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Land of winds > Traditions > Festival | Issue 03. Jan.-Feb.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The Corazas Festival

The Corazas Fetsival
Old tradition says that the Corazas (or Coraza) Festival has its origins in San Rafael de la Laguna (Otavalo canton, Imbabura province). However it has been spreading progressively to neighbour communities and nowadays it also takes place in more distant towns such as Peguche, Cotacachi and Otavalo. Usually it is celebrated between the 19th and the 22nd of August (“major festival”) and at Easter time (“minor festival”), though in a number of places it is held at the end of December as well.
It is believed that in pre-Hispanic times it had a ritual or ceremonial purpose at both maize sowing and harvest time (thus, those two dates were considered as “minor” and “major” festival respectively), and would have been established to honour Andean deities such as Pachakamaq, Pachamama and, most of all, Illapa, the God of thunder and rain. Archaeologists have pointed out that it was just in August when the Uma Raymi was held. During this Inca ceremony llamas were sacrificed to honour Illapa and implore the rain god for a rainfall to irrigate the maize fields and guarantee the crops.
The arrival of the Catholic Church in the region had a large impact on this and many other native celebrations, changing their original meaning as both native and Catholic traditions got mingled with each other. Archaeologists Collier and Buitrón refer the legend of the parish priest of San Rafael, who commissioned a statue of St. Louis from the town of Ibarra and secretly buried it close to the walls of the church. A native man happened to pass that way and discovered the statue… precisely on St. Louis’ day, the 19th of August. Immediately afterwards, the sharp priest made a great song and dance about the “miracle” and managed to provide his parishioners with their own patron Saint. On the way, he turned the ceremonies held on those dates (honouring “pagan” deities such as Illapa and Pachamama) into a local patron Saint’s celebration organized under the patronage of St. Louis and St. Mary.
The festival’s name refers to its main character, the Coraza, a term that some anthropologists interpret as a deformation of the Quechua word kuraka, “cacique”. The person assuming the role of the Coraza becomes, during the time the festival lasts (usually, four days), king, guest master, host, soul, owner and patron of the community. Dressed in a very elegant and peculiar way to symbolize his state and wealth –something of a mix of Inca emperor and dashing colonial tycoon–, he presides over both the religious (in honour of St. Louis) and the profane acts, which include processions, mass celebrations, ritual fights, feasts, games, dances, drinks and fireworks. One of his main tasks will be to go horseback riding through the fields with an open umbrella in his hand. It is said that by doing so, the Coraza blesses the land and summon the rain (thus, the open umbrella is a very fortunate sign). He is always surrounded by the “ñaupadores”, “captains”, “yumbos” (assistants), “soldiers” and the “loa” (Spanish for “the one who praises”), all of them dancing in colourful robes and hidden behind strange masks, serving as his own personal entourage.
The music that accompanies dances during the Coraza Festival has sometimes been called “yumbo”. Actually, the “yumbo” is a rhythm of pre-Hispanic origins, native to eastern Ecuador (Amazon native communities) which can be heard at such celebrations as the Yumbada of Cotocollao (Quito) and it is performed with drum and pingullo (pinkillo). For its part, the Corazas distinct music is performed with pallas (single row panpipes) and tamboriles (tambours) and it is undeniably an Andean rhythm.
For a number of years, the Coraza takes part in the controversial Yamor festivities held in September in the town of Otavalo. At this celebration the main character is inexplicably identified with the last Inca king, Atahualpa.


Local festivities: The Coraza [es].
The Coraza, in Ballet Folklórico del Ecuador [es].

Picture 01.

Video 01. Ballet Folklórico Antorcha.
Video 01. “Coraza 2”, by Ñanda Mañachi.
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