Bolivia prides itself as having one of the largest indigenous cultures in South America with an estimated 60% of her population claiming indigenous descent. Although many native groups make up Bolivia’s indigenous population, the most prevalent group living in La Paz and the Bolivian highlands are the Aymaras.
The Aymaras are known for their rich, highland culture, colorful handicrafts and traditional dress. The Aymara women known locally as “cholitas” generally are always seen dressed in traditional clothing, wearing their tiny little bowler hats, several layers of large colorful polleras (skirts), tiny shoes patterned after Spanish bullfighters and beautifully embroidered shawls. They also generally wear a colorful hand-woven blanket on their backs to either carry a baby or other items.
Walking around the streets of La Paz I was amazed to see so many of cholitas dressed so colorfully, each one bringing her own unique charm. Most Aymaras are short and stout, and purposely wear many layers of skirts to make their hips look quite large. According to their culture, large hips are a sign of beauty and fertility. The woman also always wear their hair long and plaited with black-colored yarn adornments at the end. I’m not sure what it symbolizes but I did not see a single Aymara woman without her hair worn this way.
As I walked around La Paz, it was evident that Aymara women make up the majority of street vendors selling anything ranging from vibrant, traditional clothing to scarves, shawls, vibrant colored blankets and produce. They worked hard yet never seemed to be unhappy about their status in life. I was always greeted with a smile and the woman stuck together.
Here are a series of some of my favorite captures of the Aymara women of La Paz. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
I loved her beautiful, happy smile. I asked her if I could snap her photo and she agreed. She smiled even bigger when I showed her the photo.
The Aymara women are central to the family unit in Bolivia. Not only do most Aymara women work full time, they also manage the house, children, cooking and cleaning and finances. Most come to La Paz from the countryside in search of a better life. Yet many of the women do not have enough education to get very far.
Baby-carrying is quite common. The woman simply fold their colorful blankets around their backs making their own little carriers for their children.
Most Aymara woman can be seen wearing tiny little bowler hats that sit precariously atop their heads. I have no idea how these hats stay on since they are not attached in any way. They also wear many layers of skirts to give their hips and behinds a wider, more fertile look.
The woman always wore their hair unbelievably long and in two braids reaching all the way down to their seats.
Women could be found carrying anything inside their colorful shopping sacks. Even fresh flowers from the local market.
Most did not wear the most comfortable looking walking shoes.
I found the Aymara culture to be quite fascinating. While so many indigenous cultures are disappearing around the world, it is nice to see one that is still going strong. Of course there are many problems facing the Aymaras such as high rates of poverty, low rates of education, and prejudice but at least they continue to fight for their rights. It is a beautiful thing.
Stay tuned…more street photography coming up!