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5 Things you Should Know About Carnival in Ecuador

24 Feb 2020

Before starting, there’s something you should know, Ecuadorians get wet during Carnival time! We throw water, party foam, and flour on each other, but we don’t know exactly why. It is believed this wet tradition comes from an ancient water purification ritual made by some Andean communities.

Carnival is a national holiday, so a lot of people go to the beach or travel to see the parades. Carnival festivals from Guaranda and Ambato are the most famous ones. 

Can you imagine Venice Carnival without masks or the Brazilian Carnival without samba? That’s how Ecuadorian Carnival would be like without these 5 essentials.


5 Things you Should Know About Carnival in Ecuador


1. Taita Carnaval

Group of Cañari carnavaleros playing small drums and doing a traditional carnival dance.

Cañari carnavaleros. Source: Internet

“Taita Carnaval” (“Father Carnival” in Kichwa) represents the abundance. He’s specially famous in South and Central Ecuadorian Andes zones.

According to the Cañari people, Taita Carnaval’s spirit comes out from the mountains to visit them at their homes. He brings good fortune and abundance when he’s welcomed, that’s why it’s so important to offer him a great feast.

Taita Carnaval takes a human form. Some men from the community known as “carnavaleros” get dressed as Taita Carnaval. They wear big fringed hats and a “piksha” (bag). They also hold a caja (small drum) and a pingullo (andean flute) to communicate themselves with the spirit of mountains.

Taita Carnaval of Guaranda and an elderly grandma dancing with joy.

Taita Carnaval of Guaranda. Source:  Archivo Medios Públicos EP

At Guaranda’s parades, Taita Carnaval wears a smaller hat and a sash with his name on it (“Taita Carnaval”).

 

2. Coplas

Coplas (couplets) are sung and danced folk poetry. It can be said that coplas are the Guaranda’s Carnival official music.

You can hear coplas everywhere during Carnival time in Guaranda. Coplas can be about toxic in-laws, the food, politicians, musical instruments, and of course also about love.

There are new coplas every Carnival and some of them become very popular.

 

“Cantaremos carnaval. (We will sing Carnaval)

Ya que Dios ha dado vida, (Because God has given us life)

qué bonito es carnaval. (Beautiful Carnaval)

No sea cosa que el otro año, (Because we don’t know)

ya nos toque la partida. (if we’ll be still alive next year)

Qué bonito es carnaval.” (Beautiful Carnaval)

or…

“Al golpe del carnaval, (When Carnival comes around)

todo el mundo se levanta, (everybody gets up)

todo el mundo se levanta. (everybody gets up)

Qué bonito es carnaval” (How beautiful is Carnaval)

 

3. Lots of Water…

Little girl and boy and their dad spraying party foam on each other.

Source:  Archivo Medios Públicos EP

We splash flour, party foam, eggs, or colored liquids over each other. We also arm ourselves with water balloons or buckets full of water. This is what we called “jugar carnaval” (to play carnival).

Usually we play carnival with our family and friends, but there are some people that target passersby. This is why in some cities and towns it is forbidden to play carnival.

Anyways, you should always be prepared for Carnival time. Use waterproof cameras, keep your car windows closed to avoid getting wet, and have your Carnival survival kit at hand, in which you should include spared clothes in case you need it and a party foam spray to counterattack.


4. Flowers and Fruits

Ecuador is plenty of exotic flowers and fruits and there’s a festival to celebrate it. “Fiesta de la Fruta y de las Flores” (Festival of Fruits and Flowers) is held in Ambato during Carnival time.

Fiesta de la Fruta y de las Flores festival is also a tribute to the will and resilience of the people from Ambato in overcoming a devastating earthquake on 5 august 1949. It’s forbidden “jugar carnaval” at this festival.

Flower-covered float depicting houses and buildings from a traditional neighborhood of Ambato. During Fruits and Flowers Festival.

Carnival time is also the time of harvest. Ambato’s parade floats are decorated with thousands of fruits, flowers, seeds, and vegetables. This craft work begins around December, but flowers are the last item to be attached.


5. Traditional food and Drinks 

No celebration would be complete without food and a “traguito” (booze) to get Carnival party going. “Mote Pata” is the traditional carnival food in Cuenca. “Chigüiles” (corn flour tamales stuffed with cheese), “Rosero” (corn flour and fruits drink), and “Pájaro azul” (sugar cane spirit) are the must-tries in Guaranda.

Pot full of chiguiles.

Chigüiles, traditional food of Guaranda.

“Chicha de jora” (corn beer) and “cuy” are also popular in the Andean region. Cuy is also offered to Taita Carnaval.

Ceviche tastes better on the beach! “Ceviche” is an ecuadorian dish in which fish or seafood is served with the marinating or the cooking juices. “Chifles” (plantain chips), “maíz tostado” (roasted corn), and “canguil” (popcorn) are the best side dishes for ceviche. It is also believed ceviche is good to get rid of hangovers.

Ecuadorian fish and shrimp ceviche served with the cooking juices and an a bowl of plantain chips.

Ceviche and plantain chips

Ecuadorians love soup, even on the beach! Try the shrimp soup and the “encocado” (fish in a creamy coconut sauce) What to drink on the beach for Carnival? Delicious coconut water or a nicely chilled local beer.

There’s so much variety of foods in Ecuador, that we could spend days talking about it. That’s a good reason to celebrate. Carnival has become a celebration of the bounty of this beautiful land. After all, the best way to show gratitude for something, is by enjoying it.