It’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.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, settled cultures in what is now known as Ecuador were guided by deities. The Incas believed condors were the messengers of the gods. Sociologist Dimitri Peñasco says the condor is believed to lead the dead into an upper realm, called Hanan Pacha. This realm included the sky, sun, moon, stars, planets and constellations. The condor is also said to be able to morph into human form. This has been the inspiration for many legends.
It is Ecuador’s national bird, depicted on the flag and coat of arms as a symbol of bravery and power. Andean condors are one of the largest birds, with wingspans of up to 10 feet. Females lay their eggs in steep, rocky areas to protect them from predators. They can mainly be found in five areas of the country: Antisana Eco Reserve, Cotacachi-Cayapas Eco Reserve, Zuleta in Imbabura province, the Nabón region in Azuay province and Cajas National Park.
Carnival 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.
One 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.