blending in

a colourful character

costumed character

Parading the icons

Catholic parade in Ecuador

trombone player

a musical reflection

It was an unexpected assault on the senses. Shouting from a gathered crowd, music from random instruments and much jostling for a better position was a clear indication that something was afoot.

This was a filming trip with BMS World Mission in December 2006 and we had reached the final stage high in the Andes in the capital city of Quito. Whilst trying to find a local contact we came upon what seemed to be some kind of festival, so we went for a closer look. The first thing I spotted was the colourful characters with painted face masks that appeared to be handing our fruit and other items to the crowd. The painted faces were resonant of an Inca tradition but the costumes seemed much more in tune with a Spanish influence. Whilst this had the initial feel of a traditional festival the costumed characters were followed by icons carried in glass cases and it quickly became apparent that this was a local Catholic festival.

Between 1544 and 1563, Ecuador was part of  Spain’s colonies in the New World after the conquistadors landed in 1531. Since the Spanish colonization, Ecuador officially became a Roman Catholic country with the Catholic Church holding a significant place in government and society.  One of the observable aspects of the development of the Catholic church in Ecudaor has been the effect of syncretism. “Religious syncretism exhibits blending of two or more religious belief systems into a new system, or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated traditions. This can occur for many reasons, and the latter scenario happens quite commonly in areas where multiple religious traditions exist in proximity and function actively in the culture, or when a culture is conquered, and the conquerors bring their religious beliefs with them, but do not succeed in entirely eradicating the old beliefs or, especially, practices.” [1]

What we saw in the parade was a living example of this religious syncretism – the blending of unrelated traditions into something that clearly made sense to the people, but leaves so many questions about the accurate transfer of core beliefs and truth.

The photo of the trombonist with the reflection of some of the crowd in the horn of the instrument summed up for me the need to reflect carefully on how we deal with change without losing the basic principles. To what extent does blending add colour and value and at what cost to the essential elements?

For those interested, the photographs were taken on Fuji Pro 800 colour film using a Nikon 35mm camera. Sadly I took no notes of the lens I used, the shutter speed or aperture and as it wasn’t digital there’s no metadata to cover for my inadequate note-taking.



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