Category Archives: Culture

Medicinal plants of Ecuador

medicinal-herbs-plantsIt’s estimated seven out of ten Ecuadorians use medicinal plants. Ethnobiologist Omar Vacas has spent 15 years researching local flora used for centuries to cure diseases. He published an article about traditional medicine used by the Kichwa people in the Napo jungle province. He says the Kichwas are often unaware that this info can be useful in developing pharmaceutical drugs. For example, balsa can reduce labor pains. There are 23 conditions including toothache and rheumatism that can be cured by plants used by the Kichwas. These include uña de gato (cat’s claw), ortiga brava, achiote de venda, palo de tortuga, sábila (aloe), ruda, dulcamara, sangre de drago (dragon’s blood), chancapiedra, chaya, valeriana, boldo, condurango and zarzaparrilla.

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Alpacas of Ecuador’s Andes

camelids-llamas-alpacasAlpacas roam the slopes of the Cotacachi Volcano. They belong to the indigenous community of Morochos. José Flores, vice-president of the community, says the alpacas are the best friends of the highland moors (páramos). He explains the animals don’t affect the topsoil because their legs have pads and their teeth cut the grass like scissors. That’s why the community decided to introduce Peruvian alpacas (currently 57) to replace cattle whose hooves eroded the surface of the moor. The area near the top of the volcano is considered an important buffer zone to the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.

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Pawkar Raymi, as celebrated in Otavalo, Ecuador

peguche-otavalo-raymiCarnival has an ethnic flavor in the Sierra Norte (northern Andes). There are mestizo, indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian celebrations. In the town of Peguche, near Otavalo, the Kichwa fiesta known as Pawkar Raymi features 11 days (February to early March) of crafts fairs, sports competitions and music. One of the rituals is called tumarina. It’s kind of a baptism with water and flower petals.

Pawkar Raymi means the Fiesta of the Flowering (of the crops). It’s a time to give thanks to Pacha Mama for her bounty. This is also the time of the year when indigenous merchants and musicians who work overseas come home to be with their families. It’s estimated that 10,000 Otavaleños earn their living abroad. They are considered the country’s cultural ambassadors. They usually stay for up to two months.

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Inti Raymi, as celebrated in Cotacachi, Ecuador

inti-raymi-inca-sun-godOne of the women who accompanied the dancers at Inti Raymi in Cotacachi, Ecuador. She had a certain nobility about her. The number of beaded necklaces is a sign of status in the community. Elderly women tend to have more necklaces because they are considered the wisest. It can also be a sign of social/economic status.

The Inti Raymi celebration goes on for more than a week in Cotacachi, northern Ecuador. It begins with a ritual bath at Cuicocha, a volcanic crater lagoon. Children are the first to dance, then men dance for four days, then women dance. This all goes on around Cotacachi’s main square.

Inti Raymi is the Festival of the Sun and occurs every year during the June solstice. The celebration is to honor the Inca sun god (Inti) for the heat and energy that allows plants to grow. It is the most important of the four sacred festivals (Raymi) celebrated by indigenous Andean cultures, which exist in Ecuador and all the way down to Argentina/Chile.

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