Here’s Why They Are Still Making Live Sacrifices in Bolivia

Sacrifices in Bolivia | © Manuel Menal / Flickr
Picture of Harry Stewart
Updated: 4 August 2017
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Live sacrifices have long been a part of the indigenous Andean culture. No one is sure exactly when these ritualized killings began, though many scholars estimate that the practice is thousands of years old. But in Bolivia, as gruesome as it may seem, the custom is still kept alive today.

According to ancient tradition, sacrifices were believed to appease Pachamama (Mother Nature) who would grant blessings in return. One of the region’s oldest pieces of archaeological evidence regarding sacrifices is the sacred Inca Table on Lake Titicaca’s Isla del Sol. It is here that both human and animal subjects were supposedly slaughtered with the belief that the island would be blessed with an abundance of rain.

Fast forward to modern-day Bolivia, and these rituals continue to thrive, although not necessarily for Pachamama alone.

On August 1st of each year, superstitious miners throughout the altiplano (high plains) contract local yatiris (witch doctors) to sacrifice llamas in order to appease El Tio, a devil-like figure worshiped underground. The blood of the animal is smeared all over the mine’s entrance, machinery and active veins of ore, while its heart is placed at El Tio’s feet in exchange for protection and good fortune.

A similar ceremony takes place in the mines of Oruro during their world famous Carnival. In this ritual, the llama is killed with great care so that its heart is still beating when presenting it to the devil.

These ceremonies are taken very seriously by the miners who see El Tio’s blessing as their best chance of surviving the horrendous working conditions they confront each and every day.

Sacrifice in Potosi

But not all modern sacrifices are intended for the devil. In La Paz’ downtown Witches’ Market, laborers go shopping for dehydrated llama fetuses to bury underneath their constructions. For best results, the ritual is performed first upon opening up the ground and once again when laying the foundation. In return for these offerings, Pachamama is believed to protect workers from injury and ensure a high-quality construction.

Bigger projects demand more than just a fetus, with larger buildings requiring a fully grown alpaca at the very least. Disturbingly, however, the tallest skyscrapers and grandest mines are rumored to entail live human sacrifices. Victims are said to be homeless alcoholics who have been lured away from one of the city’s elephant cemeteries, clandestine hotels where the desperate and destitute go to drink themselves to death.

Dried llama fetuses

But is this for real or just a bunch of old wives’ tales? While there haven’t been any confirmed cases in the media, rumor is rife throughout the city of La Paz. Culture Trip spoke with a contact in the construction industry who affirmed the grizzly practice does indeed take place, though details were sketchy due to the obvious illegal nature of the activity. There have also been reports of human remains being discovered upon the excavation of tall buildings, a clear indication of the custom’s existence beyond the boundaries of urban legend alone.

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