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The Ecuador Chronicles - 2010-04
 
Religious Symbolism in Ecuador;
                     Christian Imagry in a Country Village;
                                   A Closer Look - And Something More
           
Recently Live Well Ecuador associate, Juan, and I made a driving trip from Quito to the Finca of my partner, Mathieu Guillory. The Finca is located about two hours west of Quito at an elevation of just under 5,000 feet.  I enjoy visiting the Finca; it has a mild climate, warmer than Quito during the day, but still comfortable at night.  And not too many bugs.  Matt is turning what began as a very rustic encampment into a place of comfort and beauty.
 
As you travel down the Andes toward the Finca you pass through areas of agriculture and protected forest, and rural villages.
 

Ecuador Countryside - Driving Down the Andes
 

Protected Forest
 

A village in the Distance
 
As we drove further into the campo toward the Finca we passed through the village of Gualea, which is very near Tulipe, the ancient ceremonial center of the Yumbo Sun Culture.  The Yumbo were an important pre-Inca culture that persisted even after the Inca conquest of Ecuador.
 
We were traveling just after Christmas; in a small park at the village center there was a fascinating manger scene on display.  The traditional manger scene was of life sized earthen statuary.  Any Christian would recognize this - touching in its simplicity.  But in the background there was something more - a sun symbol.  Then viewed from a distance you see a totem of additional symbolism.  There is a huge set of pan pipes - a pre-Columbian musical instrument - and then a large head under a roof at the top.
 

A Simple, Yet Touching Manger Scene - and More
 

A Large Totem - a Mix of Christian and  Pre-Columbian Symbolism
 

A View from the Other Side
 
The hidden Anthropologist within me was certainly awakened by all of this.  That afternoon at the Finca I asked Matt about what I had seen in Gualea.  Matt has lived in Ecuador for more than eight years - he has a unique insight into Ecuadorian life and culture.  Matt explained that when the Spanish conquered Latin America one of their important goals was to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism.  The Catholic church was very adept at taking symbolic aspects of indigenous religion and relating this to Christianity; this gave the new converts a sense of continuity from the old religion to the new - a feeling of comfort in their new religion.
 
Matt made some interesting points.  I can see that it all worked quite well - this process has brought millions of people to Christianity.  The amazing thing to me is that this cultural / religious mixture persists even in 2010 - five hundred years after the Spanish Conquest - in a small Ecuadorian village.  It is easy for a non-Catholic to think of Catholicism as tradtion bound and conservative - and this is true for certain dogmatic issues; the Church certainly views some things as unchanging - eternal to humanity.  But it is not that simple - Catholicism is also very tolerant in approaches to Faith, and thereby gains a deep and rich texture around the world.  This is true in North America where Mass is often infused with folk music or even popular music.
 
As we were discussing all of this the sun was just moving toward late afternoon and clouds began to move into the valley from the west - providing a beautiful view of Creation.
 

What a beautiful View of Creation
  
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