"Victor" and other skulls revered in Bolivia

Sat Nov 8, 2008 10:05am EST
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Eduardo Garcia

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Meet Captain Victor, the cigarette-stained skull of a former policeman that sits among bananas, candles, soda bottles and coca leaves on a folding table in Bolivia's highland capital.

Victor is a celebrity in La Paz, where students, policemen and even members of Congress visit him year round to ask favors and shower him with flowers, cookies and cigarettes.

"Look, he just finished that lollipop ... there's barely anything left. He's so fond of sweets!" said Victor's owner, Virginia Lara, a middle-aged street vendor who says she was given the skull 22 years ago by a stranger.

All the stranger told her was Victor's name and that he had been a police officer, asking her to "always give him candles and flowers ... and never let him go."

Victor is what is known as a Natita, which means "small skull" or "flat nose" in the Aymara indigenous language. Thousands of Bolivians revere the Natitas and believe they protect them from evil and help them attain goals.

Natitas spend most of the time indoors but were paraded in the city's main public cemetery on Saturday, a week after All Saints Day, before thousands of Indian followers.

"He specially likes gladiolus," says devotee Sofia Fernandez, who has been hosting Victor for a month in a tiny room crammed with paraphernalia such as a black-and-white banner emblazoned with his name and a skull and crossbones.

Victor gets dozens of weekly visitors and local television appearances make him one of the most revered Natitas in La Paz. Lara says she recently felt compelled to ban followers from placing lit cigarettes in Victor's mouth because years of "smoking" have stained the skull.   Continued...