Furious Fiesta

Cotacachi, Ecuador – June 2010

‘La toma de la Plaza’ (Taking of the square) is an ancient tradition kept by Andean indigenous communities during the summer Inti Raymi festivities. Five centuries of the Christian religion rule have blended the original pagan rituals with the catholic celebration of San Juan (Saint John). From early morning of the feast day, various groups of San Juan dancers from remote mountain villages dance in a slow trot towards the main square of Cotacachi. Reaching the plaza, ‘sanjuanes’ (dancers) start to dance around. They pound in synchronized dance rhythm, shout loudly, whistle and wave whips, showing the strength, endurance and aggression. Most of the dancers wear the military camouflage, goatskin chaps and tall, black cardboard hats, painted over by religious and political symbols. Dancers from either the upper communities (El Topo) or the lower communities (La Calera), joined in respective coalitions, seek to conquer and dominate the square and do not let their rivals enter. If not moderated by the police in time, the tension between groups always ends up in violent clashes when stones are thrown and fights with knifes and sticks are common.

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