On a small table, Shaman Juan reads the future in coca leaves, a traditional Andean ritual that he says predicts the name of Bolivia’s next president.
As the country prepares to go to the polls on Sunday, the shaman, a member of the Native American ethnicity Aymara, says his clients are consulting him more recently on the results of the poll than on the usual questions around work or the quest. of love.
He explained to AFP that the coca leaves, consulted recently, almost always told him the same thing: “the MAS will win”, in reference to the Movement towards Socialism of former President Evo Morales (2006-2019) .
For the first time in years, Evo Morales, the first indigenous president, also from the Aymara ethnic group, is not a candidate. The MAS is represented by its former Minister of the Economy, Luis Arce, whose main rival is the former centrist president, Carlos Mesa (2003-2005).
In addition to their president, the Bolivians are called to elect the vice-president and to renew the entire Parliament, where the MAS has a majority.
“The MAS will win, and from there, they will clash, there will be a bit of discontent, fights, they will clash between the parties”, explains the shaman to AFP in a small kiosk located in a dusty street of El Alto, city with majority Aymara and which touches La Paz.
On his small table covered with an “aguayo”, a traditional Andean wool blanket, Juan conducts the ritual in exchange for 10 Bolivians ($ 1.5).
He invokes the “Pachamama” (mother earth) by throwing a few coca leaves into the air which fall on a golden crucifix which holds the bills handed to him by his customers.
The shaman, who says he has 44 years of experience, looks at the arrangement of the leaves to deliver his predictions. “Whoever wins has to go straight, (but) if there is a second round let them behave like gentlemen, no wrestling,” he said.
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Reading the future in coca leaves is an ancient custom of the Aymara people in Bolivia, where more than 40% of the 11 million inhabitants are Native Americans, strongly attached to their traditions.
Juan is not the only one offering his services. Other shamans, as well as healers, have their little stalls in tin shacks in the many traditional markets of El Alto, the historic stronghold of MAS, 4,000 meters above sea level.
The Andean country has been going through a serious political crisis since the last election in October 2019 and the confusion that surrounded the results giving the victorious President-in-Office, Evo Morales, who was running for a fourth term.
The opposition screamed fraud, the streets were stormed and the army finally let go of Evo Morales, who fled to Mexico and then Argentina.
According to Francisca, another shaman who has read coca leaves for fifteen years, “Evo’s return (to Bolivia) will depend on whether MAS wins or not.” There are going to be problems, but after the election we are going to move forward. The MAS has a high probability of winning ”.
With the coronavirus pandemic having reduced the influx of clients, some shamans did not hesitate to turn to social media to continue working.
They also offer a preparation supposed to improve the health of people infected with Covid-19, “Kari Kari”, a mixture of pork nails, wheat and other secret ingredients, sold in glass bottles. for nine dollars.
Shamans pass on their knowledge from generation to generation, through secret rites and through training reserved only for the predestined. They must meet certain conditions, for example to have survived a lightning strike, to have been born standing, or to have a particular physical characteristic.
“I was born with six fingers and here (on my head) I have white hair. Anyone born in this way is like a star, ”says Juan, who has no doubts about the name of the future Bolivian president.