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A Year in the Highlands of Ecuador

By Judy Blankenship

Publication Year: 2005

Once isolated from the modern world in the heights of the Andean mountains, the indigenous communities of Ecuador now send migrants to New York City as readily as they celebrate festivals whose roots reach back to the pre-Columbian past. Fascinated by this blending of old and new and eager to make a record of traditional customs and rituals before they disappear entirely, photographer-journalist Judy Blankenship spent several years in Cañar, Ecuador, photographing the local people in their daily lives and conducting photography workshops to enable them to preserve their own visions of their culture. In this engaging book, Blankenship combines her sensitively observed photographs with an inviting text to tell the story of the most recent year she and her husband Michael spent living and working among the people of Cañar. Very much a personal account of a community undergoing change, Cañar documents such activities as plantings and harvests, religious processions, a traditional wedding, healing ceremonies, a death and funeral, and a home birth with a native midwife. Along the way, Blankenship describes how she and Michael went from being outsiders only warily accepted in the community to becoming neighbors and even godparents to some of the local children. She also explains how outside forces, from Ecuador’s failing economy to globalization, are disrupting the traditional lifeways of the Cañari as economic migration virtually empties highland communities of young people. Blankenship’s words and photographs create a moving, intimate portrait of a people trying to balance the demands of the twenty-first century with the traditions that have formed their identity for centuries.

Published by: University of Texas Press

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pp. ix-xi

Above all, my profound thanks go to those Ca

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pp. 1-6

When chance took me to Ca

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Chapter One: Old Friends

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pp. 7-16

We wake very early at the Hostal Irene, the bare-bones hotel where we’ve paid four dollars to spend our first night in Cañar. Our bordello-style bed with its heart-shaped, red-flocked, chrome-scrolled headboard is hard as a rock, with one flimsy blanket and a long, thin, tightly rolled pillow that Michael and I shared. Amazingly, we slept well, but now it’s too chilly to ...

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Chapter Two: Killa Raymi: Festival of the Moon

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pp. 17-25

It has been another uncomfortable night on the thin mattress at the Hostal Irene.We are still sorting out our things in Cuenca, but now we’re here in Cañar at the invitation of José Miguel to attend the Festival of the Moon, or Killa Raymi, which is to be held later today at the nearby archeological site Los Baños del Inca (the Inca Baths). José Miguel’s music and dance group, Los Chaskis, will be performing, along with other cultural groups from all over the region. ...

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Chapter Three: A House in Ca

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pp. 27-34

Today we are in Cañar to finish negotiating for the house we spotted earlier this week, and I’m surprised at how nervous I feel. I really want this house—it’s on the Paseo de los Cañaris, not far from the storefront where we lived eight years ago and in a perfect location on the edge of town where the roads come in from the country. The concept of renting is still ...

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Chapter Four: The Day of the Dead

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pp. 35-42

Today, El D

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Chapter Five: La Limpieza

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pp. 43-49

In Cañari culture a limpieza, or ritual cleansing by a yachaj, is considered essential when someone moves into a new house or opens a business, after a death, or when life goes seriously wrong. Robbery, illness, crop failure, a cow’s death, or simply a personal run of bad luck—anything that can ...

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Chapter Six: A Dinner to Honor the Dead, and Us

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pp. 51-60

Earlier this week, Esthela invited us for dinner on Friday night in an offhand manner that suggested a casual get-together. She said they wanted to welcome us back to Ecuador as compadres, godparents, and also to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Friday afternoon, I run into Jos

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Chapter Seven: The Meeting

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pp. 61-67

Last week, several Cañari friends, among them José Miguel and his cousin Félix, approached us to request help in organizing a meeting to talk about creating a cultural foundation. It would be a legal entity, they said, dedicated to preserving and promoting indigenous music, dance, clothing, handicrafts, rituals, medicine, and agriculture—all the cultural wealth of ...

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Chapter Eight: Greeting the New Year

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pp. 69-76

Our Cañar neighbors are very curious about the two strangers who live in their midst.We deal daily with the owners of the small shops on Paseo de los Cañaris, and the neighbors living around us take careful note of our comings and goings. If they haven’t seen us for a while, they ask politely what we’ve been up to. So, after an unusual absence of ten days over ...

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Chapter Nine: Life in Ca

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pp. 77-84

Three months in Ecuador. Our life on the Paseo de los Cañaris has settled into a comfortable routine, and our trips to Cuenca grow less frequent. ‘‘Things are so much more interesting here,’’ one of us says to the other at least once a day. Still, every week or ten days, we make the two-hour bus ride to the city and spend a day and night in our snug apartment. Michael ...

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Chapter Ten: D

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pp. 85-90

One Sunday morning as Michael and I are having coffee, we hear the accordion music in the street that signals a religious or wedding procession. We run to the front patio and see a group of about forty men, women, and children quickly walking by, heading into town. In front, two men carry statues of saints dressed in Ca

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Chapter Eleven: This Camera Pleases Me

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pp. 91-99

After months of planning, my first women’s photography workshop is scheduled to begin on a Friday morning at nine in the first week of March; it will end at noon on Sunday. But when Michael and I get up at six on Friday morning, two women are already standing outside our gate, dressed in indigenous clothing that tells me they are not from Cañar. While Michael ...

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Chapter Twelve: The New Economy

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pp. 101-108

Our neighbor across the street, a sweet old woman we call Do

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Chapter Thirteen: A Death in Ca

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pp. 109-120

We first hear the news on the local radio station that broadcasts death notices. A lead-in of the first strains of ‘‘Ave María’’ lets listeners know that sad news is coming and reminds us of the inevitability of death. Juliana Quinde Pichisaca, from the village of Quilloac, has died; her funeral will be on Monday. Michael and I pay little attention, although we know someone ...

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Chapter Fourteen: Carnaval

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pp. 121-131

One recent Sunday morning, Michael was on his way to the village of Correucu when he ran into Jos

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Chapter Fifteen: Betrothal, Ca

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pp. 133-140

Michael can’t stop talking about it the next day, or the next, and together we spend hours trying to figure out what really happened on the night of Pablo’s betrothal, or la entrada. Mostly, we speculate about why Michael had been so deeply involved in the engagement ritual of a young man we barely know, although the fact that Pablo is Mama Michi’s second ...

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Chapter Sixteen: Life in Ca

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pp. 141-150

We are at the halfway point of our year in Ca

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Chapter Seventeen: A Wedding

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pp. 151-160

Antonio comes by the house on a Saturday afternoon with Magdalena and Juanito, a small older man he introduces as a friend of the family. After Michael serves drinks and pleasantries are exchanged, Antonio reveals the reason for the visit. ‘‘Are you free to come to a wedding this evening?’’ he asks solemnly. Magdalena’s younger sister, Beatriz, is marrying Nicolás, a ...

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Chapter Eighteen: Mama Michi Goes to Canada

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pp. 161-167

When I was last in Ca

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Chapter Nineteen: The Way Things Work

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pp. 169-174

It’s been a terrible week. Thursday, Mama Purificación, sister-in-law of Mama Michi and wife of Taita Shanto, was badly burned by a gas explosion. Her daughter Puri, a woman in her twenties who still lives at home, came to our house to make a desperate call to her Aunt Vicenta in Quito. Her mother was preparing to fix lunch on their old gas range, Puri said, ...

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Chapter Twenty: A Birth in Ca

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pp. 175-185

The knock comes on our door early Saturday morning. Mariana has sent a message: Mar

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Chapter Twenty-One: We Walk the Inca Trail

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pp. 187-200

Our year in Ca

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Chapter Twenty-Two: Saying Good-bye

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pp. 201-209

Our second farewell party, on the Sunday night we left Cañar, wasn’t supposed to be a party at all. A week earlier we had been royally feted with an all-day fiesta at Mariana’s house, organized around the slow but complete consumption of a medium-sized pig, starting with chitterlings in the afternoon and ending with an open-air, sit-down dinner in the dark at around nine. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780292796904
E-ISBN-10: 0292796900
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292709287
Print-ISBN-10: 0292709285

Page Count: 223
Illustrations: 41 b&w illus., 1 map, 1 figure
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cañari Indians -- Pictorial works.
  • Cañar (Ecuador : Province) -- Social life and customs.
  • Cañari Indians -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Cañari Indians -- Social life and customs.
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