Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Chicha, the milenial drink, and the ritual in the Ecuadorian Amazon

In the Amazonian rainforest’s remote areas, the tradition of drinking chicha has survived and it is part of the daily diet of Kichwas.

For breakfast, lunch, dinner or whenever one feels thirsty or hungry, aswa, as it is called in Kichwa, is an essential part of alimentation and culture.

Rich in nutriments and thanks to its satiating properties, the fermented drink stands as a good alimentary complement or can be the only food when there is nothing to eat at home.

In the Amazon the popular chichas, aswa, are made from chonta palm's fruits or yuca, or cassava root.

Though the regular chicha, which results from a quick fermentation process, is weak in alcohol and consumed on a daily basis, but the Kichwas also make a stronger version of the drink.

Mostly dedicated to celebrations, the stronger chicha is the favorite beverage when it comes to partying.

The main festivities of the community, when chicha flows the most, are weddings, baptisms, festivities and mingas – community work aimed at improving the village infrastructures such as the cleaning of public places.

Harvesting the yuca

The ritual of preparing chicha is largely the women’s business.

It all starts in the chakra, the rainforest garden plantation of Amazonic Kichwas.

All the female members of the family, with their babies comfortably nestled in a special piece of cloth at their back or in front of them, join in harvesting the yucca (or manioc).

While the women are extracting the roots from the ground, the children help their mothers and sisters, play around or sleep in hammocks hanging between two trees.

To collect the roots, the women can use a simple wood stick or the useful machete, they can also simply pull out the whole plant.
Then they separate the root from the trunk of the plant and gathered it in a palm baskets or chikras, knitted bags.

To take the yuca home they lift the completely full baskets and arrange their handles on their foreheads so that they can walk home easily.

On their way, they will stop by a nearby river to clean the roots.

Back in the open kitchen, the women put the staple on the fire to boil in a big pot of water covered with banana leaves.

Cooking time mostly depends on the quality of the fire but it usually takes approximately twenty to thirty minutes.

While the yuca is boiling, a small wooden canoe called batan is gently cleaned.

Once ready, the steaming roots are poured into the canoe and smashed with a big wooden pestle, to obtain an homogeneous paste.

Then, the essential work can be initiated.

The ritual of chicha

The women put a small ball of the warm preparation in the mouth, chew it for about five minutes and spit it back in the canoe.

This process is to be repeated until the whole paste becomes smooth and mushy.

It is when the fermentation comes into action thanks to the enzymes present in the saliva that break down the root starch, turning it into alcohol.

In a couple of days, a weak chicha, the aswa, is obtained.

The longer the preparation is left, the stronger the beverage will be.

To finalize the making process, a handful of pulp is mixed with a bit of water to liquefy the chicha.

The result is an unctuous milky beverage with yoghurt flavor.

And every visitor will be welcomed with a pilche of chicha.

Serving of chicha

To serve the chicha women take it from the batan with their coconut pilches and offer the drink to the guest of family members.

According to Amazonic Kichwa tradition, only women’s hands can touch chicha while preparing or serving it.

They move in lines from one person to another.

Offering the pilche and waiting for the person to finish the drink so they can go and get more of the drink.

Only when everyone has had their share, a cup or few, of chicha, can the eating start.

What is chicha?

In South and Central America, chicha is a fermented or non-fermented beverage usually derived from maize.

Chicha includes corn beer known as chicha de jora and non-alcoholic beverages.

Also different kinds of chichas can be made from manioc root (also called yuca or cassava), grape, apple or various other fruits.

A very popular chicha in the Amazon is made from chonta,or chonta palm’s fruits, and it is actually a palm beer.

The chicha dates back to thousands of years.

It has always been considered a sacred beverage, a symbol of fertility and celebrates the richness of the Pacha Mama (Mother Nature).

According to some sources, the word chicha came from the expression “chichabh co-pah”, which means beverage made from corn in the cuna language, a dialect from Panama.

For centuries, chicha, a fermented beverage made from cereals, fruits or roots, has been taken by various indigenous tribes in many parts of South America.

All over the Ecuadorian Amazonian rainforest, the Kichwa communities have been using fermented yuca roots – also called manioc.

In these areas, the traditional beverage is an intrinsic part of their culture.

Today, the drink remains synonymous with sharing and is offered to welcome visitors.


  1. This is so interesting. I really enjoyed the history! Someday I hope to be able to try Chicha. Thanks for sharing with Share Your Cup.

  2. I've read about chicha in several books but I have never seen such a detailed description of the process of making it. Thanks for sharing at Booknificent Thursday.

  3. Joanna Sormunen thanks for share this post on Kichwa. As I know these peoples are live near Galapagos and my friend was enjoyed this drink when he was there with his girl friend. He was also enjoyed their wildlife under a touring guide that he got from their local tour service providers as