The Bolivian customs and Bolivia religion (like most customs and religions in South America) are an important part of this country’s culture. About 80% of the Bolivian population is Roman Catholic; while spiritual traditions and Pre-Christian beliefs are still practiced among the indigenous population most of these traditions are parallel to the Catholic religion. For this reason most of Bolivia’s holidays, festivals, and traditions are religious, mainly Catholic. Although Bolivia is a very multi-cultural country, with about three dozen different indigenous cultures, each of which has its own customs, beliefs, and traditions that worship their ancestral deities.
However the Catholic religion was imposed on the ethnic cultures by the Spanish when they arrived in the early 1500’s to colonize South America. A large number of Dominican, Franciscan, and Jesuit priests traveled to South America to evangelize to the many indigenous groups they encountered. Nevertheless Bolivia’s native indigenous cultures didn’t forget their own beliefs and by simply mixing them into the Catholic religion they kept and continued to practice their customs. For example, in Andean Bolivia the Aymara and Quechua are known to pray to Virgin Mary, and other Catholic saints, they also partake in religious processions during the holidays, all while offering sacrifices to Mother Earth, better known to them as the Pachamama.
If you would like to learn more about these customs than the Witch’s Market (Mercado de las Brujas) is a great place to start, it’s located behind the San Francisco Cathedral, here the Aymara medicine men (Kallawaya) burn offerings, lead prayer rituals, and cure the ill. Also the Guarani (a group of culturally related indigenous people), in Eastern Bolivia meet for the Arete Guazú, their most important festivity of the year; here they pray, dance dress in their ancestral costumes, and teach the younger generation their customs and legends. Animist (meaning they’re deities are birds or animals) make up most of this country’s ethnic groups, they are also known to worship the sun, moon, mountains, landmarks, and natural resources. For over 400 years these beliefs were handed down to the younger generations in the form of story-telling. With Evo Morales as the first Aymara president of Bolivia many have decided to abandon the Catholic religion and are returning to their ancestral customs.
Aside from the Catholic religion, Lutherans, Judaism, Jehova’s Witnesses, Mormon’s, Baptists, Muslim’s, and many other religions are also present in Bolivia. Of course, the Bolivian Constitution guarantees its people the freedom to choose and practice any belief system and religion they wish.