Photo from Roy Pequeno.
The K’oa is a ritual that most Bolivian families participate in on the first Friday of every month. Some families even do a K’oa EVERY Friday. The ritual is basically asking for a blessing to the Pacha Mama--the Bolivian equivalent to Mother Earth. Many Bolivians believe that the Pacha Mama is a very jealous “goddess” and can bless a family with good fortune or cast a spell of bad luck on a family.
Pablo and Don Teddy performed this ritual for a blessing over their “taller.” A “taller” is basically like a workshop, and my family has a taller for welding in front of Andrea’s house. During the ritual, the “mesa” is burnt on top of coals. The “mesa” consist of incense, a grass like thing, sugar cubes, and so much more. The sugar cubes usually are flat and have decorations on them. Depending on the figure on the sugar cube, is what you are asking the Pacha Mama for. Some sugar cubes have figures of: money, love, a house, children, and so much more.
Once the mesa is burning/smoking, it is time to begin the ritual. First, Pablo went with the coals and mesa and blew the incense into every corner and over every machine in the taller. While Pablo was blowing the incense into the taller, Don Teddy would splash (kind of like when a priest sprinkles/splashes holy water on the congregation) wine and rubbing alcohol where the incense was, and Jessi would throw sugar over the wine and alcohol. After “blessing” each item in the taller, Pablo put the mesa on the floor and made a circle around it with the wine, alcohol, and sugar. Then, we drank some wine. However, before you drink your wine, you are obligated to give some to the Pacha Mama, by pouring the first few drops of wine on the floor. (It just like when you see those movies and guys pouring out beer for their “homies who have fallen.”) Every now and then, Pablo and I would take turns making sure the coals were still hot by blowing over them.
Altogether this was a really cool experience. However, just because I have witnessed one K’oa doesn’t mean that I know how they all work. Each family has their own traditional way of performing a K’oa. Ours took about an hour and a half (the incense part took like 20 minutes tops, and then we drank the wine which last about an hour). However, there are some families that use bigger mesa, more symbols and the K’oa will last several hours.