One day feeling like Eminem or: How to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Guallupe, Ecuador

(Approximate Reading time: 9 minutes)

Cultures! Customs! Traditions!

Nowhere else can you explore and understand, how different other people are, if you don’t see them live and in action. You also learn a lot about yourself and how different YOU are. In bigger cities and capitals, it might be possible for foreigners and travelers to discover what is all different than the things you know. Especially during festivities, it’s possible to find out more about the differences from what you know from your home.
Read this article to find out how people in Guallupe celebrate New Year’s Eve. Today is the 31st of January and now it’s exactly one month ago.

I had the rare opportunity to celebrate New Year’s Eve in a village in Ecuador. This village is so small, that it’s not even listed on Google Maps and neither known from the people in Quito. Neither is it possible to have a network connection with a mobile phone. For all the ones who are interested in the location: You should watch the following little video or check the screenshot below:
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ccX8CWypR8&w=560&h=315

Guallupe is a very small village right at ‘Rio Mira’ at the border of the provinces of Imbabura and Carchi. There are not more than 150 people living. Some extraordinary traditions around New Year’s Eve happen there every year. These traditions and customs are maintained from the local population.

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The local population of this village and the ones around Guallupe consist of around 70% Blacks, 15% Mulattos and 15% Indians. It was a nice feeling to be so different than the local population. I was the only white person in this area and the only one with beautiful yellow shoes and a big bushy beard. Not enough to be the only one from my ethnicity, I needed to make attention like a clown with my clothing and appearance.

Nevertheless, I felt very well integrated into the community. Apart from curious and amorous glances I didn’t feel harassed. Their food tastes very good and most of all dishes contain chicken meat. What I really liked was, that the families of this community don’t lock their doors during the day and everyone can visit everyone. Neither do they have running TV’s and prefer to have chats outside on their stairs.

But they have some interesting and for a Gringo strange traditions around New Year’s Eve which I would like to describe:

Put a puppet in front of a car
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Very unusual to see something like that. Some car brands – usually the more expensive ones – have a bonnet mascot to level up their exclusivity. Mercedes has a star, Jaguar of course a jaguar and some older Bentleys have a flying B in front of the car. Emily, also called ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’, of Rolls Royce costs up to $200.000, which can be the half of the price.

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All these physical enhancements were made for the optic and to show the prestige of the car. But take a look what some cars and busses in Ecuador do, when it is New Year’s Eve:

You put here a puppet in front of the car. Would you step inside a vehicle like this? Not only superstitious people have a different imagination than luck, when seeing a puppet fixed in front of car. But especially luck should bring this attachment. I thought about several action movies I saw in my life. That made me lucky for a moment. Target reached!

Kids play highwaymen

On 31st of December car drivers ‘have to’ pay an extra toll to use the streets. It happens around this area very often, that children block the streets with a rope to stop car drivers. Usually they are dressed with costumes and masks to stay incognito.

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The kid’s intention is to collect money and to hinder the car on the road. A driver is ‘not allowed’ to continue the ride until paying a little donation to the kids. The level of contribution depends on the generosity driver itself, but it also happened, that some thrifty or annoyed drivers didn’t want to pay anything.

Weird ‘Jump and pull the ring’-game

In the afternoon the local population met in the ample hall of the village to play a traditional game, that is only played on New Year’s Eve. When I heard the rules, I could not understand it. For me it only helped to understand the rules when I was watching the competition myself. And before I explain it as well to all of you, it might be easier to just watch the video.

Both men and women are participating in this competition. Basically, it’s about who collects the most ribbons from a wire. All ribbons are coiled and fixed with a ring on the wire. A participant needs to be running and jumping, otherwise the attempt is voided. But to higher the level of difficulty, they don’t do that with their bare hands. All participants are equipped with a pencil, which makes it in a running and jumping mode more difficult to obtain one of the ribbons.

Winners of ribbons can earn a prize. But I didn’t really understand, what will be awarded for what. Maybe it was about the quantity of the ribbons or who collects the most ribbons in the same colour. Anyway, the participants were very eager to become the ‘Jump and pull the ring-champion’ of 2017.

But without having really strict rules and to define a correct jump and running speed, the door was opened up for a lot of discussions, if an attempt is void or not. The jury itself wasn’t a big help here.

The whole show took more than one and a half hours of time. I thought to be able to capture the whole competition on video, but didn’t expect, that it will take so much time. If you are interested, you can watch the first 15 minutes below:

Sacrificing a puppet and burn it

One ritual was to design a puppet for New Year’s Eve. People do that either themselves or buy them prepared at street vendors. I learned, that it is the tradition to have a complete person dressed in regular clothes, but that as well some vendors try to change that idea and design popular figures made of papier-mâché to get more attention. You can see a few examples on the following pictures:

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At the exact turn of the year, at 00:00:00, it was custom to light the puppet on fire.

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This sacrifice is very common to a lot of cultures and to burn means usually to cleanse something. In this example, it should not clean anything, but bring luck to the family members. It was very rainy this night and the puppet spent the whole evening soaked outside in the rain. That’s why half a bottle of spiritus was needed to start a fire.

This can become a tradition, because all these characters are very popular amongst children. I don’t want to imagine what they are feeling in the moment when their heroes are starting to go up in flames. Are they happy? Do they already feel the luck that it should bring them? A very sad sacrifice and I am not a child anymore. Or am I?

Dancing

People like to dance in South America, so they do in Ecuador. The black population in Guallupe was almost all the time in movement, whilst me was lazy and cozy sitting in my plastic chair. But the longer the evening, the less I couldn’t resist to not take part in the dances. See here in the following videos a few interesting videos about the people of Guallupe and their joy of dancing.

Also a performance from some little girls was given. A very special moment to see young Ecuadorian girls dancing to a South Korean song. Globalization rules!

Dancing with a bottle of beer on the head. Thanks, now I’ve seen everything in my life. Bye!

Another impression of the eager dancers.

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I hope, that I gave a good impression of how the people of the North of Ecuador are different to you. Or how you are different to the people of the North of Ecuador. At the end we are all the same. Regardless if we have yellow shoes and a beard or are black and wear a hat.

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