Salasaca - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Traditionally, Salasaca saw the sun, Inti-yaya, as their father, who gives them life. The moon, Quilla-mama, was the mother. Wild and domestic animals and the surrounding mountains played an important part in their conception of the universe. In the early 1940s a Catholic priest lived among the Salasaca for several years. Shortly afterward Madres Lauritas established themselves in the community and built a school and a convent. At about the same time the evangelical Christian and Missionary Alliance built a church on the opposite side of the road. Today Salasaca traditional beliefs are synchronized with Catholicism, whereas the Evangelical church has only a few followers.

Religious Practitioners. Apart from the Catholic priest, the alcaldes are regarded as religious leaders. The curador (curer) and the brujo also deal with the supernatural world. The favors of good spirits can be obtained by paying for a mass, by lighting candles, or by sprinkling blessed water in sacred locations. Evil spirits dwell in black animals and in looms. A particularly dangerous spirit, Koko, inhabits large ovens, large trees, stones, deserted houses, and rabbit holes (uticos). Protection against evil spirits is obtained by keeping blessed water and onions on the patio.

Ceremonies. Apart from boda, rites de passage that mainly concern the family (for example, baptism, first haircut, first trousers, marriage, and burial), the Salasaca practice a cycle of twelve major religious fiestas that involve a greater number of people than are involved in the boda. Half of these fiestas are sponsored by the alcaldes and the other half by ordinary men who, through sponsorship, gain social status and prestige. The most important ceremony of all, which concerns every Salasaca, is the aya caray on All Souls' Day, when food and drink is symbolically shared with dead family members.

Arts. Ideas are artistically expressed in, for example, the embroideries on men's trousers and in the patterns on woven belts. Designs depict important animals and constellations of stars in the mythology. In this way, beliefs are exhibited on everyday clothes and ceremonial dresses. Traditional dances and instruments, like the bocina , which is made from a bull's horn, and cupuli leaves are important in all ceremonies. Contemporary national music is increasingly appreciated, however. Lullabies are sung to children. Several folklore groups have been formed to perform music, dance, and drama.

Medicine. Diseases are thought to be transmitted by evil spirits. The curador uses a wide variety of medical plants and often resorts to the purification rite using a guinea pig. Knowledge of herbal medicine is impressive, and such remedies are often effective. The Salasaca fear hospitals and rarely go to them. There is a government-sponsored medical post in the center of the parish.

Death and Afterlife. The cosmos is divided into three spheres: pamba, which is life on earth; hauapacha, which is the place where Jesus lives with the good spirits; and hukupacha, where demons, the evil spirits, and a dwarflife being called pipon, dwell. Burial is regarded as the most important ritual in the life cycle. After death, a person goes first to hauapacha, where Jesus will decide if he or she is allowed to stay or should continue to hukupacha and stay there forever. If the person is unfortunate, he or she has to pass Mama Abuela, the Tungurahua volcano, where he or she has to eat a meal of black beetles before proceeding to hukupacha.

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