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Day of the Dead in Ecuador

The Day of the Dead is often associated with Calaveras (those wonderfully coloured skulls people love to dress up as for Hallowe’en), Mexico and huge street festivals. But this tradition runs deep in many Latin American cultures as it celebrates and honours those that have passed away. The day of the festival is truly something to behold as each country has a different set of rituals. And we would love for you to see firsthand how Ecuador celebrates.

Day of the Dead Ecuador Origins

The Day of the Dead was first celebrated in Ecuador by an indigenous group known as The Shuars. To honour their ancestors, The Shuars performed rituals that symbolize death and rebirth using the skulls of the dead. To honour the deceased, The Shuar would drink a yellowish and nutritional drink called chicha de chonta and watch over the tombs with their blowpipes in case of an enemy attack.

Sometime later, the Spaniards integrated their Catholic All Saints’ Day which falls on November 1st, with the traditional rituals of the Day of the Dead that fell on November 2nd.

The unity of the two customs can be seen in the small town of Otavalo, where one cemetery is dedicated to people of mixed European ancestry, the mestizos, and another for those with native ties. At the latter cemetery, you’ll find families having picnics and children having fun. In the former, it is a more sombre and formal affair.

Honouring the Dead

Nowadays, the 1st is seen as more of a preparation day. We visit the cemeteries to clean and decorate the tombstones, and we prepare the food for our picnics.

The 2nd is when the real celebrations begin! Large gatherings and picnics take place over the graves of our loved ones that have passed away, and children can be seen playing and running around together. We also take the opportunity to teach the concept of death to our children and try to explain to them that it is nothing to be fearful of and that the life led is to be celebrated, not mourned.

You will also find us having conversations with our deceased, filling them in on all the family gossip. And while it is a truly magnificent scene to behold, it is also an incredibly sacred and personal celebration, so we do request that you ask permission before taking photos of the cemetery during this time.

Outside of the cemeteries, there are lots of events happening that tourists can take part in, such as street carnivals and cultural parades. The local tourism office or your concierge desk will have the full list of activist and lots of recommendations for you.

Customary Foods

A majority of the food we bring to the picnics are dependant on what that family likes to eat; we bring all our favourites, as well as the favourites of our dead. However, there are two items that you will always find.

The first is our guaguas de pan.

Traditionally, in the smaller towns, people will gather together over a communal oven and bake this customary bread, but in larger towns and cities, families will bake it at their home or buy it from a local vendor.

Going back hundreds of years, guaguas de pan stands out because of its elaborate, multi-coloured decoration, size and flavour. It is often shaped as children riding horses, small babies or infinity symbols such as spirals and circles and filled with ingredients such as guava, fig, chocolate and pumpkin.

To accompany the bread is a drink known as colada morada.

It is made by mixing blue corn flour with berries, cinnamon, orange peel, sweet pepper and many other ingredients to create a thick, dessert-like drink and is usually served warm. Depending on the family’s preference, sometimes up to 20 ingredients are used to make this ceremonial drink.

The importance behind colada morada is more than just something to wash down the food. The flour used traditionally comes from the grains of the first harvest of the Ecuadorian Andes. More spiritually, this colada and its ingredients are a fusion of the pagan and the catholic rituals making it an emblematic drink of the Ecuadorian mestizaje.

Experience the Day of the Dead

As mentioned earlier, dia de los muertes or difuntos is a sacred holiday for us, and we do request that you be respectful when you see us in celebration. However, in the weeks leading up to November 2 nd many eateries and street vendors will start to sell the guaguas de pan and colada morada and we absolutely recommend that you give them a try.

Experiencing the Day of the Dead firsthand is definitely one for the bucket list. And being the proud Ecuadorians that we are, we would love for you to experience it with us.

Pictures retrieved from https://www.laylita.com/ and https://kichwahatari.org/2015/10/30/aya-puncha/