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Ecuador: Keeping Traditions Alive on Day of the Dead

Ecuadorians recently finished celebrating “Día de Difuntos” or Day of the Dead with liters of colada morada and many, many guaguas de pan — the traditional food and drink of the festivities. The special drink and bread are prepared and consumed November 2nd in celebration of an ancient tradition. The tradition has also been celebrated throughout the blogosphere, where a campaign has appeared to prevent Halloween from replacing the traditional celebration.

The colada morada is an Ecuadorian drink, “prepared with black corn flour and fruits such as naranjilla, babaco, pineapple, blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries (which give it its purple ‘morada’ color).” It is traditionally consumed during the Día de los Difuntos public holidays, November 2nd. It is consumed together with the guaguas de pan, “a type of roll shaped and decorated in the form of a small child or infant. They are generally made of wheat and sometimes contain a sweet filling,” such as jam.

Guaguas de pan, Otavalo, Ecuador. Image from flickr account lumeriefl, used under the Creative Commons License for Recognized Non Commercial Works 2.0

Maryasol's description, on Ecuadorecuatoriano [es], indicates colada morada originated from mazamorra which the indigenous population made prior to Spanish arrival. She quotes Chef Manolo Romero discussing the food's cultural fusion:

La bebida está ligada al folclore serrano. “Probablemente los españoles trajeron algo similar durante la colonización, pero lo que sí se sabe es que los indígenas, en aquella época, adaptaron sus fechas celebratorias religiosas con las de los españoles y por supuesto inventaron también sus comidas”, refiere el chef Manolo Romero, de la Escuela de los Chefs.

The drink is linked to Andean folklore. “Probably the Spanish brought something similar during colonization, but what is fact is that the indigenous people, at that time, adapted the dates of their religious celebrations to those of the Spanish and of course also invented their foods,” said chef Manolo Romero from Escuela de los Chefs.

Via Twitter [es], Rosa María Torres (@rosamariatorres) shared news of an ongoing campaign against Halloween:

En mi barrio los niñ@s no piden #Halloween Los vecinos compartimos colada morada y guaguas de pan. #Quito #Ecuador #NOHalloween

In my neighborhood, the children aren't asking for #Halloween. Instead, the neighbors share colada morada and guaguas de pan. #Quito #Ecuador #NOHalloween

Melina Cova (@SoyUnMitoHippie) celebrates the event:

Mañana toca la colada morada y las guaguas de pan *.* pondré fotos, me parece super hermosa esa tradición del día de los muertos.

Tomorrow brings colada morada and guagas de pan *.* I'll put up photos, this day of the dead tradition always seems so beautiful.

María Gabriela Mena Galárraga, on the blog Claroscuro [es] celebrates the festivities and offers an interesting viewpoint on the food and her indigenous heritage:

La actual elaboración de guaguas de pan es una tradición basada en la cultura indígena que creía en la vida después de la muerte como una continuación de la vida que conocemos pero no sólo en el sentido espiritual sino en un sentido también material, motivo por el cuál los difuntos eran enterrados con sus pertenencias que serían útiles para la nueva vida a la que pasaban.

Además de las Guaguas de Pan, los indígenas en sus rituales funerarios tradicionales preparaban una especie de colada muy espesa llamada Uchucuta que consistía en la mezcla de harina de maíz, papa, fréjol, arveja, col y achiote. Posteriormente se fabrica la colada morada que se convirtió en el acompañante principal de las Guaguas de Pan. Esta colada muestra sin duda la fusión del ritual indígena con el católico ya que el color morado tiene un significado de muerte y luto en la iconografía católica lo que resultó perfecto para la celebración de la fiesta de los difuntos y a la vez para remplazar la Uchucuta indígena.

The current preparation of the guaguas de pan is a tradition based on the indigenous culture that believed in an afterlife for the dead that was more of a continuation of life as we know it, not just in the spiritual sense but also in the material sense as well, this is the reason for burying the deceased with belonging useful in the new life that they pass onto.

Besides the Guaguas de Pan, the indigenous people in their funeral ritual traditions made a very thick variety of colada called Uchucuta that consisted of a mix of corn flour, potatoes, beans, green peas, cabbage and achiote. Afterwards though, the making of colada morada was timed to mainly accompany the Guaguas de Pan. This colada demonstrates without a doubt the fusion of indigenous ritual and Catholicism. The purple “morada” color already had a death and state of mourning connotation in catholic iconography. So what resulted was perfect to celebrate the Day of the Dead and at once replace the indigenous Uchucuta.

La.Kbzuhela [es] gives her take on the celebration and an interesting list of traditional festivities for Día de Difuntos throughout Ecuador [es]:

Según la creencia, el muerto vuelve cada año, entonces hay que prepararle sus platos preferidos. Los vivos esperan que el invitado haya terminado de comer, antes de servirse. En algunas regiones se le trae además las armas y los objetos que le eran valiosos, o se le invita también a jugar al Juego del Piruruy (un juego de dados). Según la suerte que tire, se pueden conocer sus necesidades o sus reproches. Y gracias a este dado tallado en un hueso de llama, se pueden también resolver los desacuerdos

According to commonly held belief, the dead return each year. So then people have to prepare the dead's favorite dishes. The living wait for their guest to finish eating before serving themselves. In some regions they even bring out guns and objects valued by the deceased, or they also invite the deceased to play Juego del Piruruy (a dice game). According to the dice throw, the living are able to know the deceased's desires and needs. Also thanks to the dice tumbled in llama bone, they can resolve any disagreements they had.

Go Ecuador [es] describes the Día de los Difuntos as an act of full faith and ritual in the Ecuadorian culture, where hundreds of families visit cemeteries, bringing flowers and prayers. They enjoy the flavor of traditional colada morada and guaguas de pan in the company of their closest friends and the memory of the deceased:

En el norte del país, especialmente en las provincia de Imbabura (Otavalos), familias indígenas completas vestidas con sus mejores vestimentas típicas visitan los cementerios llevando flores, coronas de papel, cruces, espermas y comida, llamado ricurishca: ollas de alimentos, huevos cocidos, frutas y demás. Símbolos que expresan el sincretismo de elementos religiosos católicos y de sus propias tradiciones ancestrales y que el pueblo mestizo ha heredado del pueblo indígena muchas veces sin saberlo.

In the northern part of the country, especially in the province of Imbabura (Otavalos), indigenous families, fully dressed in their best traditional outfits, visit cemetaries carrying flowers, paper crowns, crosses, candles and special food called ricurishca: pots of victuals, boiled eggs, fruits and more. These symbols express the combination of religious catholic elements and their own ancestral traditions. The mestizo nation has inherited from the indigenous nation many times without knowing it.

Communal ancestral tradition or a day to visit loved ones; in Ecuador the tradition of respect maintains itself.

1 comment

  • jaqueline flores

    this was an excellent article..

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