Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cultural Conservation as a Natural Act

This morning when I woke in the lovely Hostal Residencial Sucre, in Quito, Pichincha, Ecuador, I was pleased to hear from the adjacent Plaza San Francisco live music. I made my way down to the thing to check it out. I listen to a few songs, and then comes the dancing. I soon see colorful costumes and a large mix of people who comprise the audience. This makes me happy.

As I watch the various dances, performed by various indigenous groups, each representing a piece of the way of life of said groups. Some represented the tradition of neighbors helping neighbors build their homes, one at a time. Another represented the cycle of growing and harvesting choclo, maiz, corn. A third was an effigy to an herb used in traditional healing practices.

I enjoy these dances, and I enjoy the music. I feel more like I am in Ecuador than any other time when I hear the Andean flutes and see the brilliant costumes. I have been known to get teary at these performances, because I really meditate on how lucky I am to be spending time in Ecuador.

During the performance dedicated to the herb, a young boy of about five entered the "dance floor," as defined by the arrangement of the audience, a square of probably 8 meters by 8 meters. The boy, who we later found out was named Mateo, was a lovely little man with a long black pony tail and fairly dark complexion, and he arrived on the scene and began stomping along with the music. His steps were perfect. As intently as our eyes were stuck to the little guagua, so were his on the female dancers who were praising the Pachamama. He was so interested and so enamored with the steps of the dancers and with the music. Throughout the duration of the song, probably 8 minutes, Mateo stomped around the perimeter of the square, displaying not only skill in keeping the beat, but, more importantly, displaying pride in himself and his fellow dancers.

At one point, an older lady in the front row of the audience tried to grab Mateo. He escaped. On his next lap, she tried again, this time coaxing him to exit by putting a fifty-cent piece in his tiny palm. Mateo, not yet interested in finance, immediately threw the silver coin and continued his triumphant strut. At this point, I had a laugh, as did most of the crowd. As some of you might know, laughing and crying are actually quite close cousins, and I found myself unable to control the waterworks, so to speak.

It was such a wonderful thing to see. The crowd, the pride of the dancers, the pride and interest of little Mateito in his countrywomen and their traditions, his rejection of money in the face of cultural solidarity. Perhaps I´m reading very deeply into something that, as we know, could have been childish sponteneity. But I don´t care. It was wonderful and profound for me.

Cultural conservation, executed as naturally as I´ve ever seen. What a world?

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