Cristina Bubba Zamora
This profile was prepared when Cristina Bubba Zamora was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1996.
The New Idea
Cristina Bubba organizes indigenous Aymara Indians in the area of Coroma to identify, catalog and recover communally-owned ceremonial weavings, some more than 500 years old, that have been stolen or sold to dealers who illegally traffic in these weavings throughout the world. She has trained local indigenous leaders to use UNESCO conventions that protect communal cultural and spiritual property. This movement brings the issue of illegal trafficking of cultural property to the attention of people in Bolivia and other nations. It also galvanizes the social organization of the ayllus, the traditional system of governance in the high plains of the Bolivian Andes where the Aymara live. The ayllu system has functioned continuously since before the invasion of the Incas in the 15th century, but it has weakened in the course of political developments in Bolivia since the 1950s. However, recent government decisions offer an opening for the ayllu to return to greater levels of self-determination. The new Popular Participation Act, passed by the Bolivian government in late 1995, sets a policy to decentralize government programs and transfer resources to recognized local groups, which include the indigenous Aymara. Cristina's work to teach the Aymara how to implement the law on their own behalf is especially significant in that context. Cristina's commitment to recover the weavings reflects her concept of what they represent: that for a community to thrive it must protect the spiritual quality of its culture. It is part of her contribution to show how ordinary people can use the law to support this process.