female well-being. Toward a global theory of social change. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  33. Montes Ruiz, F. (1999). La Mascara de Piedra. La Paz: Editorial Armonia.Google Scholar
  34. Nash, J. (1979). We eat the mines and the mines eat us. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Nussbaum, M., & Sen, A. (2001). The quality of life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Ortega, F. (1980). La dicotomía caliente/frio en la medicina andina (El caso de San Pedro de casta). In Debates en Antropología, 5: 115-139.Google Scholar
  37. Pocock, D. (1981). The evil eye-envy and greed among the Patidar of central Gujerat. In A. Dundef (Ed.), The evil eye: A casebook (pp. 201–210). New York and London: Garland.Google Scholar
  38. Ponce Sangines, C. (1969). Tunupa Y Ekako: Estudio arqueologico de las efigies precolombianas de dorso adunco. La Paz: Academia Nacional de Ciencias de Bolivia.Google Scholar
  39. Rahnema, M. (1992). Poverty. In Sachs Wolfgan (Ed.), The development dictionary. A guide to knowledge as power. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  40. Rubel, A.J. (1986) El susto en Hispanoamérica. In Arinsana, 1; pp. 29–42, Cusco.Google Scholar
  41. Seligman, M. E. P. (2001). La costruzione della Felicitá. Milano: Sperling Paperback.Google Scholar
  42. Sen, A. (1985). Commodities and capabilities. Amsterdam: North Holland.Google Scholar
  43. Sen, A. (1993). Capability and well-being. In M. Nussbaum & A. Sen (Eds.) (2001), The quality of life. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Sen, A. (1999). Development as freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Sen, A. (2004). How does culture matter? In V. Rao & M. Walton (Eds.), Culture and Public action. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Tassi, N. (2008) Living languages: Representation and alterity in Andean urban setting, Doctoral Thesis. London: Anthropology Department, UCL, University of London.Google Scholar
  47. Taylor, C. (1989). Sources of the self: The making of modern identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Thin, N. (2005) Happiness and the sad topics of anthropology. WeD Working Paper, ESRC Research Group on Well-being in Developing Countries, University of Bath.Google Scholar
  49. Turner, V. (2002). Liminality and comunitas. In M. Lambek (Ed.), A reader in the anthropology of religion. London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  50. Weismantel, M. (2001). Cholas and Pistachos. Stories of race and sex in the Andes. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  51. Young, D., & Goulet, J. G. (1994). Being changed by cross-cultural encounters: The anthropology of extraordinary experience. Ontario: Broadview.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V./The International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies (ISQOLS) 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyScience LaboratoriesDurhamUK

Personalised recommendations