Ooo eee, ooo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla, bing bang?
Even if you do have David Seville’s 1958 pre-Alvin and the Chipmunks number 1 hit “Witch Doctor” running through your mind while you’re shopping at The Witches Market in La Paz, don’t start singing it out loud.
For the yatiri witch doctors (typically women wearing indigenous garb, bowler hats and carrying coca pouches filled with amulets, talismans and magic powders), El Mercado de las Brujas is serious business. Why risk going home with a curse on your head?
Granted, tourists are now a major part of the area’s clientele. And, granted, the stalls filled with medicinal herbs, dried armadillos, turtles and snakes, genital-shaped candles, assorted frog parts, aphrodisiac powders, owl feathers and old liquor bottles with potions made from boiled roots and boa constrictor heads might not bear much resemblance to your average, run-of-the-mill doctor’s office. But the yatiri and their wares still play a significant role in the lives of the Aymara indigenous people, who turn to them for medical treatment, spiritual advice or a spell cast for good luck when it comes to love, money and happiness in general.
It’s where they go, for example, to buy a dried llama fetus to bury under any new home or business that’s being built—as an offering for the blessings of Pachamama (Mother Earth).
It’s also the place to go, reportedly, for a bit of the old black magic—a means of revenge against an abusive boss or an unfaithful lover.
Or an unwisely disrespectful tourist.