Potosí’s most unusual event happens on the last three Saturdays of June and the first Saturday of August. It’s dedicated to Pachamama (Mother Earth), whom the miners regard as the mother of all bolivianos. Campesinos bring their finest llamas to the base of Cerro Rico to sell to the miners for sacrifice. The ritual is conducted to a meticulous schedule.
At 10am, one miner from each mine purchases a llama, and their families gather for the celebrations. At 11am, everyone moves to the entrance of their respective mine. The miners chew coca and drink alcohol from 11am until precisely 11:45am, when they prepare the llama for Pachamama by tying its feet and offering it coca and alcohol. At noon, the llama meets its maker. As its throat is slit, the miners petition Pachamama for luck, protection and an abundance of minerals. The blood of the llama is splashed around the mouth of the mine to ensure Pachamama’s attention, cooperation and blessing.
For the next three hours, the men chew coca and drink while the women prepare a plate of grilled llama. The meat is served traditionally with potatoes baked along with habas (fava beans) in a small adobe oven. When the oven reaches the right temperature, it is smashed in on the food, which is baked beneath the hot shards. The stomach, feet and head of the llama are buried in a 3m hole as a further offering to Pachamama, then the music and dancing begin. In the evening, celebrants are taken home in transportation provided by the miner who bought his mine’s llama.