Religious Beliefs. The Spanish converted the Indians to Roman Catholicism, and indigenous celebrations were adapted to Catholic feast days. Today most Otavalo are Catholics with a substrate of pre-Hispanic beliefs. Since about the 1960s evangelical Christian sects and the Latter Day Saints have made converts through their missions in Otavalo.
Catholic saints, the Virgin Mary, and the Holy Trinity are worshiped, but the last drops of liquid in a glass are always poured on the ground as an offering to Pachamama (Earth Mother). Offerings are also made by women wanting children to a lechero tree on a hill overlooking Otavalo to the east. There is some belief in nature spirits, especially in the spirits of streams and waterfalls. The rainbow is feared as an evil omen that can cause flesh to petrify or lead to insanity or death. The two dormant volcanoes that dominate the Otavalo Valley are called Taita Imbabura and Mama Cotacachi; they figure in folktales and legends but are not worshiped as such. A smaller peak, Mojanda, is considered their wawa (baby).
Religious Practitioners. Because of colonial conversions to Christianity and Spanish suppression of indigenous religion, there are no practitioners of aborginal religion per se, although there are traditional healers.
Ceremonies. The aboriginal ceremonial cycle was organized around solar events and the agricultural cycle. Today Christian feasts (Christmas, Holy Week, Easter, etc.) are observed, but the most important fiesta is that of San Juan on 24 June, which coincides with the winter solstice. For this fiesta men wear elaborate costumes and the celebration includes all-night music and dancing and ritual drinking for nearly a week. Until about the middle of the twentieth century a ritual battle between the men of different communities was held in front of the chapel of San Juan at the edge of Otavalo, and the blood of the wounded or dead was considered an offering to the Earth Mother. The fiesta of San Luis Obispo, called Coraza, was observed in Otavalo on 19 August until the 1940s, but by the early 1990s it was limited to the community of San Rafael. Various saints' days and local fiestas are celebrated in different communities throughout the year. Music, dancing by men and women, quantities of food, and the ritual consumption of alcohol are considered essential at all fiestas. The sponsorship of a fiesta by a couple has traditionally been a source of great prestige, although success in the textile business is now another route to high status.
Arts. Besides textiles, traditional music is an important art form. Young Indians form folklore groups ( conjuntos). Men play indigenous wind and percussion instruments as well as European stringed instruments, whereas both men and women sing traditional Quichua and some Spanish songs. Otavalo conjuntos play locally, compete in national music festivals, and sometimes record their music and perform abroad.
Medicine. Aboriginal and medieval Spanish beliefs have been syncretized in Otavalo culture. Illnesses are considered hot or cold and are believed to be caused by fright ( susto or espanto ), evil wind ( huyrashka or malviento ), evil spirits, or the entry of a foreign object. The town of Human is especially noted for its traditional healers. Male or female healers ( curanderos or brujos ) treat illnesses with herbal remedies or rituals to suck out the foreign body, absorb the evil wind, or drive out the evil spirits. Healers often travel to the Amazon or coastal lowlands to study with jungle healers. Local midwives ( patiras ) attend childbirth, and women stay in bed and observe a special diet for a month after giving birth, attended by a relative or a paid helper. Indians sometimes resort to Western-trained doctors in Otavalo, Quito, and Ibarra in addition to local healers.
Death and Afterlife. Syncretism is also evident in Otavalo concepts of death and the afterlife. The Otavalo believe in the Catholic heaven and hell, but many bury the dead with objects to help them in the afterlife. Baptized children are believed to go straight to heaven and become angels. On 2 November (the Day of the Dead) and on Holy Thursday, families carry offerings of wreaths, food, and drink to the cemetery. Food is shared with relatives and friends, given to beggars who say prayers for the dead, and left on graves because of the belief that the souls of the dead return for twenty-four hours and must be propitiated.