May Day, Cañari Style

Jose Acero w flagIn the US we don’t place so much importance on May 1, but here in Ecuador as in many countries around the world, it is a national holiday to celebrate the “laboring classes.” In fact this year in Cañar it was a three-day school holiday, which my cynical Cañari friend suggested was a strategy on President Correa’s part so the students couldn’t get organized for a big opposition demonstration. (In fact there were for-and-against-Correa marches in Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil.)marchers w bannerIn Cañar it is always a huge event, as the indigenous organizations have taken on the day as a their own, even though 80% of campesinos still work in agriculture and not for a wage. My own history here is related to May 1, going back to 1992, when we lived in Cuenca and I had barely begun my work in Cañar, with little success. Mama Michi Chuma, the mother of my first photography student, José Miguel, invited me to take a portrait of her agricultural cooperative after the march, “but only if you make a copy for every member.” I was thrilled. This was my first “public” photo in Cañar, one I would never have been able to make if not invited. I set up my big old Rolleiflex camera and took two shots: one post-march of the members relaxing on the grass with their picnic lunch, and a second standing at attention with their flag. Today I can only find the second shot. (And I recall that I did make an 8 x 10 copy for every person.) MM coop 1992

Last Friday, the march was organized to go from El Tambo to Cañar, a distance of about 10 kilometers. The idea, of course, was to block the busy Pan American highway for the duration of the march, always a strategy of Cañari organizations when protesting or sending a message to the central government. (You can see the line of parked cars below.) The message to President Correa on the placard: “Don’t insult the people; respect the people.”marchers w parked carsNormally I would not choose to walk this stretch of the highway, which runs down to the river valley from El Tambo and then climbs steeply to Cañar. But a colleague, Judy Goldberg, and I got caught up in the excitement of day – she is here for a few months coordinating our new story exchange project, Voces de Cañar/Cañarikunapa Raymi. So at the last minute we hired a taxi-truck and took along a bunch of other celebrants who had missed out on rides.anastasio + belisarioWe met up with the march just outside El Tambo – hundreds of people surging downhill, chanting, singing, carrying banners and placards, while the police directed all traffic to stop. The day was brilliant sun, not so good for photos or walking at the incredibly fast pace the Cañaris always take, but spirits were high and the police were friendly. Judy and I quickly separated as she took off with her recorder to capture sounds, and I did my usual thing of walking backwards while photographing, trying not to trip and fall on my butt while the the fast-paced crowd rushed towards me, and avoiding being run over by the pickup carrying the mayor and other municipal authorities.IMG_4657The walk downhill to the river was easy, but the fast climb up the other side on this hot day quickly wore me out and I fell back. I saw Judy once, fresh and energetic and ready to walk the distance, although she kindly offered to stop with me. But then a second truck came by, handing out water to the marchers, and I gestured to the “water men” that I wanted to get in. They hauled my camera bag, and then me, over the back of the truck and I took my place amidst the plastic bags of water and, increasingly, young children and overheated women carrying babies, until the back of the truck was jammed. But I was able to stand and get some great shots of the marchers and mountains, before resuming walking again at the top of the hill. (Michael, seeing all the rainbow flags when I showed him the photos, said, “Everyone in Cañar is gay!”) man on horse w flagI never saw Judy again until we met at home for lunch, but it turned out she had stayed with the march until the very end, when the crowd gathered at the UPCCC, the indigenous center in Cañar. I was there too, taking some last shots of the crowd,UPCCCBut once the speeches began, I knew the event would go on without me, with hours more of speeches, dancing, and music ahead. May Day in Cañar was a big success. The soundtrack of the event, edited by Judy, was broadcast on Radio Kichwa Hatari in New York this week, and you can see the audiovisual on our new website: Voces de Cañar.

Finally, because music is so important to any Cañari event, I can’t resist adding a gallery of photos of the musicians who didn’t make it into the blog. I love this guy on his horse with his violin.man on horse w violenman w round hornI don’t know the name of this spherical horn, but my guess is it’s made of plastic pipe…bocina…as is this bocina, an instrument traditionally made of thick bamboo with a cow’s horn for mouthpiece. red scarf w quipaThe quipa, or caracol marino (seashell) is traditionally used to call country people together for a meeting, or as an alert, as the sound carries over a long distance. We still hear it some days from our comuna, albeit over a loudspeaker. boy with quipa

And it’s wonderfully heartening to see young kids learning these customs and instruments.