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    Book Description:

    Once isolated from the modern world in the heights of the Andean mountains, the indigenous communities of Ecuador now send migrants to New York City as readily as they celebrate festivals whose roots reach back to the pre-Columbian past. Fascinated by this blending of old and new and eager to make a record of traditional customs and rituals before they disappear entirely, photographer-journalist Judy Blankenship spent several years in Cañar, Ecuador, photographing the local people in their daily lives and conducting photography workshops to enable them to preserve their own visions of their culture. In this engaging book, Blankenship combines her sensitively observed photographs with an inviting text to tell the story of the most recent year she and her husband Michael spent living and working among the people of Cañar.

    Very much a personal account of a community undergoing change,Cañardocuments such activities as plantings and harvests, religious processions, a traditional wedding, healing ceremonies, a death and funeral, and a home birth with a native midwife. Along the way, Blankenship describes how she and Michael went from being outsiders only warily accepted in the community to becoming neighbors and even godparents to some of the local children. She also explains how outside forces, from Ecuador's failing economy to globalization, are disrupting the traditional lifeways of the Cañari as economic migration virtually empties highland communities of young people. Blankenship's words and photographs create a moving, intimate portrait of a people trying to balance the demands of the twenty-first century with the traditions that have formed their identity for centuries.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79690-4
    Subjects: History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    When chance took me to Cañar for the first time in the early nineties, I could not have imagined that for the next decade my life would be tied to this remote, beautiful spot in the highlands of southern Ecuador. I had come to South America from Costa Rica, where for the previous six years I worked for a Canadian development agency as a documentary photographer and adult educator. I had also met my husband, Michael Jenkins, there. When my last contract ended and it was time to think about making a life together in the United States or Canada,...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Old Friends
    (pp. 7-16)

    We wake very early at the Hostal Irene, the bare-bones hotel where we’ve paid four dollars to spend our first night in Cañar. Our bordello-style bed with its heart-shaped, red-flocked, chrome-scrolled headboard is hard as a rock, with one flimsy blanket and a long, thin, tightly rolled pillow that Michael and I shared. Amazingly, we slept well, but now it’s too chilly to stay in our room. We dress quickly, let ourselves out of the main gate of the hostel (really just a house with a few extra bedrooms upstairs and a communal bathroom), and walk through the quiet streets...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Killa Raymi: Festival of the Moon
    (pp. 17-26)

    It has been another uncomfortable night on the thin mattress at the Hostal Irene. We are still sorting out our things in Cuenca, but now we’re here in Cañar at the invitation of José Miguel to attend the Festival of the Moon, or Killa Raymi, which is to be held later today at the nearby archeological site Los Baños del Inca (the Inca Baths). José Miguel’s music and dance group, Los Chaskis, will be performing, along with other cultural groups from all over the region.

    Michael and I are awake by six and out briskly walking the streets by seven,...

  7. CHAPTER THREE A House in Cañar
    (pp. 27-34)

    Today we are in Cañar to finish negotiating for the house we spotted earlier this week, and I’m surprised at how nervous I feel. I really want this house—it’s on the Paseo de los Cañaris, not far from the storefront where we lived eight years ago and in a perfect location on the edge of town where the roads come in from the country. The concept of renting is still relatively new to Cañar, and I’m amazed that we found a place so easily. After walking by a house without curtains and peering in to see that it was...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Day of the Dead
    (pp. 35-42)

    Today, El Día de los Difuntos, the Day of the Dead, marks the beginning of our new life in Cañar. Michael has hired a truck to haul our things from Cuenca, and early in the morning he and the driver, Octavio, load our bags and boxes from the apartment and then pick up the chairs, tables, benches, stools, food cabinet, mattresses, blankets, dishes, pots, gas hot plate, and filing cabinet we bought yesterday at the open-air market. But the woman who owns the furniture stall is not there to open her storeroom, and according to the vendor in the next...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE La Limpieza
    (pp. 43-50)

    In Cañari culture alimpieza, or ritual cleansing by ayachaj, is considered essential when someone moves into a new house or opens a business, after a death, or when life goes seriously wrong. Robbery, illness, crop failure, a cow’s death, or simply a personal run of bad luck—anything that can be attributed to evil forces (mala energía), bad air (mal aire, the origin of the word malaria), or even a spell cast by an envious neighbor (envidia)—qualifies. Michael and I have never seen alimpieza, but we are honored to have this ritual performed on our house...

  10. CHAPTER SIX A Dinner to Honor the Dead, and Us
    (pp. 51-60)

    Earlier this week, Esthela invited us for dinner on Friday night in an offhand manner that suggested a casual get-together. She said they wanted to welcome us back to Ecuador ascompadres, godparents, and also to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Friday afternoon, I run into José Miguel and he mentions that before the dinner we are expected at the main church on the square for a special mass that Esthela has arranged to honor her and José Miguel’s dead fathers, and their baby son who died some time ago. This is only the second time I have heard...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Meeting
    (pp. 61-68)

    Last week, several Cañari friends, among them José Miguel and his cousin Félix, approached us to request help in organizing a meeting to talk about creating a cultural foundation. It would be a legal entity, they said, dedicated to preserving and promoting indigenous music, dance, clothing, handicrafts, rituals, medicine, and agriculture—all the cultural wealth of Cañar that remains at the turn of the twenty-first century. Our Cañari friends talked to us about this idea years ago, and we are pleased it is still alive. Michael and I agreed to hold the meeting at our house at seven o’clock on...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Greeting the New Year
    (pp. 69-76)

    Our Cañar neighbors are very curious about the two strangers who live in their midst. We deal daily with the owners of the small shops on Paseo de los Cañaris, and the neighbors living around us take careful note of our comings and goings. If they haven’t seen us for a while, they ask politely what we’ve been up to. So, after an unusual absence of ten days over Christmas, Michael and I tell the same story endless times: our friends Sheila and Chris and their two boys visited from Canada, we all went to the coast for the holidays,...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Life in Cañar at Three Months
    (pp. 77-84)

    Three months in Ecuador. Our life on the Paseo de los Cañaris has settled into a comfortable routine, and our trips to Cuenca grow less frequent. “Things are so much moreinterestinghere,” one of us says to the other at least once a day. Still, every week or ten days, we make the two-hour bus ride to the city and spend a day and night in our snug apartment. Michael plays hours of chess at the Cafecito and shops for specialty foods at the SuperMaxi, the only good (i.e. expensive) supermarket in the region. This week his list includes...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Día de San Antonio
    (pp. 85-90)

    One Sunday morning as Michael and I are having coffee, we hear the accordion music in the street that signals a religious or wedding procession. We run to the front patio and see a group of about forty men, women, and children quickly walking by, heading into town. In front, two men carry statues of saints dressed in Cañari ponchos and hats. Men and boys follow with armfuls of flowers, huge unlit candles carried crosswise, and white banners wrapped around poles. Behind them, several women and girls hold smaller statues ofel Niño, the Christ child, seated on tiny chairs....

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN This Camera Pleases Me
    (pp. 91-100)

    After months of planning, my first women’s photography workshop is scheduled to begin on a Friday morning at nine in the first week of March; it will end at noon on Sunday. But when Michael and I get up at six on Friday morning, two women are already standing outside our gate, dressed in indigenous clothing that tells me they are not from Cañar. While Michael makes coffee, I invite them in and ask if they’ve come for the course. Yes, they have, says the one who introduces herself as Tamia. She and her friend, Lola, have traveled all night...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE The New Economy
    (pp. 101-108)

    Our neighbor across the street, a sweet old woman we call Doña Teresa in public and Mother Theresa in private, has been a storekeeper for something like thirty years. She minds her meager stock of candy, soft drinks, matches, rice, flour, and fresh-killed chickens in a tiny space at the front of her house, with a low wooden gate across the doorway to keep out kids and dogs. Customers too, as the store is so small I can stand outside the gate and request a liter of milk.

    “How much?” I ask.

    “Let me see,” Teresa mutters slowly to herself,...

  17. CHAPTER THIRTEEN A Death in Cañar
    (pp. 109-120)

    We first hear the news on the local radio station that broadcasts death notices. A lead-in of the first strains of “Ave María” lets listeners know that sad news is coming and reminds us of the inevitability of death. Juliana Quinde Pichisaca, from the village of Quilloac, has died; her funeral will be on Monday. Michael and I pay little attention, although we know someone named Juliana Quinde. So many people share names here, and the details are in Quichua. But later that evening Esthela drops in, and the announcement is played again. She listens carefully and says this is...

    (pp. 121-132)

    One recent Sunday morning, Michael was on his way to the village of Correucu when he ran into José María, the president of Correucu, wrestling with a huge pig on a rope lead. The pig was squealing in distress, spinning and lunging, hauling José María this way and that as he stopped to chat. He explained that he had just bought the pig at the animal market to help feed the great crowds of people coming to Correucu to celebrate thefiesta de carnaval, or Carnaval.

    Carnaval marks the beginning of Lent on the Catholic calendar and is one of...

  19. CHAPTER FIFTEEN Betrothal, Cañari Style
    (pp. 133-140)

    Michael can’t stop talking about it the next day, or the next, and together we spend hours trying to figure out what really happened on the night of Pablo’s betrothal, orla entrada. Mostly, we speculate about why Michael had been so deeply involved in the engagement ritual of a young man we barely know, although the fact that Pablo is Mama Michi’s second son makes Michael “near” family. But to start from the beginning . . .

    At around nine on a Saturday night, Michael answered a knock on our door and disappeared outside. I was busy with a...

  20. CHAPTER SIXTEEN Life in Cañar at Six Months
    (pp. 141-150)

    We are at the halfway point of our year in Cañar, and on this particular morning the thought of returning to our cozy, centrally heated house in Portland could not be more appealing. Rain beats down in gusts, the temperature inside the house must be in the fifties, and the curtains over our ill-fitting windows flutter with the whistling wind. Dressed in several layers of clothing, I sit at the table in thesalawriting on my laptop, trying out my new wool gloves with the fingertips cut off. Every couple of hours, when I get really chilled, I go...

    (pp. 151-160)

    Antonio comes by the house on a Saturday afternoon with Magdalena and Juanito, a small older man he introduces as a friend of the family. After Michael serves drinks and pleasantries are exchanged, Antonio reveals the reason for the visit. “Are you free to come to a wedding this evening?” he asks solemnly. Magdalena’s younger sister, Beatriz, is marrying Nicolás, a neighbor. The wedding party will be at the church for the six-thirty mass, and afterward we’ll walk to Beatriz’s mother’s house for “algunas copitas,” a few small drinks. The family would be so pleased if I could take some...

  22. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Mama Michi Goes to Canada
    (pp. 161-168)

    When I was last in Cañar three years ago, Mama Michi was training to be a native midwife, apartera, and this year I had planned to document her work tending home births. Once here, however, I discovered that rather than becoming a midwife, Mama Michi is now ayachaj. Her sister Mariana, a community nurse and midwife, explained that Mama Michi found delivering babies too frightening. She was alone with Delfina, her oldest daughter, for a prolonged breech birth during which the baby died and Delfina nearly lost her life. Mama Michi was so traumatized by the experience that...

  23. CHAPTER NINETEEN The Way Things Work
    (pp. 169-174)

    It’s been a terrible week. Thursday, Mama Purificación, sister-in-law of Mama Michi and wife of Taita Shanto, was badly burned by a gas explosion. Her daughter Puri, a woman in her twenties who still lives at home, came to our house to make a desperate call to her Aunt Vicenta in Quito. Her mother was preparing to fix lunch on their old gas range, Puri said, which she had turned on before fumbling with a match. By the time she struck the match, the room had filled with gas, and the explosion blew out the window and burned Mama Purificación’s...

  24. CHAPTER TWENTY A Birth in Cañar
    (pp. 175-186)

    The knock comes on our door early Saturday morning. Mariana has sent a message: María, the young wife of her nephew Fausto, has gone into labor during the night and will be giving birth to her first child sometime today. I should come with my cameras as soon as possible.

    Mariana and I have been trying to document a home birth for months—she wants photos to accompany a paper she’s writing for her native medicine course in Quito, and I’ve been anxious to photograph a traditional birth for my own work. She also wants a videotape to use for...

  25. CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE We Walk the Inca Trail
    (pp. 187-200)

    Our year in Cañar is more than three-quarters gone, and this week we are marking it with a long-planned adventure: a three-day walk along part of the high Inca Trail, the astonishing road system built by the Incas more than five hundred years ago. Our hiking companion is our friend Lynn Hirsch-kind, an anthropologist who has lived in Ecuador for more than twenty years and who we consider expert in all things concerning the Inca Trail in Ecuador (although she would probably demur).

    Lynn has become a mountain climber of late, following the breakup of a long marriage; she recently...

  26. CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO Saying Good-bye
    (pp. 201-209)

    Our second farewell party, on the Sunday night we left Cañar, wasn’t supposed to be a party at all. A week earlier we had been royally feted with an all-day fiesta at Mariana’s house, organized around the slow but complete consumption of a medium-sized pig, starting with chitterlings in the afternoon and ending with an open-air, sit-down dinner in the dark at around nine. Like most Cañari social gatherings, the celebration included drinking, dancing, a fight, tears, and the added novelty of Mariana padlocking her gate to keep us inside until two thirty in the morning, when a hired truck...