August 21, 2010
Otavalo has been known for decades, in the world of tourism and travel, as one of the most outstanding centers of hand woven articles and the home of an ancestral culture, the Otavalos or Otavaleños. Their Indian market is famous for the colorful garments and varied handicrafts which they exhibit and sell. In Ecuador, together with Quito, the Monument to the Equator (known as the “Middle of the World”), and the Galapagos Islands, Otavalo is one of the country’s top tourist attractions, luring thousands of visitors every year to the highly scenic area where the city and region of Otavalo are located, just one and a half hours by road, north of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador.
The most important annual festivities in this area take place during the month of September of each year. It is time for the “Yamor” Fiesta: Yamor is the kichwa name for a unique ritual beverage made of seven different kinds of maize, especially fermented for the most important occasions on the calendar. The celebrations have deep ancestral roots and are related with the Sun’s cycles which mark the two yearly solstices and the two equinoxes. The rituals are closely related with the movements of the Sun and the Moon, which, in turn, determine the appropriate moments for planting and for harvesting.
The Yamor Festivities are celebrated shortly before the “Koya Raimi”, the Autumn Equinox (September 23) and are directly related with the harvest time for the Maize, one of the most important elements on the indigenous cosmovision, as this iconographic plant is a symbol of fertility. Thus, the celebrations are a moment to thank the “Allpa Mama” or “Paccha Mama” (the Mother Earth) in gratitude for the fertility of the soil which so generously provides maize, vegetables, potatoes, cereals, grain and hundreds of other edible produce for their own needs as well as for the rest of the country.
As with most traditional festivities in Ecuador, the ancestral rites fuse with Christian celebrations, brought in by the Spaniards, five hundred years ago. In the case of Otavalo, the Yamor coincides with the Fiestas in honor to the Virgin of Monserrat or “Niña Maria”, the catholic patron of the city. This is one of the most evident signs of the cultural blend which the area offers, mixing harmoniously the indigenous and the more recent “mestizo” rituals and celebrations into one big event.
The Yamor Fiestas include lively parades and processions, colorful costumes, theatrical representations, music, dancing, beauty pageants, gastronomic festivals, sports, cultural and artistic events which bring greater livelihood to the already cosmopolitan land of the Otavalos, highly visited by national and international tourists, eager to get to know the ways of life of these ancestral peoples, their traditions and especially their fantastic and colorful woven articles and many other kinds of handicrafts. Centerpiece of the celebrations, which start with the beginning of the month of September and last until the actual Equinox day, is the preparation and abundant consumption of the Yamor brew, called “Chicha”, offered everywhere from light to hard-core versions.
One of the most thrilling events which mark this festive period for the Otavalo region is the swimming competition, a four kilometers crossing of San Pablo Lake’s ice cold waters, for which the valiant swimmers, men and women of all ages, cover their bodies with natural greases to withstand the extremely cold waters of the Lake. Visiting Otavalo and its spectacularly nature and culture filled region in September, during the Yamor Festivities, is a truly unforgettable experience.