Thursday, June 24, 2010

Celebration in Otavalo

Taita Imbabura

To celebrate the end of school and our impending move forward in our lives, we decided to join the Otavaleños and their celebration of Inti Raymi and St John the Baptist. I did not have a schedule or agenda, I just knew that activities would be in full swing, if not in Otavalo itself, certainly in one of the surrounding communities.

Maya and I did not rush out of the house. We slept in, ate breakfast, practiced violin, waited for Gustavo to come, and finally took a taxi to the Carcelen bus station in the north. We chose the wrong bus, in that I wanted the bus that did not stop every two minutes on its way to Otavalo, but although we were assured that we would get to our destination in record time, the trip took over two hours. We met a young Korean American girl named Sunia, who had arrived a few days prior for a month long trip to Ecuador, and ended up spending the day together.

Maya's primary goal for the trip was to visit the pie shop, so once we arrived at the bus station, we walked up to Plaza Bolivar to see if anything was happening on the square. A huge stage was set up and a high school band was practicing, but there was no evidence of a presentation. The streets of Otavalo are relatively empty when it is not Saturday (when kiosks line the streets around the Plaxza de Ponchos). We found the pie shop closed until 4, so we decided to eat lunch instead of dessert for our meal. We wandered around the plaza for a time (rather listless and quiet, it not being Saturday), and Sunia shopped for souvenirs. More interesting was the food market, which although not hopping with activity (some vendors were sleeping amongst the fruit and vegetables) was still colourful and rich in variety and quantity. We waited for the tourist office to open, and armed with a list of activities in Otavalo and the surrounding towns, we put together a plan for the afternoon. The pueblo of San Juan nearby was known to celebrate 'San Juan' most enthusiastically.

We walked to the Pana and crossed over to San Juan, where the afternoon events were just beginning. There was a large square in front of a small church, with food booths, several enthusiastic candy makers dramatically pulling sugar cane taffy, and equally enthusiastic participants enjoying their taffy. There were carnival rides for children. Near the church, a 'banda de pueblo' was playing and traditionally dressed couples were dancing elegantly around cases of beer. Drinking is part of the celebration and it starts early in the day. We met a group of young women in modern dress, who assured us that the most exciting events were occurring at San Pablo (near Lago San Pablo), so we joined them on the bus down the Pana to the main square of the town. We saw a stream of people and followed them to a large grassy field enclosed by cement walls. A narrow entrance at one corner led to large groups of Otavaleños wandering about, some picnicking on the ground, a few food booths and a 'stage' enclosed by a string 'gate' on one side of the field. An announcer was describing the events of the evening. A schoolteacher from Otavalo had guided us on the bus and took us under his wing at the festival. The afternoon and evening would be a competition between musician and dance groups. Already throngs of spectators would surround a performing group as they played their instruments and marched in a circle, sometimes changing direction. Voices would join the guitars, drums and flutes, and both women and men danced and swirled.

New music groups would appear and attract followers, and at one point, the official competition began in the enclosure, with the announcer describing the identity of the group, each of which had almost a half hour to perform. The competitors were not allowed to use any amplification, which made it difficult for them, because out in the field other groups attracting followers were sometime using huge speakers and pretaped music to augment their performances. The singing was in Quichua and Spanish and sometimes the spectators joined the performers. I recognized much of the music, having heard it before in my travels.

Chicha was flowing, and the participants made a point of drinking this very traditional drink to replenish themselves. There were cases of Pilsner beer everywhere. Clearly drinking is part of the festivities and we were informed by our schoolteacher that the singing and dancing would get wilder and wilder as the afternoon and evening progressed.

Each group of musicians and dancers were traditionally dressed, including a 'humo' mask or two. This is a mythological character wearing a mask with two faces and twelve horns. The two faces represent night and day, and the horns represent the twelve months of the year. The Aya Uma is considered the spirit of the mountain, which comes down to the communities to accompany the town people during the celebration dedicated to the sun, the moon and nature. Thus, whoever wants to be the Aya Uma must be an honest, hardworking, responsible and respected person among the community. The dancers go around in circles, representing the two solstices and two equinoxes that take place during the year. The dancers stamp their feet while they circle around, as a way to invite Mother Earth to participate in the party, so that it recuperates its vital energies and is ready to begin the new agricultural cycle where the maize and other crops will be cultivated again. It became clear to me that we were at an Inti Raymi festival, that St John the Baptist was secondary, that what I was seeing was the pre Hispanic centuries old tradition, which is what I have wanted very much to see all week.

We stood out as the only gringos in the crowd, and the announcer noticed us and welcomed all of the community and the national tourists as well as the 'estranjeros' to join in the festivities.

We stayed as long as we could, before we took the bus back to the Pana, stood out on the highway and waved down a bus back to Quito, and arrived home exhausted a couple of hours later, happily safe and sound in our beds. We enjoyed our day with Sunia, who was to stay in the area for a few days. We will have to return to have pie, since that was Maya's whole purpose in joining me for the adventure!

Humo on a Lamppost

1 comment: