Yamor Festivities – An Exciting Blend of Traditions

There are many reasons to visit the beautiful city of Otavalo in Ecuador. The surrounding mountains, breath-taking landscapes and temperate weather add to the appeal of the city, which is located north of Quito in the Northern Sierra. Here visitors are sure to gain a true understanding of Ecuadorian people and their culture. Otavalo is well known for the Indigenous handcrafts market, which is held each Saturday, offering myriads of handcrafted items, attracting tourists and visitors by the score. At the beginning of September each year, locals and visitors alike gather to enjoy the Yamor festivities which are held in Otavalo.

The Yamor festivities started 52 years ago when the intercultural peoples of Otavalo blended the celebration of Koya Raymi (the ritual of the moon and the sun as elements of fertility) with Catholic traditions. The Municipality of Otavalo then officially instituted the Yamor festivities. The word “Yamor” refers to a traditional beverage, which is brewed using seven varieties of corn and is unique to this area. This beverage flows freely during the festivities. The indigenous groups of Kichwa Cayambi and Kichwa Otavalo that live in the Otavalo area honour the Andean agricultural cycle and especially corn, which is considered to be a symbol of fertility. Corn is the staple crop grown in the area and has become a central symbol in the cultural and religious festival calendar of Ecuador.

During the Yamor festivities, the Mestizo (from the Spanish word meaning “mixed race”) culture honors Nina Maria, patron virgin of Otavalo, while the indigenous people thank Mother Earth (Allpa mama) for the maize harvest. Festivities include processions, music, dancing in the streets, fancy dress, fireworks displays, cock fighting, mock bull fighting (where the bull is not killed) and the crowning of the Queen of the festival. In one of the popular events, swimmers cross the San Pablo Lake, a distance of four kilometres, in icy cold water. Participants grease their bodies to assist them to withstand the temperature of the water. Wooden cart races and 4×4 races also take place during the Yamor festivities.

Whatever the motivation of individuals for joining in the festivities, these are celebrations where all can join in the fun while enjoying indigenous food and “Chicha del Yamor”, the traditional fermented corn beverage, in what is sure to be a memorable experience.