October 14, 2007
Some people from my hostel organized an interesting trip into the local Quichua community today. We took a bus up to a small town of indigenous people and were introduced to one of the locals. At first I saw him in his poncho that covered his western clothing and thought he looked fake, like someone just looking to make a few bucks from the tourists by showing them the remnants of customs that have been long since forgotten. However, the experience turned out to be very authentic and full of learning.
Our guide explained that his was a Quichua community. I had learned a lot about the Quechua people in Peru and assumed that Quichua was just a different pronunciation of the word, but apparently there was a difference. The local people had lost touch of their old traditions since the 1980's when electricity (and therefore television) was introduced to the area, but a few people like our Quichua guide were trying to revive those traditions before they were forgotten completely.
As we walked around, we came across several important sites to the local people, one of which involved throwing old items in a field to get in a symbolic attempt to get rid of the problems they were causing. I was assured that the people didn't just throw their garbage there as it appeared. We were also shown several different natural remedies such as drinking a tea made with a worm to cure an upset stomach.
At the heart of everything we were shown was Christianity, sort of. For example, in the garbage dumping place was a cross, but it was supposed to represent the meeting of two trails rather than a crucifix. Also, there area was purged of its rubbish on December 25th each year, but this had nothing to do with any other celebrations that may have coincidentally taken place on that day.
After the tour, we went to our guide's house for the real treat of the day. He had a room full of the handicrafts that he made, which included belts that took two weeks to make. He sat down for a full demonstration of how he created the belts, one stitching at a time, by separating the different strands of wool to select his pattern. He claimed to be the only one in Ecuador who still used the technique, and I can't say that I've seen anything like it anywhere I've been. I was really skeptical at the beginning of the day, but it ended up being a great way to get a feel for the ancient practices of the local people, however few of them still remained.
The photo album for this entry is here.