The ekeko is an ancient Andean figure, considered the god of abundance, fertility, and joy. Though stemming from the past it is also very modern and increasingly important in Bolivia and Peru, especially in January when it is celebrated in the feast of Alasitas.
Bolivia broke into open joy recently when Switzerland returned to it a 15.5 cm. (6 inch), carved stone figure from some 2000 years ago that is argued to be the ekeko. It has been paraded through the streets and welcomed back to the country with celebration, flowers, and offerings. It is considered the illa of the ekeko, that is to say image but an image that contains much sacred power.
As a national figure it is like the illas and conopas that many people keep in their homes, figures of llamas, egg shaped stones, and so on. They are part of the sacred things that bring a home together and enable some of its family ritual.
This illa is from the Lake Titicaca region where ancient civilization flourished, the Yaya Mama, Chiripa, Tiwanaku, and Pukara. The lake was considered a great seat of learning and value and one of the places of origins during Inca times and today is divided between Bolivia and Peru. Both continue to celebrate the ekeko, given the growing strength of altiplano culture, that is culture from near Titicaca, and migration from it to other areas of the country.
Today the ekeko tends to be represented as a figure in various sizes and styles. But he is always a man with typical clothes from the Andean region, although he is often portrayed as a mestizo, a person of both Spanish and Indigenous culture and origins, with a prominent moustache. Most importantly, from his body hang a plethora of miniature objects, that is abundance. These include household goods, money, foods such as corn and beans, tools, etc.
The ekeko stands at the center of a cult of abundance that is alasitas. Most anything can be found in miniature in the fairs around it, and at other times in the shrine of Huanca, outside of Cusco, and other areas, even in Lima. These represent things that people hope to obtain.
To be able to get them they place them on their ekeko and then make him smoke once or twice a week. Generally on Fridays. In this way they are making him an offering and he is expected to return it to them as ayni in the form of fulfilling their desires.
People say that if the ekeko accepts their wish smoke will come out of the cigarette as if the ekeko were really smoking. That means that their wishes will become real.
You find the ekeko in many Andean homes, especially on the altiplano, in cities such as Puno, Juliaca, and Cusco, as well as in other cities of Bolivia.
Just as people ask the ekeko they can also take the miniatures and have them blessed and then enliven them with offerings of alcohol and sometimes coca weekly to make them real as well.
This is a very ancient tradition in Peru and Bolivia. It comes from ancient times as an answer to the question and desire of how one obtains good fortune and abundance. It fits in with a whole set of similar traditions such as the cabalas, the toad, the cat which calls good fortune, and more.
In this way people live their daily lives with goals and dreams nourished by faith and luck. They spend their days working to make their lives a straight road of happiness and joy.