Cotopaxi Quichua - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Most people in the area are Catholic, although there is a small but actively recruiting evangelical Protestant movement. Christian religious beliefs are heavily syncretized with Andean beliefs in a sacralized geography.

The most important sacred places vary in different subregions of the area, although all residents of the area are familiar with distant shrines. Despite the existence of a larger sacred cosmology, sacred geography, which is inseparable from its secular counterpart, is constructed somewhat differently for each family and individual.

Religious Practitioners. Formal religious practice belongs to the priests, and both calendrical and life-cycle rituals have aspects that involve rites at which a priest must officiate. However, all such ceremonial occasions also have portions that are in the hands of families and rites that are performed within the household. Another aspect of religious practice is the domain of shamanism and curing. No research has been done on either kind of practice in this area, but both are very important in local life.

Ceremonies. Unlike many other areas of rural Ecuador, this region still has an active ceremonial cycle of calendrical rituals. Fiestas involving masked and costumed dancers and processions from the comunas of the sponsors into the town center are celebrated at Christmas, the 6th of January, Easter, and Corpus Christi. Also celebrated are New Year, at which effigies of the old year are burned and men perform dances; Carnival, when sexually active adolescents conduct ritual battles with stones up in the grazing lands at the borders between comunas; and All Souls' Day (Finados), when families remember their dead through commemorative meals.

Arts. The region is perhaps best known for its lively folk paintings. These depictions of fiesta scenes, painted on sheepskin, have their origins in the paintings made on the surface of the drums used during Corpus Christi. Another folk art with its origins in the fiestas is the carving of masks, which take the form of animals such as deer, foxes, and dogs or human forms such as the clown or White man. Of perhaps greater importance in local life are the verbal arts; as with many Quechua and Quichua speakers, the people of the region place great importance on the use of language and are appreciative of rhetorical skill. Especially characteristic are riddles. The performances of costumed dancers at fiestas are also important areas of artistic expression, involving verbal humor as well as mime and dance.

Death and Afterlife. Ideas about death and the afterlife are various, and show the lively coexistence of Western and Native American beliefs in local thought. The notion of a distant heaven has little appeal despite acknowledgment of it as an official truth, but the spirit of the deceased is thought to stay very close to the body and to its loved ones immediately after death. A commonly described form of mourning is to wander the high hills crying out for the dead, asking where they have gone.

As is typical in the Andes, Finados is an important occasion on which the dead are thought to be close to their living relatives. During the wake, games of chance are played similar to those that have been described in other parts of Ecuador.

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