AP PHOTOS: Bolivians pick their Andean god of abundance

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Juan Ricaldi may not yet be rich, but he’s the very image of the god of abundance in the eyes of celebrating devotees in the Bolivian capital.

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Juan Ricaldi may not yet be rich, but he’s the very image of the god of abundance in the eyes of celebrating devotees in the Bolivian capital.

Ekeko is rendered as a short, pudgy, mustached man who wears traditional Andean clothes and carries baskets of grains. Every year, thousands of Bolivians head to the feast of Alasitas that is held in his honor to buy miniature cars, houses and toy dollar bills symbolizing their dreams of prosperity.

The festival with roots in Aymara indigenous traditions also crowns an artisan who dresses up as the best rendition of Ekeko. This year, 12 men competed in the contest for a prize of about $140 and a refrigerator. They danced, paraded on stage and answered trivia questions about Andean culture, while a crowd cheered them on with fireworks and a brass band blared.

Ricaldi, this year’s contest winner, said he is proud to win the prize because “I carry the soul of the Ekeko” inside.

“Four years ago, I bought a plot of land, and my biggest dream is to build a house there for my mom, who is 87,” he said, speaking at the stand where he sells miniature paintings and books that he makes by hand.

The Aymara indigenous word “alasita” means “buy me.” Miniature items, from kitchen appliances to paintings, are purchased at the fair and placed at home around versions of Ekeko, who the Aymara believe will bless them with better lives in the coming year.

“I thank Ekeko because he has always helped me,” said Cornelio Colque Huanca, who sells plants at the Alasita and came in fifth in the competition. “Everything I have asked him, he has given to me. That is why I always wanted to dress up as Ekeko.”

Alberto Macias Rios, 65, said he’d felt confident that his short height would help him win the top prize. But he said that even participating in the contest filled him with joy because the festival is a part of his life.

“I grew up with the Alasitas accompanying my mother when the fair filled various streets and avenues of La Paz,” he said.

The pre-Columbian tradition was recently included in UNESCO’s representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

In this Feb. 3, 2018 photo, Alberto Macias Rios, dressed as “Ekeko,” the god of prosperity and the central figure of the Alasita Fair, holds fake money as he poses for a portrait in La Paz, Bolivia. Macias, 65, says his low stature helps him pull off the Ekeko personality, which he’s proud and happy to emulate. Macias competed in this year’s Ekeko costume competition. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

This Feb. 20, 2018 photo shows a small statue of “Ekeko,” the god of prosperity, during the annual Alasita Fair in La Paz, Bolivia. Miniature items, from kitchen appliances to paintings, are purchased at the fair and placed at home around statues of Ekeko, who the Aymara believe will bless them with better lives in the coming year. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

In this Feb. 5, 2018 photo, Cornelio Colque Huanca, dressed as “Ekeko,” the god of prosperity and the central figure of the Alasita Fair, poses for a portrait in front of a black curtain in La Paz, Bolivia. Huanca, 56, said he’s been selling plants at the annual Alasita fair over the last 39 years. “Everything I’ve asked him, he has given to me. That’s why I always wanted to dress up as Ekeko,” said Huanca who took 5th place at the Ekeko competition. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

This Feb. 20, 2018 photo shows a small statue of “Ekeko,” the god of prosperity, with a cigarette in its mouth during the annual Alasita Fair in La Paz, Bolivia. Ekeko is rendered as a short, pudgy, mustached man who wears traditional Andean clothes and carries baskets of grains. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

In this Feb. 3, 2018 photo, Hilarion Macias, dressed as “Ekeko,” the god of prosperity and the central figure of the Alasita Fair, holds fake money as he poses for a portrait in La Paz, Bolivia. Macias, 55, uses coca leaves to read people’s futures. “The Ekeko is a big tradition, representing our future and a cultural tradition from the times of the Incas,” he said. Macias competed in this year’s Ekeko costume competition. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

In this Feb. 6, 2018 photo, Juan Ricaldi, dressed as “Ekeko,” the god of prosperity, is covered in objects including instruments as he holds a cigarette in his mouth during a portrait session on the sidelines of the annual Alasita Fair in La Paz, Bolivia. “For me, the Ekeko hasn’t made me rich but allows me to live,” said the 59-year-old artisan. “I can say that the Ekeko has made my dreams come true, has never left me and will be with me forever,” he said. Ricaldi won this year’s Ekeko competition. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

In this Feb. 6, 2018 photo, Lino Reynaldo Chura, dressed as “Ekeko,” the god of prosperity, is covered in objects, including a miniature bus, during a portrait session on the sidelines of the annual Alasita Fair in La Paz, Bolivia. The 64-year-old artisan says his speciality is sewing miniature clothing for Barbies. “I ask the Ekeko for good health, because the rest one attains by working,” he said. Chura competed in this year’s Ekeko costume competition. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

In this Feb. 20, 2018 photo, fair vendor Noelia Flores holds up a black backdrop behind a small statue of an “Ekeko,” the god of prosperity, for a portrait at her booth during the annual Alasita Fair in La Paz, Bolivia. Every year, thousands of Bolivians head to the feast of Alasitas that is held in his honor to buy miniature cars, houses and toy dollar bills symbolizing their dreams of prosperity. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

In this Feb. 3, 2018 photo, fair vendors hold up a black backdrop behind Alberto Macias Rios, dressed as “Ekeko,” the god of prosperity and the central figure of the Alasita Fair, as he poses for a picture in La Paz, Bolivia. Macias, 65, says his low stature helps him pull off the Ekeko personality. “I grew up with the Alasitas fair accompanying my mother when the fair filled various streets and avenues of La Paz,” he said. Macias competed in this year’s Ekeko costume competition. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)