Indigenous Calendar January, 2010: A Quichua Prayer is Blowing in the Wind

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Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

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I was in Ecuador visiting indigenous Quichua communities. I'd been traveling for maybe ten days and had visited many small, remote, hard-to-reach villages in the high Andes. Although the journey to these places is long and travel is slow and unpredictable these mountain communities are the best areas in which to see traditional Quichua Andean life.

Among the traditions that I'd seen in these remote mountain communities were Andean music including a traditional festive oratorio performance, cheese-making and dairy farming. I'd even been lucky enough to spend a whole day traveling on horseback with local Quichua farmers as they tended their land and their herds. They'd been surprised by my request to accompany them into the high mountains for the whole day but after seeing my basic horsemanship skills they agreed. It was a day so removed from my own daily life that I can never forget it.

A few days later it was time to travel down to lower altitudes. On my way I stopped in a small town that happened to be hosting its weekly market. Quichua people from surrounding communities had traveled by whatever means they could through the early hours of the morning — even overnight — to sell their goods. On offer was everything from yarn to vegetables and handicrafts to maize to guinea pig — a local delicacy not kept as pets but eaten. Without the stomach for that I wandered around with my camera; marketplaces are always fertile grounds for photography.

I'd taken many "continuity" shots but by late afternoon I was still looking for a picture that would tell a story. Then I saw this merchant who somehow had escaped my attention earlier in the day. I studied her from a distance without my camera at first. There was something about her that told me she was the one who might give me my story photo. I started to take pictures as she conducted her trade but they were yet more continuity shots.

After her first few customers had bought from her and then left I put my camera away disappointed. Then she waited for her next customer. That customer was a long time coming and in her wait she began engaging in a ritual that I didn't understand. I watched intrigued. I finally realized that she was praying and thought it strange that she would pray while conducting her weekly commerce. Finally she took her hand from her head and blew on it. Then I knew that she was the one as I realized that she was offering her prayer to the wind. We'll never know what her prayer was for — perhaps for more customers — but we do know that she believed in it.

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