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All Soul’s Day in Bolivia

Tatawawa in Bolivia. Photo by Nate Mortenson

Editor’s Note: Nate shares his thoughts and photos.

Last weekend was All Souls’ Day. It was a beautiful holiday, and Mary and I got to see quite a bit of local culture.

During this weekend people here make bread called TantaWawas. It can be translated to tons of babies. Wawa is a Quechua word for baby. They are beautiful breads and are in the shape of a swaddled up baby. They usually have a ceramic face placed on the head.

On Saturday the deceased members of the family are said to join the family for lunch. Families prepare a sanctuary for the deceased members of the family that consists of all their favorite foods. Then the family eats the meal together remembering their loved ones. People from the village then go from door to door asking to pray for the dead ones of the household. In return, the owner of the house will gift TantaWawas to the people who offer up prayers.

This happens on Sunday as well, it’s called the Despache. Families decorate the tombs of their deceased and similarly eat a big lunch, and gift breads to those who offer up prayers.


Mary and I have become friends with one of my students recently over the past few weeks. I’ve known her since the beginning of my class, about three months back. She is an agronomy student and is from a village about 15 hours away from the university.

My student, unlike almost all of the students from Carmen Pampa, did not travel this weekend. She was practically left all alone in the girls’ dormitory. Campus was a ghost town. Most students take this weekend to see their families but my particular student lives so far away it wasn’t worth the money for the bus ticket to travel home. On Saturday night, the power went out and, it being the weekend, it wasn’t turned back on until Monday afternoon.

On Saturday night there was a knock at the door and sure enough it was my student. She wanted some company since she was alone and it was dark in the dorms. She stayed late and asked if Mary would accompany her back to her room to go to bed. As Mary brought her back she could tell it was going to be a lonely night, so Mary asked if she’d like to sleep on our sofa. My student eagerly said yes and stayed both Saturday and Sunday night at our place.

So in this way we spent a lot of time together the three of us, and she taught us a lot about the local traditions of the holiday of All Souls’ Day. She told us that normally living at home all her siblings and extended family would get together and pray at the cemetery for the deceased.

We also found out that growing up she always shared a bed with the entire family. So this holiday weekend was especially nice because there normally are even more family members to share their small house with. To us that sounded pretty rough —  so many family members crammed in a small one room house. But here it’s looked at so much differently. She’s accustomed to being with her family all the time. There’s not a lot of alone time she gets. Something very different to our American culture.DX7_6157

Mary and Nate recently returned from two years of mission at the rural Carmen Pampa University in Bolivia.

Nate, the youngest son of nine, hails from La Cross, Wisconsin. Mary grew up picking strawberries in small-town Minnesota. The couple met at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, where Mary studied sociology and outdoor leadership and Nate studied Spanish and geology. They share a passion for food and bicycling, and a desire to set their marriage on a foundation of service, simplicity, and a deeper global understanding.