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The Ñatitas festival – a macabre tradition that is growing all the time.

The culture in La Paz (or Paceña) is a mix of indigenous and Catholic traditions. Paceños celebrate Christmas with great faith and make offerings to the Pachamama (mother Earth). Throughout the year, they have festivals that combine paganism with religious faith, ancestral traditions with new celebrations, many that are foreign, but in the end, there is always a reason for a festival.
From the 1st to the 2nd of November in Catholic homes, the “souls” of the deceased are awaited with the firm belief that they will visit their homes for 24 hours and receive the offerings that the family lovingly prepares for them.
A week later, on the 8th, a great number of devotees of Las Ñatitas arrive at the La Paz cemetery; thousands of people go to the graveyard chapel carrying human skulls decorated with flowers, caps, glasses or hats. These skulls are known as Las Ñatitas, or “snub noses,” and have been objects of devotion for a long time. People believe that they protect their houses and are responsible for many miracles.
Many more people are accepting a Ñatita into their homes, baptizing it, decorating it, praying to it and making an altar where candles are kept lit. They offer it coca leaves, cigarettes, and on the 8th of November every year they carry them to mass to receive the blessing of the priest. The church fills with people that carry their Ñatitas on trays or glass or wood boxes, or boxes made of other materials.

How do these devotees obtain a human skull? There are different ways. Some are the remains of family members that have been exhumed; others are received as gifts from a friend. In most cases, the skulls are stolen from secret cemeteries and passed down for generations.
The devotees ensure that their ñatita cares for them and protects them from misfortune, which is why they care for and respect them. Some attribute miracles to them, such as healings, and they have no intention of giving them up even though the city’s archbishop asked them to let the remains to rest in peace. He instructed the priests to stop blessing the skulls and thus avoid confusion for the faithful, but far from thinking of getting rid of their ñatitas, some people started organizing parties and meetings after mass. At the party, the skull is the guest of honor, placed at a special table where it is surrounded by flowers, candles and other offerings, including food and cigarettes. People that attend the party dance and drink in honor of the ñatita, respectfully pray to it and ask favors like they would of a saint.
Although many people are aware of what is wrong with this practice, they don’t argue and prefer not to take the risk because they believe that just like the ñatita can help and protect you, it can also do you harm.


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