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Ecuador: Dispelling Misconceptions About the Saraguro Indigenous Community

The Ecuadorian indigenous community of the Saraguro is readily identifiable by their traditional dress. The men, wearing their traditional short pants, black poncho, flat white felt hats with wide brims, and with their hair tied in a single braid running down their backs, are a commonplace sight in and around parishes like Selva Alegre, Manú, San Lucas, Cera and Tenta. The women can also be seen wearing a single braid, their traditional hat, shiny nickel or silver shawl pins (tupus), a pleated skirt (anaco), and wearing bright breaded necklaces.

Migration, however, has had its consequences, without exact statistics, it is estimated that 50% of Saraguros [es] are actually living in Spain and Italy. This new vision of the world has led to seeing young Saraguro boys in western style baseball caps, western printed T-shirts, but still wearing traditional short pants and long braided hair.

A Saraguro paying the Kipa, a percussion instrument used in communication and musical celebrations. Photo courtesy of Angel Gualan.

A Saraguro playing the Kipa, a percussion instrument used in communication and musical celebrations. Photo courtesy of Angel Gualan.

Due to assimilation pressures and bilingual education, Kichwa is an language that the Saraguros have been trying to preserve. Through Kichwa literacy and radio broadcasting programs in their own language, the Saraguros are revitalizing Kichwa. Among young Saraguros and those who have migrated, their native language is rarely spoken. Only a small number of the oldest generation (people over 60) know this language according to an investigation performed by William Fischer.

Indigenous communities are not well represented in the Ecuadorian blogosphere. However, the Saraguro community is an exception. Angel Gualán, a professor and a member, has been blogging to help preserve his native tongue, but he also tries to demystify some misconceptions about Saraguros. In his recently updated blog Mashi Angel Gualán [es] he explains the struggles and myths Saraguros have to live with. Non-indigenous often use pejoratives to identify them like ‘indio’, ‘joto’ and ‘primo’ which Gualan has experienced the racism firsthand [es]. The following are some of the misconceptions of the Saraguro indigenous community in North of Loja, as explained by Gualán:

Saraguros dress in black as an eternal mourning to Atahualpa

Esto si definitivamente es falso, la vestimenta viene de la historia, algunos historiadores dicen que los indígenas Saraguros eran los que hacían el protocolo real al inca, y siempre andaban con el, cuando Atahualpa mure ellos se quedas en las zonas hoy conocida como Saraguro, luego se expanden a los lugares mas cercanos como San Lucas y Tenta, ahora se ha expandido en algunos lugares así tenemos colonias muy grandes en la provincia de Zamora Chinchipe, de hecho un Indígena Saraguro es prefecto de esa provincia.

Otra razón por lo que un indígena Saraguro se viste de negro y blanco , es que la materia prima para su vestimenta autentica es la lana de borrego, y estos ofrecen lana de color blanco o negro, anteriormente no se conocia la tinta, desde ahí queda la vestimenta de esta manera.

Ademas el negro combina con todo , no me veo poniendo un pantalón de otro color, aunque en diferentes culturas del norte del Ecuador difiere mucho la vestimenta.

This is definitely false, clothing comes from history, some historians say that the Saraguro indigenous communities were those who followed the royal protocol towards the Inca, and they were always with him. When Atahualpa was killed, they stayed in areas known today as Saraguro, which later expanded to nearby places like San Lucas and Tenta, they have now expanded in some other places so we have very large colonies in the province of Zamora Chinchipe, in fact, an Saraguro indigenous member is Prefect in that province.

Another reason that a Saraguro wears black and white is that the raw material for his traditional clothing is made from wool from sheep, and they offer white or black wool; before ink was ever known, since then clothing stays this way.

Besides that, the black color goes with everything, I can't see myself wearing pants of another color, although in different cultures of northern Ecuador clothing is very different.

If Saraguros get a haircut they are disinherited.

La cultura es como la marca de familia, si uno reniega la cultura reniega la familia, existen personas muy arraigadas a la cultura que a veces pueden tomar esa decisión, ha pasado últimamente en la gente joven que siguen las modas de otras culturas y desean aparecerse a esa persona diferente, también por encajar en mundo nuevo de ciudad, definitivamente es duro convivir en una ciudad donde no tienes amigos que piense como tu, y es mas fácil uno pensar como ellos, ahí es cuando se pierde la verdadera identidad, después de un largo tiempo vuelven a sus raíces.

Muchos chicos se cortan el pelo por el tema, del continuo comentarios racistas que reciben, deciden parecerse a ellos para que no les digan mas esos comentarios, definitivamente mal…

Culture is like the mark of the family, if one denies one's culture, the one denies one's family, there are people deeply rooted in the culture that sometimes they can make that decision, it has happened lately with young people who follow the fashions of other cultures and who want to look like a different person, also for wanting to fit with the new world of a city, it is definitely hard to live in a city where you have no friends who think alike, and it is easier to think like them, that's when the true identity is lost. After a long time, they return to their roots.

Many young Saraguros cut their hair because of one issue, the continued racist comments they receive, then they decide to look just like those who insult them, so that they no longer make those comments, it is definitely wrong.

Male or female Saraguros cannot marry someone outside of their own culture.

Respuesta, Falso, eso ya depende de cada persona, decide con quien desea compartir su vida, y para prueba de ello existen personas que se han casado con chik@s de la ciudad, de otra cultura e incluso de otra nacionalidad.

Response: False. It's up to you, each person decides to whom he/she wants to share life, and as proof of that, there are people who have married to people of the city, from another culture, or even of another nationality.

All Saraguros speak Kichwa.

No todos lamentablementa hablamos el kichwa idioma nativo, Por que desde nuestros abuelos han ido perdiendo nuestra lengua y no nos hemos preocupado por recuperar.

También otro de los factores muy importante para perder este idioma fue la implantación de la educación hispana, donde nos enseñaron que para pasar de grado debíamos hablar bien el español y que el kichwa no valía para nada.

Ahora estamos luchando por recuperar nuestra lengua, jóvenes que tenemos el sentido de identidad propia, aprenderemos y pronto recuperaremos este idioma tan preciado.

Unfortunately, not all speak the native language kichwa, ever since from the time of our grandparents, they have been losing our language and we have not been concerned enough to recover it.

Also another very important factor for losing this language was the implementation of Hispanic education, which taught us that for passing grades, we had to speak Spanish very well and that Kichwa was not good for anything.

Now we are struggling to regain our language, the young people who have a sense of identity, will learn the language and soon we will recover such a precious language.

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