Juyayay Pachamama! A Community Project by the Women of Angla

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Just like humans, plants also feel, breathe, and communicate. Of course, to hear them, it’s not enough to simply pay attention; one must also connect with them. From this connection comes ancestral medicine, channeled by herbalists and healers since time immemorial and still shared stealthily within indigenous communities today.

‘Here we have hot plants, fresh plants, both male and female,’ explains ROCÍO XXXXXX with an intrinsic mysticism, standing before a small altar with all kinds of herbs collected from her garden to start the ritual. Alongside her sit her fellow members of the Pachamama foundation from the community of Angla, in the parish of San Pablo del Lago in Otavalo.

Angla is one of the oldest communities in Imbabura. If something characterizes its Kichwa Cayambi indigenous population, it’s the respect for the wisdom of their ancestors and for life itself. However, a history of inequality between men and women has always been present. It was in 1996 that a group of 28 women organized to create their project and empower grandmothers and mothers through what they knew best: caring for their lands and their knowledge.

Almost thirty years later, they still receive visitors and tourists with whom they share the joy of living off their land. Today, on the eve of the grand celebration of the Day of the Dead, they invited us to witness and participate in an energy cleansing. Rocío and her companions respectfully ask the taitas Imbabura and San Francisco, and the mamas Cotacachi and Cayambe, to allow them to channel the energy of their plants.

In front of the colorful altar, María Perugachi, who also belongs to Pachamama, picks up a cluster next to the smoke of the palo santo. It contains rue, nettle, marco, and chilca, base ingredients to cleanse the body and soul from head to toe. She explains that this is how the body’s energies are returned to the earth and purified. In addition to the person’s willingness to do it, faith is also needed, she points out.

One by one, the attendees approach María to receive the benefits of the plants. The stones in the center of the place, which, by the way, is a sundial, concentrate the heaviest energies, and the essence of the flowers can protect the patients just like water. The four elements are part of this moment. The wind and fire come together in the smoke of the palo santo, which also seeks protection from the sacred elements.

Flowers like guava, geranium, lavender, and aloe vera are used in the process, each with a special function that the herbalists know perfectly. ‘It all started at home,’ says María, ‘with our grandmothers who instilled in us the respect for this knowledge because we are just a channel to transmit it.’ She says it’s a millennia-old pharmacy that has slowly begun to regain the attention of the youth of Angla.

Now, the Pachamama foundation is dedicated not only to these rituals but also to sharing their way of life in an interpretive museum, their organic market, as well as handicrafts, embroidery, gastronomy, music, and traditional dances that make this an integral experience.

It’s difficult to convey what it feels like after sharing such a special moment with these powerful women. There’s no better way than to conclude by dancing around the altar amid chants, expressions like ‘long live the visitors! Long live the tourists!’ and the sound of the bell ringers (campaneros) carrying a heavy metal structure on their backs while playing the Andean flute (it’s the only role in which men are involved), to whom we respond in unison, ‘Juyayay hosts! Juyayay Pachamama!’

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