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Land of winds > Traditions > Legend | Issue 02. Sep.-Oct.2010
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The Ekeko

El Ekeko
The Ekeko (also spelled «Equeco») is a folkloric deity of fortune and luck commonly found as a small statue made of clay, stone or pottery, to be put in some place of the house. Many households along the Andes have the tiny figure, from Argentina to Chile and Ecuador going through Peru and Bolivia. The Ekeko is also known in other countries mostly due to Bolivian immigration.
There is still much debate among historians, scholars and researches on which would have been the Ekeko’s origins. According to some authors the idol would have its origins in the Tiahuanaco or Tiwanaku culture, whose fall would have meant the introduction of the cult to the Ekeko into the culture of the Inca Empire. The Ekeko would have pre-Hispanic origins and would be an ancient god of abundance and prosperity named Thunupa who would become a household deity despite Spanish colonizers’ efforts to eradicate it from popular belief. The name Ekeko appears in the early Spanish chronicles and it is also mentioned in the first Aymara grammar and dictionary by Ludovico Bertonio (1612).
Traditionally the Ekeko is thought to ensure a prosperous and comfortable life to his owners, giving them back the real version of what they had previously offered him in miniature. That is why the Ekeko is depicted completely loaded with bags and baskets and surrounded by those items and objects that people want to achieve. Therefore, if anyone wants to have a new car, a cell phone, a camera, a flock of sheep, money, a house, some cloths or whatever they wish it is necessary to buy or make a representation in miniature of the desired goods and give them to the Ekeko. However, there is always someone who does not think that this is something worth worrying about and offers items that double the Ekeko’s size. Examples of goods that can be bought are grains, food, coca leaves, houses, cars, university diplomas, musical instruments and plane tickets.
The cult to the Ekeko does not consist in simply giving him miniatures of what we want him to return as a reality, in addition it is necessary to follow a number of unwritten rules to make the small idol feel comfortable and happy. One of them states that once a week –generally on Fridays– we should allow the Ekeko to try a sip of any alcoholic drink (that is, we should place a small glass of alcohol next to him), some food and a few coca leaves. Also once a week, it is advisable to have the Ekeko smoke a lit cigarette (hence the circular opening in his mouth to place there the cigarette). Some say that the Ekeko have to smoke half a cigarette each time to avoid the god’s getting angry, however, the version most widely accepted is that the god has to smoke the entire cigarette to ensure a good week.
The Ekeko’s appearance has changed notably through centuries. In pre-Hispanic times, this anthropomorphic figure was made of stone and depicted as a stout humpback, naked and with a prominent phallic element representing male fertility. At a later time it became an indigenous figure carrying sheep, donkeys, houses and sandals on his back. Then he was depicted as a mestizo supporting the weight of cars, trucks, motorcycles and so on. Nowadays, the Ekeko is depicted as a white man with a moustache wearing traditional Andean clothes (especially the ch’ullu, see), laden with computers, passports, planes, luggage and money. The only features that remain unchanged are his roundness and his happy smile. Sometimes he carries so many things that the sentence “to be loaded down like an Ekeko” refers to those people carrying too many packages.
Tradition makes a number of other suggestions on how to deal with Ekekos. It is said that you should not buy an Ekeko for yourself, someone else should give it to you. Another best practice might be to cover the Ekeko’s face until he arrives at the place he will have to protect. Once the god is in his new home we should uncover his face, show him every single room of the house and choose a comfortable place for him to stay. It would be better for single women not to have an Ekeko in their house unless they want to remain single, for this tiny figure is very jealous and would keep suitors away. For the same reason, it is advisable not to have more than one Ekeko in a house (two make a quarrel). Finally, once a year the Ekeko has to be offered all kinds of stuff to ensure a whole year of prosperity.
The controversy sparked off in 2009 when Bolivia claimed sole ownership of the Ekeko and Peru, on the other hand, argued that the Ekeko was a bi-national icon representative of Andean culture.

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