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.