Friday, January 04, 2013

Reaching Bolivia’s Native People on the Airwaves

Donato Ayma in the Atipiri radio station booth. Credit: Franz Chávez /IPS
By Franz Chávez
Every morning from 6:00 to 8:00 AM, native people in this sprawling working-class suburb of La Paz, Bolivia listen to the programme broadcast by former education minister Donato Ayma in the Aymara language.

He starts his programme every day on the local Atipiri radio station saying “Mä amuyuki, mä ch’amaki” (“with one single thought, one single force,” in Aymara).

In an interview with IPS, Ayma explains the importance of the radio to Bolivia’s predominantly indigenous rural highlands population.

Ayma, one of Bolivia’s best-known native broadcasters, says “the radio is still the most accessible and easily operated media” in this geographically diverse country of high mountains peaks, altiplano, valleys, lowlands and Amazon jungle.

He describes campesinos ploughing their steep fields in the bleak Andes highlands, where the ploughs are still pulled by oxen, accompanied by the songs on their portable radios.

“The young women prefer to hear programmes in their mother tongue – they’re bilingual, but they tend to choose music that reflects the thinking and experiences of their people,” he says, describing life in the highlands.

Electricity is often unavailable and newspapers rarely reach remote villages, where the radio is listened to “by illiterate people; people can listen to each other, using their ears.”

The Aymara academic and researcher describes his childhood in the frigid altiplano, in Toledo, a village in the western department or province of Oruro. That is where he began his career behind a microphone, in 1969, and began to develop what he calls a New Model of Communication (NUMOCOM) for Bolivia.

“I’m a radio aficionado,” he says enthusiastically, discussing his seven-month stint in the cabinet of President Carlos Mesa (2003-2005), his 15 years at the San Gabriel Radio station, and his experience now in Atapiri, a station launched to discover radio broadcasting talent among indigenous people.

Since 2006, Atipiri has been putting into practice the ideas of the Centre of Education and Communication for Indigenous Communities and Peoples, of which Ayma is a founder. Like the San Gabriel station, it broadcasts from El Alto, a city of one million in the highlands next to La Paz.

El Alto is home to many of the indigenous Bolivians who have come to La Paz, the seat of government, from rural villages.

Initiatives to keep native culture and values alive and to help indigenous people in rural areas integrate have, paradoxically, mushroomed in El Alto.

Ayma pointed out that in the 2001 census, 62 percent of the population of Bolivia identified themselves as indigenous.

(Source:Inter Press Service News Agency)

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