Fiesta de las Ñatitas by Jeremy Wetter

Editor Sam Preminger, Photography, December 6th, 2018

"never to be forgotten and always to be respected and cared for"

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A photo essay by Jeremy Wetter

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From the photographer:

In La Paz, on the Sunday following Day of the Dead, thousands of Bolivians flock from the countryside to a little chapel in the main cemetery with a skull in hand. Each skull is honored in an altar made of cardboard or in a re-purposed lantern with heaps of flower petals and candles decorating it. This day is called Fiesta de las Ñatitas, which roughly translates to “Festival of the Little Pug-Nosed Ones.”

In the culture of the Aymara people, it is believed that the body contains a mixture of entities that together make up a person’s soul. When a person dies there is a period in which these entities will leave the body, but in some cases it is believed that one of these entities remains in the skull. These special skulls, called Ñatitas, are treated with the same respect and admiration of a family member or close friend. Some Ñatitas are treated as a trusted adviser, a spirit guide, the guardian of the person’s home, or simply a good luck charm.

Ñatitas are acquired in various ways. Some are acquired from a medical facility such as a school or a hospital, others might be lifted from archaeological sites, and on a rare occasion the deceased is an actual family member. Many, though, are acquired from the local cemetery where the Festival started out. Initially a small gathering, the Festival has steadily grown and, by 2015 (the year these photographs were taken) it was estimated that 12,000 people had come to pay their respects to the Ñatitas.

Those who care for the Ñatitas often want them to look good on their special day and adorn them accordingly. Sometimes they are wearing sunglasses, a hat, or even jewelry. It’s quite common for them have coca leaves or a cigarette in their mouths as an offering. Most of them are also adorned with flower wreaths and have cotton stuffed in their eyes to give them sight.

The Ñatitas are proudly displayed and mariachi bands will roam around the cemetery grounds, serenading the Ñatitas while people of all ages dance around them in celebration. Unlike the festival which it is commonly confused with, Day of the Dead, these people are not celebrating death, but are celebrating Ñatitas as a part of the community. In this way, a Ñatita is granted new life and purpose, never to be forgotten and always to be respected and cared for.

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Jeremy Wetter has been on the search for the next adventure since he ran away from home and joined Cirque Du Soleil as a rigger in Las Vegas more than 15 years ago. Since then he has traveled the world working with the likes of Lady Gaga and Paul McCartney using his skills with automated rigging systems to fly performers and lighting rigs. Throughout it all he has had a camera by his side to capture unique cultural attractions. When he’s not traveling with rockstars, he spends his time volunteering at a children’s hospital, shooting photos, and rock climbing.

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Sam Preminger

Sam Preminger is a Portland-based poet. Their work has appeared throughout various publications and they hold an MFA from Pacific University.