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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

El Dia del Muerto - Day of the Dead

A series of weeklong celebrations commemorating the 134th anniversary of Canton Sucre in Manabi began on Monday October 26th.  The opening speech was attended by delegations from all educational establishments in the city  (higher education, secondary, primary, gardens, and nurseries) in an expression of tribute and affection for their homeland.

There have been daily parades of colourful floats, costumed dance troops, and marching bands, civic ceremonies,

cultural events, dances, soccer games, and a competition for swimming across the bay.

Normal business activities are paralyzed for hours during these festivities and events. The Bay Queen, Miss Sonia Duenas Bermudez represents the ciudad with skill and beauty during these festivities.

This week of events culminates in a four day holiday weekend and has attracted many visitors from Quito to the area. The several hour line-ups of vehicles waiting for the gabarra to cross the estuary, may be historic as the new bridge is scheduled to open in November, 2010. The events have caught the attention of every family who filled the balconies, doorways, and main streets of Bahia de Caraquez.

This week of fiestas is followed by two extremely important dates throughout South America. They are the 1st and 2nd of November. All Saints Day (Todos los Santos) and Day of the Dead (Dia de los Difuntos, o muertos).

November 1 - All Souls' Day is a day of alms giving and prayers for those who have passed on. The intent is for the living to assist those in purgatory. Many western churches annually observe All Souls' Day on November 2 and many eastern churches celebrate it prior to Lent and the day before Pentecost.

While the Day of the Dead may sound like a grim event, and for North Americans unfamiliar with the day it may conjure up images like this,

it's actually a  time to celebrate and remember the lives of dead family members. 

Traditionally in Ecuador for el Dia del Muerto (Day of the Dead) – November 2nd  Ecuadorians prepare traditional foods and visit the graves in remembrance of their ancestors and lost loved ones. It is especially important to the indigenous Quichua people. Families gather to pray to the souls of dead relatives, asking them to return for just one night. The ancient belief is that the soul visits its relatives within these days and should have plenty of food to be fed to continue further on its after life journey. The celebration itself is a mixture of ethnic cultures and Catholic customs.

The family spends significant time preparing for this visit with a variety of items such as the bread dolls, which have a specific meaning depending on their shape. Horse shaped breads for example meant transport.  The ritual involves the construction of a tomb that is adorned with the soul's favourite drink and food, and over this tomb they place black cloth and the bread dolls, together with several other things that are meaningful to the individual.

People decorate altars in their homes and gravesites with food, candles, candy skulls and marigolds to welcome the souls back to earth.

Families gather together in the community cemetery with food offerings in remembrance of their ancestors and lost loved ones. Traditional ceremonial foods include Colada Morada, a delicious spiced fruit porridge that derives its deep purple colour from the Andean blackberry and purple maize (recipe below).  This is typically consumed with guagua de pan, a bread shaped like a swaddled infant.  The bread, which is wheat flour-based today was made with cornmeal in pre-Colombian times.  They can be savoury and filled with cheese, or sweet and filled with guava. .

In our experience we found most Ecuadorians celebrate Día de los Difuntos, o muertos in a more practical way.  On our visit to the cemetery the surrounding block was filled with flower and food vendors.  The cemetery is several hectares in size and varies from the famous Buenos Aires Recoleta style individually designed marble tomb sites,

to a sparse hillside( with better views ) in the far corner with simple wooden cross gravesite makers.

Upon entry to the cemetery we were met by a large group of painters who would accompany your party to clean &  "re-paint or freshen" the gravesite for you.  Today the cemetery was very busy with many families paying tribute to their deceased relatives and adorning their tombs with flowers. Many graveside candles were burning, and several families were playing guitars and singing.

The Grand Parade Finale Event was November 3rd, a 3 hour long parade on the Malecon of dignitaries, marching bands and costumed dance troops, fire engines,

military equipment, dancing stallions, and a wide variety of service clubs and organizations.

I would venture a guess crowds of about 100,000 people enjoyed the grand finale event.

Recipes for colada morada can vary by region and family. While all versions contain blueberry, blackberry, and pineapple, some will use naranjilla juice (an Andean fruit), babaco (champagne fruit), strawberries, and even raisins.

This recipe varies from traditional versions of colada morada by not containing the purple cornflour base, rather substituting cornstarch. This cornstarch recipe will keep longer than the corn flour one, which tends to ferment. Cornstarch is also more readily available outside of Ecuador than the purple corn flour.
Tea Ingredients:
·    ½ bundle of spices for colada morada (5-6 orange leaves, 1 fistful each of lemon verbena and myrtle)
·    6-8 whole cloves
·    6-8 whole allspice
·    4-5 cinnamon sticks
·    1-2 ishpingo (Ecuadorian spice)
1.    Fill a large Dutch oven halfway with water (approximately 2 liters).
2.    Place the spices in the water. Boil for about 15 minutes. Set this tea aside to be used later.
Juice base ingredients:
·    1 ½ pounds blueberries, rinsed of any impurities
·    2 pounds blackberries (boysenberries can also be used, or any combination of the two)
·    1 large pineapple, peeled and cored*
·    2 cups (or more) sugar
·    2-3 heaping tablespoons cornstarch
1.    Put the blueberries in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a roiling boil for 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2.    As the blueberry juice cools, blend the blackberries with a couple of cups of water. Strain the juice and set aside.
3.    Cut the pineapple into small cubes.
4.    Once the blueberry mixture is cool, blend it and strain it. Mix the blueberry and blackberry juices with the tea of spices above. (Divide into two Dutch ovens for easier handling.)
5.    Add the pineapple and boil for about 20 minutes, or until the pineapple is soft but not mushy.
6.    After the pineapple is cooked, add about 1 cup of sugar to each pot. Let dissolve and taste, adding more sugar if needed. (The amount of sugar needed will depend on how ripe the fruits are. Adjust the sugar levels to taste.)
7.    Put 2-3 heaping tablespoons of cornstarch in a glass of cold water. Stir and dissolve the cornstarch and then add half of the mixture to each Dutch oven. Stir for about 5-10 minutes more, allowing the colada to thicken. Adjust the amount of cornstarch as needed (more for a thicker colada).
Serve the colada warm or cold. Ecuadorians will eat colada with guaguas de pan, soft bread loaves shaped in the form of babies (guagua means baby in the Quichua languague), filled with chocolate or marmalade, and decorated with frosting on top. In place of guaguas, any soft dipping bread will do.
* Other fruits can be added to colada morada, such as strawberries or babaco. If adding babaco, add at the same time as the pineapple. If using strawberries, add the fruit in the last step, cooking for about 5 minutes

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Bahia de Caraquez, Manabi, Ecuador