Fiesta & raymi season draws to a close (at last!)

Dear Friends:  It’s been an intense and productive couple of months documenting fiestas, raymis (kichwa for indigenous fiesta) and educational events with Buddy, my intern from Oregon State University. Working with a tireless 21-year-old in this rigorous business has kept me on my toes – and climbing mountains I might not otherwise have climbed. One way we kept track of our production of photo and video materials, and to share these with the community, was to create DVDs with covers using photos from the celebrations. So we began on December 21 with Kapak Raymi, the Andean winter solstice and Pase del Niño. As this is an event both profane (older kids dressed as Inca royalty) and religious (younger kids depicting bible characters), we made two DVDs.


On December 31 we ushered out 2017 with an all-day-into-night procession through the villages of Quilloac, called Año Viejo (old year). I’ve written before about this amazing ritual – filled with masks, music, jokes and fun. Because this event too had both religious and secular elements – my friend Mercedes carried “el Niño” or baby Jesus, in a little chair for hours – we created two DVDs, one of photos and one of video clips.

On January 12 the bilingual Instituto Quilloac invited us to document its 37th anniversary. I’m a big fan of this educational complex as it was created out of the Agrarian Reform in the 1960s at the behest (demand of?) the indigenous Cañari communities. “We’d never had a school before,” Tayta Antonio Quinde told me in one oral history session. “We wanted to preserve our language and our culture, so we made creating a bilingual (kichwa/español) institute a condition of the reform.”  The school grew to include all grades and at one time had over 2000 students, both indigenous and mestizos who came from other regions of Ecuador. It is now at about 800 students, but during the parade that wound through town we picked up graduates from all years and ended up on the grand patio of the school complex with a great crowd for a lively reunion of music, dancing, drinking and eating.

One benefit to me of these big events is that I come upon many old friends, reminding me how long I’ve been in Cañar. Pacari, for example, I’ve known since her birth. She’s the daughter of our compadres Zoila and Benedicto, and granddaughter of Mama Michi. I ran into her heading the parade as the ñusta, or queen, of Cañar Archeological Capital of Ecuador. Eighteen, beautiful, poised, Pacari is planning to study voice in university.

January 20 we filmed and photographed the Fiesta de San Antonio de Padua – in my opinion the best fiesta of them all. Although it lasts eight days, Buddy and I dedicated only one day to documenting the hours-long desfile (procession) climbing up to a height of 11,000 feet in the paramo (foggy highlands). I confess to catching a ride in a truck this year, while Buddy walked it entirely.

That left one final celebration on the Cañari calendar, and perhaps the biggest of them all: Pawkar Raymi, or Carnival. As with other carnival celebrations, it coincides with the beginning of Lent. But here the big day is Carnival Monday, when all the Cañari communities gather at a host village (this year our community of Chaglaban) to create a long procession through town and out into a large field in the country, where presentations of food, crafts, dance and music go all day and into evening.

Pawkar Raymi in the Cañari culture marks the flowering of the crops, abundance and generosity, and one important aspect of the procession is the cuy-naña carried by the women of the host community. (The name means “sister guinea pig” though English does not do it justice.) It is a heavily loaded platform with fruit and flowers, drinks and sweets, with two cooked cuyes and a chicken atop the poles of the platform and a cage of live cuyes at the bottom. With tremendous effort, the women must carry the platform for hours, with regular rest stops….

More than anything, a big fat guinea pig represents abundance and freedom from hunger. Here are the women from Chaglaban who carried the cuy-naña that day. A less favorite part of Carnival in Cañar for me is the custom of throwing water and maicena, or cornstarch, on passersby – in the streets, from the rooftops, during the parade, at house parties. Here’s Buddy after a maicena attack during the procession (in much better humor than I would be.)  A modern twist is the horrible kareoka, or spumy spray in canisters with triggers, that covers one in a chemical foam. I suffered a direct hit from one little two-year-old in her mother’s arms, who looked wide-eyed with fear as I yelled “NO” right after she covered my best camera with foam.

Finally, I want to mention the wonderful work being done by Allison Adrian, the ethnomusicologist who worked six months in Cañar in 2016. Back at her home university in Minneapolis, with help from professional editors, she is creating three films on Cañari music. Two of them are ready to be seen publically and next blog I’ll post online links. Meanwhile, we are making them available locally as DVDs.


The Cañar Book Club

Ah, the poor Cañar book club is in a funk. Everyone has been too busy to meet and we’ve exchanged little news of good new books. For myself, I tried one Michael had liked (That Bright Land by Terry Roberts (“a southern gothic thriller set in the summer of 1866), and didn’t get hooked, so I moved back two centuries and now I am well engaged with Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (set in Martha’s Vineyard in 1660’s, the story of a young woman). A faithful reader from London has suggested two books that sound intriguing: The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson, about North Korea (“alarming and eye-opening”), 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction. And for these times we should all be reading: How to Live a Feminist Life by Sarah Ahmed, and The Power, fiction by Naomi Alderman.

We’re calling a regular meeting before the next blog in March, so all member readers – please send your suggestions!  Over and out…..