Inti Raymi

We arrived on one of the side streets and began walking towards the square (la Plaza Gutiérrez) of a city in Ecuador called Cotacachi, located at the foot of volcano Cotacachi, where we would observe one of the Inti Raymi festivals specifically reserved for children’s participation. As we approached the square, the sounds of the twin flutes, boots stomping in unison, and singing became louder and louder and drew in our group of 13. The words we had read about Inti Raymi, the summer harvest festival, were coming to life before our eyes.

Our professor, Michelle Wibblesman, focuses on the dances of the Inti Raymi in her book, Ritual Encounters, and I want to quote her description as I walk through the experience in photos that I took that day. This would be the first of many opportunities to not only witness but participate in the dances of Inti Raymi, and understanding this is central to understanding the indigenous community and culture of Otavalo:

“Imaginary lines establish precise boundaries among groups, imposing a temporary festival order in the space of the plaza. The sanjuanes (dancers) dominate the street around the central park as they move in a counterclockwise direction around the plaza. Food vendors and game operators set up their stands in the central park. An indigenous public crowds the steps of the church. Local mestizo onlookers view the dancing from the safe distance of second-floor windows and balconies… A few foreign tourists weave cumbersomely around the perimeter of the event, maneuvering their cameras above the crowds…”

I actually read this chapter about the dances of Inti Raymi after we attended this festival in Cotacachi, and I thought Michelle eloquently depicted what we witnessed in Cotacachi on the children’s day of the Inti Raymi, including the awkward tourists watching from the outskirts. Later in this post, I will link videos of more rituals that accompany Inti Raymi. But first, meet Marco! The link below shows him at an Inti Raymi festival in Cotacachi. As we were enjoying the day, we noticed him sitting in the middle of the plaza with his guitar, and he agreed to have a recorded conversation with us. Later he shared more of his story with us, but in this video, he’s talking about Inti Raymi being the largest festival of four. All kinds of people come–indigenous, mestizo, blacks, “tourists like you,” he says. He explains that the point of the festival is to celebrate energy and from where it comes and to be grateful of nature. To recuperate Pacha Mama (Mother Earth)At the end he identifies himself as Kichwa, but he knows Spanish and little English as well.



This photo was taken on the children’s day of the Inti Raymi. Until more recently, the Ecuadorian educational system had not fostered an integration of indigenous traditions, values, and experiences. However, in the the past decade, Ecuador has seen more of a movement which not only tolerates but encourages “los pueblos originarios” to connect with their native heritage. That mentality has trickled into the school systems, who now include the children’s day of the Inti Raymi as one of their major yearly events. One of the photos below shows one of the school groups (boys), on the steps of the church, listening as indigenous leaders in Cotacachi remind them of the day’s importance and encourage them to keep their culture in their hearts and ways of life.



Children design their own costumes for the festival, and each group had a cohesive theme. Many groups donned tall, broad-rimmed, stiff cardboard hats that they had made and several dressed up in complete camouflage or goatskin chaps. The indigenous typically never cut their hair (even the boys) as you can see in this photo of the boys on the steps of the church.

Ritual Dances


Something I am not sure I understood until after experiencing it myself, is that these celebrations are among several ongoing “ensemble of rituals” that are connected to the Festival of the Sun. In other words, there isn’t just one day set aside for Inti Raymi celebrations. The Summer Solstice is June 21st,  but the celebrations last for days, and Kichwa word “Inti Raymi” literally means “sun ritual.” It is important to note that this post presents my limited view of Inti Raymi based on the two weeks I spent in Otavalo. Sharing and documenting my interaction with this meaningful cultural experience has helped me to process the required readings, but I am in no way attempting to speak authoratatively on these rituals. It was very clear, however, that the time we spent in Otavalo was,  not by coincidence, in the heart of Inti Raymi, which was significant in gaining an understanding of the Andes. That our group was able to be present for these colorful traditional rituals made real our understanding of the values represented by the indigenous community.

By the way, this post is very much “looking forward into the past,” an Andean “way of knowing” in which I am literally, (in my mindset) looking back on the experience and still having these aha moments. When I was in the Andes, I never knew what to expect, which, I think is what made the experience rich. We were constantly reflecting on the experiences as they happened (looking back). As each new day happened, I’m not sure about my colleagues, but I know that I, personally, was processing everything by attaching meaning and making connections with what I had learned in the lectures, or the readings, or the kichwa songs we were learning, or the ritual cleansings, etc. Everything was connected. Even as I am blogging about rituals associated with Inti Raymi, I find that the Andes view of time and space being cyclical makes a lot of sense – comforting, even! Rather than the future being in front of me, it’s behind me (a very mysterious future that lies behind not ahead).  This should make for some very interesting lesson plans this year. ;

Ritual Thanksgiving

As I mentioned, our group was present for the date of the Summer Solstice, and this timing brought many opportunities for witnessing and even participating in the rituals associated with the festival.

I am going to try and walk you through one experience, known as Pacha Manka, that accompanied our Inti Raymi experience.

The pictures posted below begin with the end result (my plate of food!) and follows in reverse consecutive order to our arrival at San Clemente . We arrived early one morning at a mountainside location which serves as a cultural center as well as lodging for tourists. Our host directed us to gather wood, and one by one we added wood to the huge pile. Before lighting the fire, each of us chose a volcanic rock and offered a wish before placing it as the foundation. I remember that our host explained that we were starting fire with something that had come from the earth. We added logs to make a house honoring the four directions of the compass. We took care of the fire to make sure it continued to burn. A few feet away, there was a mud pit, whose location was significant in relation to the sun. The volcanic coals which we had placed on the fire to burn were later transferred to the put and served as the foundation and source of heat for the harvest. Bananas, pineapples, potatoes, corn, and fava beans were all added to the mix, or what I like to call an Andean crockpot. Corn husks and branches from nearby eucalyptus trees were used as an extra layer to preserve the moisture. We added a moist canvas to the top, and shoveled dirt to seal in the heat. Then, we danced in a circular motion on the surface of the earth (with the harvest underneath) and sang songs along with a live Andean ensemble.  Around 3 hours later, as if a film was rewinding, we shoveled the dirt from the top, removed the canvas, and literally dug the cooked items out of our “crockpot,” one potato at a time. Zach and Aryn practically fell in the pit digging our food out. Wooden trays were set out for serving trays, and an offering of thanksgiving was made. This was a ritual of thanksgiving to Pacha mama (Mother Earth) and Father Fire, and for the food produced by their union.


Our hosts used a stone table known as “pamba mesa,” to serve the meal from the pacha manka. Pamba is kichwa for field and “misa” is table.















Ritual Baths

During Inti Raymi, members of the indigenous communities go to local springs, rivers and waterfalls to undergo ritual spiritual purification, which they believe results in a renewal of energy and a strengthening of their relationship with Mother Nature. In Otavalo, this ritual takes place at midnight in the nearby waterfall that is considered to be sacred. Our group had the opportunity, on June 21st, to encounter this ritual at a site in the foothills of Mama Cotacachi. Some members of our group participated in the ritual (including me) and received a blessing from the shaman, who, in Andean indigenous cultures, acts as an intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds. In western culture I would compare this to a priest, but I’ve gleaned from this experience to find meaning in the moment without making direct comparisons to what I understand in my own culture. Evidence of religious syncretism is prevalent in the Andes indigenous cultures because of the influence of Spanish religion and culture brought to the region in the 1500s. I was surprised to that I actually understood the language used during the blessing (en el nombre de padre, del hijo, y espiritu santo) and prayers. In participating in any rituals in Ecuador, I found myself clinging to what meaning I could grasp, and I appreciated this connection to words I knew and understood in these moments. Listed below are a few of the elements of the ritual cleansing that added to this sensory and memorable experience:

  • Frigid waters (this is the Andes, after all!) – Recipients of the blessing stood in the waters, and the shaman doused each of them one by one with water from the sacred waters (from head to toe!)
  • Stinging Nettle (used for a means of chasing out negative energy) – The shaman brushed the literal “stinging” plant across the arms  of each person ( I actually got a rash afterwards, but it went away the next day).
  •  “Florida” water (liquid of flower petals and bitters)  – The shaman sips and then “annoints” or blows it on you before he gives you a blessing.
  • Palo santo smoke – In Spanish, the name literally means, “holy wood.” I’ll admit, when I was breathing in the incense from this, I didn’t know the Spanish word, but I love the translation. When participating in indigenous rituals in which the language is unfamiliar, the more sensory the experience, the better! The pleasant, fresh smoke completed the cleansing routine as members stepped out of the cool sacred waters.
  • Offerings for Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). Fruits breads and flower  petals covered a blanket, and prayers were offered in thanksgiving as a closing to this cleansing ritual.
  • People communing with one another and with nature. For me this aspect is an important one to mention in describing this experience. People were joining together in this place for the common good and for the same purpose. They were chatting and laughing and taking care of one another (and their pets). One of our group members sat down and conversed (in Spanish) with one of the indigenous community members and was so distracted she didn’t even know half of us had participated in the ritual cleansing. It was casual, yet sacred, and all of us could feel the gratitude expressed as one whole.


Andean Music: ¿Que significa ser músico?

I mentioned in my last post how I have depended on my senses to find meaning and understanding here in Otavalo. In other words, there is more to an experience than knowing exactly what everyone is saying with spoken language. In certain defining moments, with the right perspective, I have been able to, perhaps, experience something significant through various multi-sensory connections with the culture. As we round out our time in Otavalo (4 more days here!), I look back and realize that, like Andean culture, our itinerary here has been very fluid. For example, when we arrived at the Center, or Museo Viviente in Otavalo, on June 18th, we were welcomed with a evening of traditional Andean music. Within the next couple of days, we were not only learning the language of Kichwa, but we were learning how to create instruments native to indigenous ceremonies and sing songs in Kichwa. As I reflect on the past 10 days (days about which have yet to be blogged), I have been exposed to the value the music plays in defining, describing, and characterizing Andean tradition. It has been an ever-present source of engagement and increased participation in this culture for me personally, and by ever- present, I mean, the experiences here (including language learning) can usually, if not always be tied to the musical expression.

In this post, I am linking several samples of traditional Andean music as well as a glimpse into a few of our music workshops. As they say, music is a universal language, and the workshops where we have made our own instruments and then learned to play them have been some of my favorites! This first link shows one of the first chances we had to practice on our newly-designed

This bulleted list is what I have picked up on so far what I have heard, seen, read, and experienced throughout some of the workshops and festivals we’ve attended.

  • Music is a means for the indigenous to continue moving forward while still maintaining their roots.
  • Kichwa (language) can contribute to that movement when combined with music, but the experience of music isn’t about an exact translation. Experiencing the culture through music is a feeling, a sensation.
  • Many indigenous people learn to play by ear and pass the music down like oral history. The music, as it is passed down is new each time (not repeated). This corresponds with the way of life of the Andeans as well.
  • Several instruments and rhythms characterize the ceremonial Andean music which we have been exposed to in our short time here. The sounds include, but are not limited to: charango (a small guitar), pan pipes (click here to view one of our pan pipe lessons), melodía (I’m not sure of the kichwa word for this, but think of it like a combination keyboard/flute), Bolivian tarkas (wooden festival flutes), chakchas (goat’s hooves), quenas (recorder-like flute), bombo (Andean bass drum) and more!


In this photo, we found ourselves processing into one of the festivities. It looks like this man has a bandolin strapped to his back, along with a couple other instruments that he is playing. For this particular celebration, most of the instruments we heard were guitars/charangos and even violins!


During our first week, we learned how to play a panpipe and how to sing “Shuk Cuiquita,” and Andean song about an earthworm. Ana Cachimel, of Yarina, has been an amazing hostess this past week in Otavalo! Click the link below to listen to this lesson.

Very “Guitar-Hero” like instructions of how to play our first song on our pan pipes.



Our interaction with Andean music came full circle when we attended a concert of intercultural music- an ensemble of children, mestizo and indigenous alike, of the community of Otavalo at Museo Viviente Otavalango.

We attempted to learn this song on our pallas (pan pipes). If you look closely, you can see our music teacher, Ati, in the back playing in the orchestra!


I will post about Inti Raymi another day, but the link below represents a glimpse into these festivals, which are ongoing. They are allowing us to experience the unique heritage and identity of the musical traditions and rituals of the Andes.

Spanish, Kichwa, and finding my way as a language learner in Ecuador


We arrived at the cultural center for our first day of Kichwa lessons, but before getting started, Renee gave us a tour of the site, which is also the historic location of a textile factory (Vieja Fábrica de Cobijas) that has been transformed into a living museum (el Museo Viviente Otavalango). Renee has a deep connection to this place not only because of his native Kichwa roots, but also because he worked in the factory as a 14 year old. He shared his experiences with us and gave us more insight into the oppression of the indigenous people in this region.


This Cultural center strives to protect, recuperate, and maintain Kichwa heritage and practices through dance, music and language lessons, in addition to hosting important cultural events. During our tour, we were exposed to many Kichwa materials and cultural practices, artesan work such as weaving and embroidery.


Mama Luzmila
This is Mama Luzmila, who will be our Kichwa language instructor for the next few days. She has a wealth of knowledge of this site as well as the Kichwa language and culture.
This is a view from one of the buildings at the Living Museum. I love how everywhere I look in Otavalo, I see the Andes!

I wanted to clarify that the language barrier for me on this study program is steep. Although Kichwa is the language focus in order to identify with the culture of the region, the language that is spoken for our sessions and informational tours is Spanish. My Spanish is basic (at best), which helps me understand some words and phrases here and there, but the meaning of the context is vague.  For example, I may understand a few words in a sentence, like importante (important) and dice que (says that), but often I’m unable to understand the full context.

All this to say, I am finding myself each day using coping mechanisms to try to gain as much understanding as possible (panicking is included in one of these coping mechanisms. Also, tears). After nearly an entire day of receiving instruction in Spanish, we pressed on to yet another situation where I found myself relying on my colleagues to translate. Our language teacher, Mama Luzmila was giving us a tour of the living museum, and I started thinking about my English Language Learners. I wondered if this was how they felt in situations like this – when they are receiving instruction in a language that is unfamiliar to them. After discovering that panicking wouldn’t accomplish anything, my mind was scrounging for meaning. I had been in the living museum for a few minutes reading my friend’s translated-to-English-notes when I decided to try and interpret the experience without direct translation. I still couldn’t understand what Mama Luzmila was saying, but she was using realia (objects from real life used in classroom instruction by educators to improve students’ understanding of other cultures and real life situations).


I discovered that not only was she standing in the midst of artifacts, Kichwa materials, and traditional Andean clothing, but also, there were charts labeling everything. How many times have I learned that our English Language Learners need realia, images, and vocabulary word walls to find meaning? For the first time, I identified as a student in a classroom setting who needed these supports.

Traditional Festival Costumes
Traditional festival costumes. Might be worn for the Inti Raymi (Quechua for “sun festival”), a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire.
Indigenous Andean people are known for the intricate details in their woven textiles. This traditional poncho took 3 months to weave.
Mariel and a woman In the weaving room of the living museum. See video linked below to watch the process.



This patchwork quilt draped one entire wall of this huge warehouse-sized building, and represents the voices of the indigenous women in this community. This massive quilt was a powerful message because the indigenous women’s rights have been stifled in the past, but they are rising from years of oppression and abuses. One of the buildings at the the cultural center was historically used as a place for work, but now is used for hosting important cultural events and gatherings.


Perhaps the best part of the day, as a language learner, was participating in a few traditional Kichwa games.  My friend Becky’s blog post highlights these games really well and even provides instructions of how to play them. in the same building where this quilt was hanging. She did such a good job describing those, I decided just to link hers! Again, I identified with my English Language Learners because I found the most meaning in participatory activities where we were learning by playing and doing and using our senses.


Arriving in Otavalo

I will use the words of our professor, Dr. Michelle Wibblesman in her book Ritual Encounters, to describe our “home” for the next couple of weeks.

“Imagine a place nestled in the dramatic landscape of the Andes, where technology intersect with religion and myth, where an international highway cuts across pastoral landscapes connecting rural agricultural laborers to global communities and metropolitan centers, where the indigenous people of the area use systems of local barter and trade just as expertly as they participate in worldwide market trends. This place is Otavalo, a culturally and geographically unique area in northern Ecuador…”

Otavalo is home to Quichua (or Kichwa) -speaking highland indigenous people known as Otavalenos. Otavalenos are among Ecuador’s most traditional people in the sense that they dress in their native clothes, speak the indigenous language , and practice the cultural and ritual traditions of the past.

Our first encounter with the people of Otavalo was a pleasant surprise! We were greeted by Ana, who works for the center where most of our language study in Ecuador will take place. Our “Welcome Peña” opened with performances by local musicians who played traditional Andean tunes, using instruments local to this region. We were then introduced to an internationally renowned group called Yarina, who wowed us with their melodies and musical talents. The group is made up of 11 siblings, and their mission is to transmit their culture, promote pride in their Kichwa heritage, especially among the young people of the Otavalan community, and participate in meaningful cultural exhcange through sharing traditional music with Kichwa lyrics.  Click here for a glimpse of the sounds of this amazing ensemble!

I can not think of a better way to become hooked on the indigenous culture here. IMG_2665


Quito: Mitad del Mundo

I’m thinking the best way to capture this day is through sharing highlights through the pictures I took on this, our first day in the capital of Ecuador.

A view of Panecillo from the Basilica of the National Vow
This photo is taken from “The Basilica of the National Vow,” which is a Roman Catholic church. It is located in the historic center of Quito, Ecuador and is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. The building is noted for its grotesques in the form of native Ecuadorian animals such as armadillos, iguana, and Galapagos tortoises. Visitors are able to climb to the top of the towers (which we did!) From the highest point of the main tower, one can see the city and the surrounding mountains.
View from Panecillo
Our first stop in Quito was at this famous hilltop: El Panecillo is a 200-metre-high hill of volcanic-origin. Its peak is at an elevation of 3,016 meters above sea level and can be seen from almost everywhere in Colonial Quito. See the Basicala in the background? I took a photo from tower of that basilica (shown above). Since we only had one day in Quito, seeing it from these viewpoints was magnificent!

From El Panecillo, we made our way to an adorable street where we toured a cacao factory. The collage above highlights our visit there, as well as a traditional toy shop, which was just a few steps away on the same street in Colonial Quito. We learned that 95 percent of the chocolate in Ecuador is exported and we even learned how chocolate is made in varying degrees of “dark.” Although we tasted 100% dark chocolate, I relied on the expertise of our tour guide, Andres, who informed me that 70% is his favorite. I stocked up on 70 percent chocolate bars for souvenirs, but my souvenier supply has dwindled (or as some might say, “burned a hole” in my backpack.) Sorry kids! I figured since I am in Ecuador, I could just buy some more!



The Group
The group at Chez Tiff Artesenal – muy contento after tasting chocolate

After the chocolate factory and the toy shop, we toured a monastery for the Franciscan order, who were the first of the Spanish conquistadors to invade the city. 33 monks live in this monastery today, and there is also a baroque cathedral there, where we quietly observed an ongoing mass from the choir loft. Pretty cool!


Our last stop of the day was the former home of an Ecuadorian artist, Oswaldo Guayasamín. His home houses a collection of his own work as well as other artists by whom he was inspired. At this site, we also visited La Capilla Del Hombre, (the Chapel of Man) which contained not only more of Guayasamín’s collection, but also presented his vision for giving a voice to the plight of the indigenous. We watched a fascinating documentary in which we learned that 70 million indigenous people in South America were killed. of the struggles the indigenous people in history have faced. This was a sobering yet impactful way to end our first day in Ecuador as the focus of our experience is on the indigenous people in the region.


We packed up the next day, and on the way to Otavalo, found ourselves on the literal equator! As you can imagine, this is quite a “touristy” spot. Of course, we weren’t the only group who wanted to experience what it is like having a foot in each hemisphere! Our amazing tour guide created an enriching experience for us, and using the exhibits set up in this location, he enlightened us on certain aspects of the indigenous culture (ancient burial ceremonies and indigenous rituals).

Here’s Greg and me –  standing on the literal center of the world! Greg’s from Texas, and I’m from Arkansas. We are the only two teachers in our group who aren’t fluent Spanish speakers, a not-so-fun bond to have when in South America, but a bond none-the-less. Greg is a geography teacher and always knows “where” he is, so Spanish or no Spanish, he’s a good guy to have around.

Here’s another new friend: Becky! She’s teaches in Columbus and got her Masters at The Ohio State University. She kindly offered to host me for our pre-departure orientation in Columbus (me! a total stranger!). She knows all kinds of things, like how to pack light and eat right. Along with her linguistic abilities, she likes to take pics as much as me, so she’s good to have around!

Before GPS determined the exact latitude, a monument was built representing the location of the equator. We visited this spot as well and took a group photo (see below). I also joined my professor and our tour guide for corn and queso (it’s a thing). We topped it off with some helado (passion fruit-yum!) before boarding the bus for Otavalo. It’s truly amazing what you can do in a 15 minute stop at the equator.

The Ohio State University: Pre-Departure 

This is the post excerpt.

Buenos Días and bienvenidos to my blog! A little background into this story is: the Center for Latin American Studies at The Ohio State University announced its one-month seminar project, “Teaching the Andes,” in Otavalo, Ecuador and Cusco, Peru, and the word “Ecuador” had me at hola. I applied and was accepted to participate in this amazing program, along with 11 other educators from various disciplines. The purpose of the program is to promote and spread knowledge of the Andes by providing opportunities for K-12 educators to experience firsthand the history, politics, language, and culture of the Andes. In addition, as a participants in the program, we will be gaining a cultural competency in Quechua, the most spoken indigenous language in the Americas. The goal is that we will accurately and effectively bring the Andes into the classroom through standards-based approaches. Along with studying the language of the Andes, we will be participating in a wide variety of activities that explore the history, politics, and culture of the region.

Needless to say, I am super excited about this opportunity! Not only will this benefit my students exponentially in ways that will come up later in this blog, it will also be a refreshing time for me professionally and personally. I’ve already met and spent the past few days at The Ohio State for pre-departure orientation with 11 other teachers from around the nation and our fearless profesora, Dr. Michelle Wibbelsman.

​​​Here are some photos and highlights from our pre-departure orientation so far! Nos vemos más tarde.

Fulbright k12 and Más Allá workshop
Happening at the same time as pre-departure orientation – a summer music camp hosted by the Center for Latin American studies. This coincidence accompanied our orientation at OSU well because the students in the music camp were learning native songs in Quechua. Here we are with our pan flutes and drums – ready to roll. By the way, check out the video to listen to the talent of these high school students! To see some amateurs (“Fulbrighters”- us) their first time playing some musical instruments, click here.


An Introduction to Peru
Megan Hasting is Assistant Director for the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) at The Ohio State University. She is the manager of the “Teaching the Andes” project and has been in contact with participants from the beginning of the application process. In this photo, she is introducing a brief summary of the history of Peru and Inca Empire.

This picture shows a little Quechua/Kichwa 101 before sending us off to the Andes. Kichwa is the native language of Ecuador and Quechua is the indigenous language in Peru. We will be learning both!

Quechua vs. Kichwa
Dr. Terrell Morgan is Professor of Hispanic Linguistics and Director of CLAS at Ohio State. As founder and director of Ohio State’s annual Summer Seminars Abroad for Spanish Teachers (SSAST), he established SSAST to introduce educators to both Hispanic linguistics and less-commonly taught languages in immersion contexts. Academically, Dr. Morgan is a phonologist and dialectologist interested in documenting linguistic diversity and finding new ways to put students, teachers, and fellow researchers in touch with the intimate details of the sounds and structures of Latin American languages.