Monday, March 10, 2014

Amazonian Kichwa wedding

Special education teachers organized a demonstration of a traditional Amazonian Kichwa wedding.
Amazonic Kichwa women in a mix of traditional and current fashion.

The wedding ceremony is an eclectic mix of original traditions and beliefs.

Added with some new ones brought by Catholics and mestizos, called Colonos by the Kichwas.
(Pretended) Bride-to-be's party. Second on the left, brides godmother. First on the right, the brides father, the bride and her mother.
Kichwas have been losing both their traditions and language.

They feel very worried about the cultural devaluation happening, especially amongst the younger generations.
The drink and the food are very important in a wedding. And they are also very important in a Kichwa wedding. There can be no wedding without traditional chicha (in Spanish) or aswa (in Kichwa). This wedding had lumu aswa, a drink made from cassave.
The traditional marriage ceremony can last for days and is considered the culmination of the Kichwa culture.
Only women can make and serve aswa. This cassave drink is made by chewing the root and spitting it. Afterwards it is mixed with water and left to ferment. Aswa can be sweetened by sugarcane juice but more traditionally sweet potato is mixed in the drink to make it sweeter. Some people add peanuts to give aswa more flavor.
Kichwa women are traditionally very sheltered and before they were even considered a possession, in the worst case scenario.

Teenage girls could not talk with the opposite sex members.
The (pretended) groom's party is getting ready. Wearing traditional blue clothes for a man, the groom's father. Groom's mother is wearing a blue blouse called maki kotona and a trational flowery skirt. Behind them other member's of groom's wedding party.

Even today, it is common in the Kichwa communities, inside the jungle, for a father to force a daughter to marry if he suspects her of having a relationship with someone from the oposite sex.

This relationship can consist of a neigbor seeing the girl talking with a boy from the same village under her house.
Kariparti, or the groom's party getting ready for the wedding. In the white clothe with the hat, groom's godfather. Godfather's function is similar to bestman's. Behind the godfather, wearing pink tunic on his clothes, the groom. Next to him with the drum a Kichwa wedding ceremony master and on the right side with white clothe on her, the groom's godmother's companion.
Like what happened to my friend's fourteen year old cousing.

She was forced to marry a sixteen year old boy from her village.
A female wachiman (wedding helper) serves lumu aswa (fermented yucca drink) to groom's godfather's companion. Both wachiman and godfather's (and mother's) companion are very old and respected functions in a Kichwa wedding. The wachiman's and companions are responsable for helping out with everything that the wedding organizator's need. In Kichwa wedding the godparents both organize and pay for the wedding.
According to my friend she was just talking with the boy because he came to look for her father and he was not at home.

But a neighbor saw her and talking began, and her father felt that his pride was hurt.

So, she had to be wed.
Traditional Kichwa greeting between the the parents-in-law. First a hug from the both sides and then the hand to chest and then to the other chest. This is to show that you'll have peace and treat each other with respect no matter where you'll encouter each other, be it here in this world or beyond, in the other world.
It seems that she was not so unhappy to wed the boy, so maybe there was something going on with the two of them.

But my friend felt very sorry that she had to leave the school at so young age and take responsability of running a household instead.

Two female wachimans with their drinks. The first one in blue blouse is handing out lumu aswa, yucca chicha or fermented drink with peanuts, and the one behind with the pink blouse is handing out vinillu, or alcohol made from banana.
Closer to the cities and towns the traditions have changed.

But people still get married young.
Groom drinks chicha. The hats and the white sheets with crosses came with the Catholic and Spanish influence. Before it was obligatory to wear a hat. In the jungle it was very hard to get, inconvenient and too hot. So it became a wedding accessory together with the white sheet that was used in the baptism since the Catholic priests would not wed you if you had not been baptized and christined in Christian manner first. The godfather and godmother were usually groom's and bride's baptism godparents also. The decorations and colors are very important for Amazonian Kichwas, as you can see in the necklaces, the aswa cup and in the hat's decoration also.
Usually the couple lives for few years together, gets maybe a child or two, and if they are sure.

Then they get married.
The wedding starts officially when the kariparti (groom's party, kari means man and husband in Kichwa) arrives with warmiparti (women's party, warmi means woman in Kichwa) and followed by the ceremony master. The two parties are separated before wedding and have their own traditional duties. Women's duties are to get the party ready and cook for everyone. The men do a more Western style bachelor party with a lot of drinking that traditionally would last almost a whole week. With some advice given to the groom on how to handle his new wife.
My friend, Celia, is an Amazonian Kichwa woman from an indigenous community deep in the jungle in the Orellana province.

Her Kichwa is a little different from the language spoken here in Napo province.
With the groom and his party appear the women carrying chicha and other drinks. Hard drinks are given from a little cup. Chicha cup is a lot bigger and traditionally you need to have many women serving chicha in a row. Less than five in a wedding is a poor wedding and a shamefull one. Eight and up shows that the godparents are prosperous ones and will be taking good care of the couple's finacial future.
Celia's traditions vary also and in many ways the people in her home community have been able to maintain their traditions longer than the Kichwas from Napo.

She invited me to my first Kichwa wedding.
In an Amazonian Kichwa wedding people literally drink buckets full of chicha. Here my father and mother enjoy lumu aswa that the special education teacher's serve them.
Her husband's cousin had asked them to be his godparents.

This was a huge honor but a huge expense also.

Because they had to pay for the wedding, the food, the entertainment, everything.
The chicha bowl or cup needs to be drink until it's empty. Or like one of the teacher's told me when she gave me the cup, until you can only see the peanuts. It is a very bad manner to leave chicha.
She wanted the ceremony to be as authentic as possible.

So her father and brothers hunted and smoked wild animals from the jungle for weeks before the actual party.
The groom's party asks for permission to marry the bride from her mother, father and godmother. Usually it is not very easy to get the concent. The groom needs to promise to work and maintain her wife and children. He also needs to promise to treat her well and not beat her up, at least not without a good reason. Most parents also demand the groom's godparent's promises to control the groom and make sure he treats his new wife well. The bride's mother and godmother also advice the groom on how he is to treat his future wife and what his responsabilities as a married man are. He should not spend too much money on booze and come home instead of spending the nights away drinking with his friends. He should also bring money to home and food to the table and treat his wife with love. The advice is very concrete, the bride's parents and godmother usually know the future son-in-law very well and they also know his week spots. So the whole ordeal can be very shameful for the groom if his weaknesses are aired publicly in a loud voice.
Since Celia's parents live far away and it's hard for them to come to Tena, she wanted me to be there as representation of her family.

It was such an honor to attend the wedding as a family member and be able to be part of the actual ceremony and traditions. 
After the permission is given the bride is brought to the wedding. First comes the groom's mother followed by the bride's mother. The groom's godmother and her companion bring the bride because she now comes to be part of the grooms family and not her family anymore.
It also meant that I had to get a big and expensive gift, because in a Kichwa wedding, gifts need to be big.

The wedding I attended in the jungle started with a Catholic mass where the groom was baptized and christened.
The women surround the bride and start clothing her. She is dressed in a traditional clothing and lot of jewelry. Her hair is combed with oil until it's shiny and wavy. The women also put shoes on her.
Following a traditional party in a jungle setting until the next day.

It was an interesting opportunity to be able to see the ceremony again and very humbling to be explained so thoroughly by the special education teachers.
The bride's hair is decorated with shiny hair pins. This is traditionally done by groom's godmother. Amazonian Kichwa woman's hair is sacred and the only man who can touch it is her husband.
The demonstration and the actual wedding were very similar.

The real wedding was held deep in the jungle but the demonstration was held in Tena where anyone could attend it.
Bride's mother gives her advice while the groom's godmother veils her with a pink veil, matching with the groom's tunic. The moment of the advice was loaded with a lot of feeling and even though many in the audience (and groom's party) found the earthy advice funny, the female Kichwas felt the moment deep in their hearts.
A lot of people came to see it and the audience, mostly Kichwas themselves, enjoyed the cultural jokes immensely.

The bride's mother, Germania, told me that she decided that if she was going to give her daughter away, even if it was pretense, she was going to do it right.

And that she did.
Bride's godmother advices her on how to be a good wife. The ceremony master sings the ceremony in Kichwa simultaneously directing and explaining what is happening to the participants and crowd.
She advised the groom, exhorted him to take care of her daughter and cried and shouted to him in front of all the audience.

When it was time to clothe her daughter and advise her, as is the tradition in Kichwa weddings, she started to cry harder and made everyone else cry also.
After the bride was dressed and covered with veil she joined the groom's godmother and godmother's companion in the dance. The ceremony master beats his drum and sings in a very steady and even way, his voice is repetitive and slow, even hypnotic.
She told her daughter to behave, to be a good wife, to obey her husband, and to make sure his husband and her household never goes without chicha.

Just like her real mother would.
The women and men dance in turns straight ahead and the back. Occationally they change places following the ceremony master's advice. Or the hat's are passed from one group to the other.
When the bride has been clothed, it is the time for the dance.

The ceremony master's voice combines with the drum’s slow and even beat to create a hypnotic rhythm.
The bride's mother and the family join the dance.
The two groups slowly shuffle back and forth.

In a real wedding the dancing can take hours, or even days.

Little by little, by the ceremony master's advice, people are added to the groups.
Groom's godmother and her companion take the bride to the table. The groom is brought by his godfather and his companion.
Bride's mother and godmother join her.

Bride's father and groom's father join the groom's group.

Until the whole wedding assembly is dancing.
Groom's godmother lifts the bride's veil.
When the dancing finally ends, it is time to take the bride and groom to the table.

They are both seated and declared a man and a wife.
Family members's bring their gifts and more advice. Afterwards the new husband and wife thank the people publicly for their advice and gifts.
After this bride's veil is lifted and the guests start to bring their gifts.

The gifts are usually given unwrapped so that everyone can see what this or that person has brought.
A very important, and solemn, moment in the ceremony is when the bride's mother and godmother bring their gifts to the new couple. This is also another opportunity for them to give advice. And if the groom is not exactly mother's choice for her daughter, he will know it.
Like I said before, in an Amazonian Kichwa wedding, the bigger the gift, the better, at least for the giver.

Usually the newlyweds get their house furnished with everything they get in the wedding. 
A mattress is a very necessary and hilarious gift. It brings in the mind what will happen on it. And Kichwa humor is a very earthy one.
When the gifts are given, it is time for the wedding banquet to begin.

The wachimans, or wedding helper cover the floor with banana leaves and the food is then set on them.
Bride's family eating a traditional wedding banquet from the banana leaves.

The bride's family sits around the leaves and eat the food together. 

Bride's mother and father are the most important guests at the wedding and they eat first and the best food in the biggest portions.
This was not a real wedding but even though the food is such an integral part of Kichwa hospitality that we were offered a soup made of smoked fish with banana and yucca.
They are giving away their daughter and groom's family should feel thankful and honored for it.

The other guests get their food after them. 
After the soup we were offered a small plate of "patas uchu" or white cacao with chilipeppers. It was accompanied with banana, catfish and some vegetables. Patas uchu is a very traditional dish in the Amazonia.
When the wedding banquet is over it is time for the real party to begin.

The wedding cake is eaten at five o'clock in the morning, after a whole night of dancing and celebrating. 
Uchu, or different kind of chili peppers, is a very important part of Amazonian cuisine, culture and traditions.


  1. Thanks for showing photos of the wedding and discussing all the different customs and traditions that are part of it. I enjoyed reading this very much.

  2. This was very cool to read and see.. The traditions of them are very different then what we see here in the US.. It is truly amazing that they try and keep to as much tradition as possible.

  3. That is very interesting. I like looking at the photos.

  4. Great photos and thanks for sharing that was neat to see.

  5. Wow, great photos. I love learning different cultures and traditions.

    Michelle F.

  6. A whole different world in Ecuador. The bride does look happy though.

  7. What an amazing thing for the teachers to put on. I would love to witness an authentic ceremony.

  8. I love learning about different cultures! So different than how we make weddings here in the states but simplicity is under rated!

  9. You always have such amazing photos and cultural insights! Thanks for sharing :)

  10. Great Tradition Beautiful Culture!

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  12. I couldn't imagine having to be married to the first boy I'd ever talked to. The food looks good, aside from all the banana. I'm allergic so would I be rude if I was there and they offered it to me but I could not have it?

  13. So many differences. It's interesting to read about them. I think the honor of being a godparent is a huge difference from the way we view it in the US. Are those selected happy to pay for the wedding and all that goes with it in its entirety? Or does it cause a burden? I am just curious. :)

    1. Usually it's both. They are happy and honored, after all you can deny and say that you don't have the money or the means or some other reason. It can cause trouble between the families in some cases, but it is possible. On the other hand, people aren't saving consentious, they are glad to spend the money and take debts and then struggle with them.

  14. That's a very interesting tradition, really nice to learn about other cultures. We've got a lots of traditions when it comes to weddings but all they have in common with the Ecuadorian one are food, drinks and dancing :)

  15. What great traditions and such beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Great Pictures, love the cultural details and the amazing rich traditions!

  17. Its so interesting to see traditions in other cultures. I would have never known and your pictures are beautiful!

  18. Bad manners to not drink all the Chicha - there is so much to eat and drink here!