Collection Description

Culture Name

Otavalo Quichua

Culture Description

The Otavalo Quichua are the Quichua-speaking people traditionally settled within the cantons of Otavalo and Cotacachi, Imabura province, Ecuador. An economy based on subsistence agriculture and external trade since prehistory, and on industrial-scale weaving during the colonial period (revived by worldwide wool shortages during World War II) has in recent decades, through the combination of trade and textiles, stimulated a diaspora of Otavalo Quichua to urban areas both within Ecuador and internationally. A fundamentally egalitarian society of small landholders is becoming divided along class lines not only by occupation (i.e. subsistence farmers versus textile producers and merchants) but increasingly according to wealth. Nevertheless, the persistent cultural identity most prominently asserted by the distinctive native costume, is continuously reinforced and renegotiated through a virtually nonstop cycle of festival events ranging from the spiritual to the secular that has a centripetal effect of global reach thanks to modern means of rapid communication and travel.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


South America --Central Andes



OWC Code


Number of Documents


Note: Select the Collection Documents tab above to browse documents.

Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The SD16 Otavalo Quichua collection documents focus upon a time span from 1940 to 2001, but include significant historical information extending to the late pre-Inca period (ca. AD 1250). Although the Otavalo may now be encountered in major urban areas worldwide, this collection concentrates on core area in Imbabura province, Ecuador (cantons of Otavalo and Cotacachi); in particular, the towns of Peguche, Ilumán and Cotacachi. Parsons (1945, no. 1) is the classic ethnography, providing basic description of material culture, close observation of family life, participant observation in divination, a full chapter of folklore, and good descriptions of the annual round of religious festivals. Wibbelsman’s (2004, no. 3) doctoral dissertation focuses almost exclusively on the ritual/festival cycle, while considering its cosmological underpinnings and role in (re)constituting and revivifying and communities ever more engaged with, and living throughout, Ecuador and the world. Solomon (1981, no. 2) details the politico-economic history behind a uniquely successful ethos and means of cultural survival and promotion.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Leon G. Doyon

alcalde – as mayor - use "TOWNS (632)" or "CITIES (633)"; as community religious/festival leader - use "CONGREGATIONS (794)"

ayllu – as community structure - use "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"; as kinship distinction - use "KINDREDS AND RAMAGES (612)" or "MOIETIES (616)"

canton- use "DISTRICTS (634)"

chakana [quincunx or cosmic intersection] - use "COSMOLOGY (772)"

chicha [native beer] - use "ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES (273)"

compadre, compadrazgo [godparent, godparent relationship] - use "ARTIFICIAL KIN RELATIONSHIPS (608)"

hacienda – as property system - use "REAL PROPERTY (423)"; as system of labor obligation - use "LABOR RELATIONS (466)"; as class and labor system, historically - use "SERFDOM AND PEONAGE (566)"

hanan, uray – see ayllu

minga - use "MUTUAL AID (476)"

padrinos – see compadrazgo

parcialidad - use "TOWNS (632)"

parroquia [parish/township] - use "TOWNS (632)"

prioste [saint’s and saint’s festival steward/sponsor] - use "CONGREGATIONS (794)"

rezador/rezadora, maytro rezador [prayer-maker, master prayer-maker] - use "CONGREGATIONS (794)"

teniente politico [political head of a parish] - use "LOCAL OFFICIALS (624)"

toma [literally, "taking" (over)] as a dance - use "DANCE (535)"; as a procession within a religious festival celebration - use "RITUAL (788)"; as a nativist demonstration - use "CULTURAL REVITALIZATION AND ETHNOGENESIS (1710)"

uray, hanan – see ayllu

Wacha Karay [offerings to the orphaned, poor, and/or dead] as charity to the destitute - use "POVERTY (735)" or "DEPENDENCY (736)"; as ritual offering - use "PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES (782)"; as obligation to the dead - use "CULT OF THE DEAD (769)"


Indexing Notes by

Leon G. Doyon

Close Box