One of the most rewarding experiences when traveling through different lands is undoubtedly the opportunity to get up close and personal to local communities. Although this is my second time in Ecuador, taking part in the Summer Communication Academy at UDLA university in Quito paved the way for so many new discoveries and eye-opening first-hand experiences of the social issues in this small yet culturally diverse country. I’ve been surprised, moved and inspired by all the things I’ve learned so far, especially when it comes to the lives of indigenous communities of Ecuador.
A real highlight of the Academy was a visit to an indigenous community living in the small village of La Calera in the northern sierra (or highlands) of Ecuador. Our group was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take part in a sacred ritual celebrating Mother Earth – or Pachamama in the Kichwa language.
Just like in many other indigenous communities across the country, the La Calera community still holds many ancient traditions that have been passed down from their ancestors, including their beautiful traditional clothes and rituals like Wakchakaray which we got to be a part of.
The ceremony is carried out by the community’s Sumak Muyo women’s group four times a year – corresponding to the solstices of each season. The ritual worships the four elements of Pachamama – water, fire, air and earth – and helps cleanse away all bad energies for a harmonious connection with nature. It’s a sort of Thanksgiving where the Earth is thanked for all it’s given to the people and the favour is returned with generous offerings of home-cooked food, fruit and flowers.
Forming a circle around the altar made of rose petals and offerings laid out on the rainbow-coloured Kichwa flag, we held hands and endured the pain of bug bites on our bare feel while the elder woman of the community spoke the ritual speech in Kichwa. As it was translated to us, the speech thanked the spirits of nature for all they give to us and asked for a blessing to our lives.
“May all obstacles in our homes and in our families be lifted, may our families and friends be freed from all bad energies and have all they need to lead a happy life.”
Once the words were spoken, we all covered ourselves in a little bit of smoke from the fire of the altar, were splashed with the sacred water and shared the food that was offered to Pachamama. A few of us even got bathed in the river, cleansing all bad energies with ice-cold water and herb birches.
What struck me the most about this ceremony was its similarity to a Vedic ritual I have been a part of earlier this year. The communities are worlds apart – India to Ecuador, – yet the same traditions exist – the offerings on an altar, the cleansing with fire and water from the altar, the sharing of sanctified food. And I’m sure there’s similarities in many other sacred rituals. Being part of a ceremony like this was a special experience and opened up my mind and heart even more to the universal spiritual truths and traditions that unite human beings all around the world across different religions and beliefs.
Sadly, the way of life in La Calera is largely unknown to many Ecuadorians, let alone audiences outside of the country. Luckily, thanks to a local filmmaker group APAK (association of Kichwa audiovisual producers), these traditions can live on in the form of documentaries and TV programmes. The organisation aims to capture and share the traditions and ways of living of the many different Kichwa communities in the north of Ecuador and it is beautiful to see the passion and pride with which they fight for auto-representation of Kichwa communities in the media.
Take a look at their YouTube channel and like their Facebook page – they need and deserve all the support they can get! Hopefully you too will be inspired by a glance into the lives of these wonderfully spiritual people whose ways of life run the risk of being forgotten.