More than simply a banquet, it’s one of the few Andean rituals still current, and which involves a collective form of eating, with contributions from all members of the community.
It’s a ceremony dating back thousands of years and one which is still practiced in countries such as Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Peru.
It has been revitalised, now being mixed with modern day customs. So much so that students and tourists often take part, always according to principles of respect and equality.
But it is also an act of communication and education, as all generations take part. The older generation make the most of the occasion to give advice, above all to the younger generation, and protection and health is asked of Pachamama (Mother Earth).
Up to a few decades back, Apthapi was thought of as purely a rural tradition, whereas now it forms part of the nutritional habits of the urban population.
As Mamani recounts, it is said that people and families are known by what they cook.
In the Aymara Indian communities, the various different celebrations are accompanied by Apthapi. This practice differs from daily eating habits as it generally it takes place outdoors, with a much larger group and each person brings with them ingredients to share.
These ingredients tend to be of a solid consistency and do not require cutlery, they are consumed by hand and very rarely will soups be included.
It’s also not an expensive affair as they cook with natural produce of the region or season, and so tins, imported goods or those with additives are left out.
Eating takes place in collective form and each guest may serve themselves as they please and without restrictions until satisfied.
Amongst the principal ingredients used are potato, maize, yucca, llama or rabbit meat, fish, natural or fried cheeses, tortillas and eggs.
Chillies are the main ingredient in Apthapi. Generally dried, yellow and ground chilli, and chilli mixed with cheese, egg, onion and salt.
The farmers of these cultures have strong ties to nature as it is the earth whom they owe their living to and which gives them their sustenance, the reason they worship it on certain dates.
Due to their great respect and care for their food, on many occasions they kiss it before putting it in their mouths.
Apthapi symbolises the variety, abundance and quality of natural ingredients, being the palpable expression of “good living”, where the idea of poverty, say the experts, is relative.
For them, misery does not exist as there is an abundance of produce and other material goods or necessities are a bonus.
This practice has its set of rules and procedures of protocol. For example, where the men and the women must be seated, who may begin the ritual, who asks for permission and who says thank you for the produce, amongst others.
Gratitude is essential, as it goes further than feeding oneself to fulfil a biological or physiological necessity, such as satisfying hunger.
The activity incorporates an entire meaning of reward, respect and responsibility towards the deities and nature.
Other than for nutritional purposes, Apthapi plays important social and cultural roles, as an ambience in which to promote learning, respect, gratitude and responsibility towards each other and nature.
It is one more component of the identity of communities: the priority is the collective and not the individual, as even if someone were not to bring produce, they still have the right to share, for the sense of inclusion, incorporation and respect.
The experts also stress its strong symbolic and sacred essence, the way in which each family brings their own food. On top of which it is not permitted to leave food behind, and therefore once it is over, everyone takes home what is left.
Another well-known characteristic is accessibility. In Apthapi, eating well is a given, and is accompanied by conversations and jokes.
The practice of Apthapi transcends rural communities and some experts consider it a means to improve international relations, a way of showing the nutritional richness which Bolivia produces and the hospitality of its inhabitants.
In this sense, they note the tradition has suffered many changes over the years, but it remains an act of participation and complementarities.
(Translated: Adam Meredith – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)