Sunday, October 4, 2009


I have been looking forward to visiting the Mitad del Mundo since we arrived, and we finally had an opportunity to spend a few hours there today. I had arranged for Maya to meet with my Spanish teacher for some tutoring, but I felt guilty about having Amparo take a bus for an hour or more to get to and from our apartment, so Eric asked Tom for the truck and we drove to Carapungo, which is a town far in the north of Quito on the Panamerica Norte on the way to Otavalo just before Calderon. Amparo gave me excellent directions, which I actually understood (in Spanish!), and we arrived exactly at 1 PM (not Ecuadorian time!). We met Amparo's mother and Andres, her thirteen year old son, whom I have heard many stories about! Eric and I stayed in the living room reading and working and drinking tree tomato juice while Amparo worked with Maya. I was impressed with what Maya understands and knows and am more confident that she is learning and will start speaking soon, and that will help her adjust to her new school.

Mitad del Mundo is just as far north, but across the other side of the valley, so we had to return part of the way to Quito and then turn back north for another 20 minutes, but the site is open late, and we made it in good time. Of course, I had to take a photo of Maya and Eric on either side of the equator line. This monument and yellow line in the cement turns out not to be the exact centre of the earth; the original French scientists had made measurements and a structure had been built based on the early determination. Later, further scientists used GPS and other methods to calculate the exact equator line, and another interesting museum called IntiSan has been built a hundred metres away on the 'right line', but most tourists visit the older structure, which is surrounded by handicraft stores and restaurants and presents musical events all weekend long, attracting mostly Ecuadorians, who were dancing to Andean music when we arrived.

My interest in this Mitad del Mundo was the ethnological museum, which had impressed me when I visited it several years ago. I had been surprised to learn then that there was an 'indigenous' afroecuadorian group living both on the coast and in a valley north of Otavalo. A ship full of slaves had wrecked off the Pacific coast, and the survivors had settled in the northern coastal area of Eucador, and had brought their music and traditions with them, which they have preserved for the five hundred years they have lived in their new home. I wanted some direction in my efforts to identify the native dress that so many women wear in Quito. I can identify the Otavalo traditional dress, perhaps because I have been to Otavalo several times, and because so many Otavalenos are visible in the streets of Quito, selling their wares. The men are not as likely to wear their native attire in Quito, but are more visible when visiting the animal market in Otavalo.


I see many other, women particularly, wearing traditional attire here in Quito, but am unable to identify their origin. The ethnographic museum at Mitad del Mundo is not as complete or inclusive as I had remembered. I think that the first time I went, I knew nothing about Ecuador, and was astonished at the many different ethnic groups in Eucador, most who predated the Incas and the Spaniards who conquered them. Since then, I have seen so much more and am far more aware of the diversity of the people. I have been to Cuenca, where the weaving style is so very different from that of the Otavalenos. I have learned about the Canari and their role in the conquest of the Incas. Whereas perhaps when I first came to Ecuador, all the native costumes seemed similar; now I can identify both subtle and more obvious differences. Visiting the ethnographic museum at the Mitad del Mundo (which is located inside the monument to the equator; one takes the elevator up to the top, and walks down through the exhibit identifying the dfferent ethnographic groups) was a good introduction to the different indigenous groups of the country, and has piqued my interest again, but I have far more to learn and understand.

I also learned that with all the time that I have spent in the jungle, I have either read or heard of or encountered each of the major indigenous groups of the rainforest. Eric has worked in Yasuni several times, and has encountered the Huoarani there. The NapaRuni are Quichua speakers and moved from the sierra to the coast of the Napo at the time of the Spanish Conquest. It is interesting to see how successful the Inca were in establishing their new language throughout their reign. Quichua is spoken by more indigenous people in South America than any other language, and replaced several more ancient languages of the Amazon. The Shuar and Achuar and the Cofanes are all in the news lately, involved in protests against the government and changing water laws. I have heard of the Siona-Secoya through a scientist, who is studying pygmy marmosets and has organized her projects to involve the local people. Today I learned that the 'Colorados', who stiffen their hair with oil and redden it with achiote, live on the western side of the Andes ( I thought they came from the jungle), and have a unique language and origin. It is rather astonishing how so many different and unassociated language groups developed in the very small area that is Ecuador.

This is only the beginning of my efforts to familiarize myself with the many ethnic groups that live in Ecuador. The museum expressed concern with the loss of language and tradition, as western customs spread and replace the traditional behaviours. My impression is that in Ecuador, customs and traditions of the past are particularly well preserved.

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