La Mano Negra

Las leyendas quiteñas nacen de la imaginación, de las vivencias diarias de los personajes que vivieron en la ciudad. La leyenda de la Mano Negra tiene muchas versiones, no estamos seguros del todo cuál es la original pero les presentamos aquí un par de las versiones.

La primera dice así:

Un feo y raro ruido viene desde las bancas del lado izquierdo, cerca del confesionario. “¿Qué es  esa sombra que se mueve velozmente por allá?” El joven sacerdote tiembla y camina hacia el otro lado de la iglesia, “¿hay alguien ahí?”, pregunta otra vez, algo suena como dedos marchando sobre madera y ahora está seguro que no es un ratón ni una rata.

El joven sacerdote va cerca de la imagen de Cristo que parece mirarlo con dulzura… entonces el joven la ve bajo una banca: parecía una araña, pero muy grande. Un frío pone al joven la carne de gallina, mira nervioso al otro lado de la iglesia “socorro!!!” grita el joven sacerdote, quiere correr pero está aterrorizado y sus piernas no se mueven. No hay duda: aquella cosa horrible es la famosa Mano Negra. Ahora, temblando del pavor, mira cómo la Mano se mueve lentamente hacia él. Cuando la ve más cerca, mira  que la Mano no es solo negra pero es peluda también. El hombre grita, la Mano Negra salta hacia atrás, su corazón late muy rápido, su cuerpo está helado de miedo.

Tantos meses de barrer solo el piso de la iglesia de San Francisco, tantas noches de dormir como un bebé sobre las bancas en medio de aquellas sombras frías y silenciosas, y ahora está ahí, a mitad de la noche, aterrorizado, la mano baila frente a él, la mano llama al joven sacerdote. Quiere correr pero resbala y cae, la mano camina hacia el joven y lo llama, finalmente decide seguir a la mano, pero la mano corre rápidamente, y desaparece tras el confesionario.

La siguiente noche, él y la Mano Negra otra vez se encuentran pero la actitud del joven sacerdote es más confiada. Y lo mismo la noches siguientes. Es un encuentro misterioso en el silencio de la noche y que nadie quiere creer, todos los amigos sacerdotes creen que está loco. Una noche, cuando está dormido sobre una de las bancas, una voz dentro de su cabeza le llama. Abre los ojos y ve a la Mano Negra justo frente a él… La mano lo está llamando… él siente que es el momento, no quiere caminar pero sonámbulo sigue a la Mano Negra.

La Mano peluda corre rápidamente a través de las sombras silenciosas sobre la vieja madera del piso. Una pesada puerta de piedra está abierta, es bastante raro pues él nunca antes había visto esa puerta secreta cerca de las tumbas de sacerdotes. La Mano Negra salta dentro de la habitación oscura. El joven sacerdote sigue a la mano negra. Él no puede ver nada pero está en calma. No tiene miedo, tiene un poco de confianza en la mano negra. De pronto, un enorme vacío  está abierto bajo sus pies y el joven sacerdote fraile desaparece gritando muchas palabras. Nadie entiende las palabras que dice el joven. Sus amigos sacerdotes corren a verlo, pero el joven ya no está. El sacerdote y la Mano Negra desaparecen para siempre.

Otra de las versiones en cambio dice así:

Cuentan que un chica llamada Antonia era tan vanidosa que una noche vio a la mano del diablo que la llamaba diciéndole: ¡Ven Antonia! Antonia se asustó tanto que se fue donde el padre mayor, se confesó y de penitencia le mandaron a rezar por nueve días. Antonia pensó que ya todo había pasado pero la Mano Negra le siguió a todos lados. Un día, todos los padres franciscanos se pusieron atrás de Antonia y como si se tratase de una procesión la siguieron hasta que llegaron a la cripta y la Mano Negra se llevó a Antonia al infierno y no se supo más sobre ella.

Tal vez ni siquiera existe la mano negra, ni el sacerdote ni Antonia, y es así como esta leyenda es contada por la gente para asustar a los niños y hacer que tomen la sopa y que las niñas no se miren tanto al espejo.

El Museo de Olga Fisch Folklore

ECUADOR, ENCRUCIJADA Y CRISOL

La posición geográfica del Ecuador, su relación con el sol, con la Cordillera de los Andes y las dos corrientes marinas que confluyen frente a sus costas, favorecieron para que desde épocas inmemoriales, recibiera y emitiera influencia. Hasta su territorio llegó la gente ya sea por el mar o por los caminos que constituyeron los ríos y las montañas. La multitud de pisos ecológicos favoreció una inmensa biodiversidad e influenció en la cosmovisión de los pueblos que se afincaron en su territorio.

Desde la antigüedad se distingue una clara diferencia entre la manera de ser de los pueblos afincados en las tres regiones geográficas del Ecuador continental. Sin embargo se puede constatar la existencia de un profundo sentido religioso que nutre las expresiones estéticas. La cosmovisión de los pueblos está muy ligada a la naturaleza. De ella surgen sus dioses, sus concepciones sobre la vida y lo trascendente.

Múltiples fueron las formas de expresarse de los pueblos del antiguo Ecuador. El arte constituyó su vocación cotidiana, desde los instrumentos usados en las faenas diarias hasta el ajuar que debía acompañar al muerto en su viaje del más allá. Los artifices utilizaron no sólo los materiales de los que les proveía el medio sino, incluso, los exóticos que debían procurarse ya sea por comercio o mediante largos viajes. Fueron insignes alfareros, ceramistas, tejedores, talladores de la madera y de las piedras duras, metalúrgicos, plateros, orfebres e imagineros.

Dentro de la iconografía se representan a los dioses del bosque tropical, del mar y de las alturas, y también una riquísima fauna y flora. La vida cotidiana está presente cuando los artistas capturan escenas como el trabajo, las enfermedades, la maternidad o el amor. La creatividad de los artistas del antiguo Ecuador expresa hasta los estados anímicos del ser humano y llega a la ruptura total con la realidad, lo que ahora llamaríamos surrealismo, cubismo, arte cinético o conceptual.

 

ECUADOR, CROSSROADS AND CRUCIBLE

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The geographic position of Ecuador, its relation to the sun, the Andes Mountain ranges and the two ocean currents that meet on its coasts, favored this part of the world from immemorial times and allowed it to receive and send influences. Its territories were visited by people who arrived by land or sea or by riverways and mountains. The multitude of ecological levels favored the development of an immense biodiversity and exerted influence on the world vision of the people who settled in these lands.

From antiquity we can discern a clear difference in the manner of being of the inhabitants that settled the three geographic regions of Continental Ecuador. However, it is possible to evidence the deep religious scenes that nurtures aesthetic expression. The world vision of these people is closely linked to nature. From this rise their gods and their conceptions relative to life and that is which is trascendental.

There were multiple forms of expression of the people of ancient Ecuador. Art constituted a daily vocation, from the instruments used in every day chores to the trousseau that must accompany the dead on their trip to eternity. The craftsmen used not only the materials that the environment provided, but also many exotic ones that were brought by trade or through lengthy trips. They were master potters, ceramists, weavers, wood sculptors who also worked the hardest stones, gold and silversmiths, painters of religious images and jewellers.

Within iconography are represented the gods of the tropical forest, of the sea and of the mountains, as well as a rich fauna and flora. Daily life is present when artists capture scenes from work, illness, maternity or love. The creativity of the artists of ancient Ecuador expresses the mood of human beings and achieve a total rupture with reality, that which we now would call surrealism, cubism or conceptual art.

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VISITA NUESTRO MUSEO VIRTUALMENTE / VIRTUALLY VISIT OUR MUSEUM:

http://olgafisch.com/virtual-tour/

 

 

The Panama Hat History: An Icon of Style and Elegance throughout history

“I cannot conceive of a hat- made of straw- woven by the hand of a man, more beautiful than this one. I hold it in my hands still in awe of its maker.  Before the ribbon and leather sweatband were added, it weighed less than a letter on my stationary.  I feel the brim between thumb and forefinger. I’ve turned book pages that are thicker than this.”

Brent Black. Journalist-writer and Panama Hat specialist.

Light- weight, delicate, flexible, yet strong and resistant.  No wonder the Panama Hat, is one of Ecuador’s most world acclaimed handicrafts!  This is because it is a display of exquisite craftsmanship which has become a symbol of masculine elegance for over a century around the world.  Besides, it has a tight relationship with events in Ecuador’s history.

Ancient origins

Since Pre-Colombian times, the Panama hat fiberhas been interwoven with Ecuador’s history.  As early as 500-1500 a.d., coastal ethnic groups such as ManteñoHuancavilca, and Manta were already familiar with weaving the fine fiber extracted from the Paja Toquilla palm.  There is some archeological evidence in ancient ceramic and stone figures found in Guayas and Manabi Provinces, in which masculine figurines wear a primitive “head protection” on their heads. Though this theory needs further study, the fact that the home of the best Panama Hatweavers is precisely in this region, gives more support to this hypothesis.

A fiber with a royal name

In the 17th century creole weavers (Spaniards born in the Americas) began to learn from the coastal natives. They saw them using this palm with long leaves shooting out from the ground; for roofing, basket weaving, and making fans. Thus, the creoles developed a simple hat which they called ‘toque’ hence the name Paja Toquillawhich is the common name of the palm.   However, in the 18th century, Spanish scientists baptized the palm with a more elegant scientific name, Carludovica palmata, in honor of King Charles the IV of Spain and his wife Luisa.

Montecristi hats begin to travel abroad

By the 19th century the Paja Toquilla hat, (known as montecristis or jipijapas) had become a must for Ecuadorians in the coast. Plantation owners and plantation workers a like, saw this light-weight, and supple hat as essential protection from the scorching equatorial sun.

When did the montecristis begin to travel abroad? It was a shrewd Spanish merchant, living in Montecristi, Ecuador, named Manuel Alfaro who realized the hat’s potential. He began to export them for the use of California Gold Rush workers and became very wealthy! In fact, his son Eloy Alfaro also continued to expand the family fortune through hat exports. He was later to become president of Ecuador and it is said he financed much of his liberal revolution through these sales.  Yet it was in 1855 in the Paris World Fair that the hat was launched to world-wide prestige. “The hat did not even mention Ecuador as a participating country…. The French man Philippe Raimondi, arriving from Panama, where he lived, presented the toquilla hat in France for the first time….The fineness of the texture did not cease to impress Parisians, despite their reputation as demanding costumers, and the catalog of the World Fair mentioned a hat in ‘straw cloth’!  From then on the montecristi began to be known as the Panama Hat.  Its fame grabbed a hold of Europe and never left the high fashion scene.

The Panama Canal

It was 1904 in the hot, damp and mosquito-infested construction sight of one of the world’s most amazing engineering projects: the construction of the Panama Canal.  The United States continued, where the French left off.  The entire world had its eyes on the building of the Canal, and photos of workers wearing the airy and comfortable montecristi hat were shown in the world press.  It was images of President Theodore Roosevelt inspecting the Panama Canal which truly brought the hat to the limelight, and firmly established the montecristi as the Panama Hat forever.

A laborious creation process

To create a great Panama Hat is no easy task!  There are several complicated steps, and each one is equally important if the final product is to be of high quality.

First, in the villages near Montecristi, there are specialists in cultivating, buying and preparing the fiber. Sheaths of immature leaves or cogollos are gathered in bundles. Then, they must be skillfully separated into thin strands which must be cut and submerged under water for around 6-7 hours in order to make the fiber flexible.  There are several other steps which the palm must undergo, in order to ensure the quality of that which will become a fine hat.  When it reaches the hands of expert hat makers in villages such as Pilé, the plant needs to remain wet in order to be malleable between the artisan’s nimble fingers.  Many expert hat makers only work at dawn or in the evening so that the hot sun will not dry up this precious raw material.

According to Panama Hat expert Martine Buchet: “Though each montecristi is unique, the successive stages remain the same. At the start, (the artisan) creates the rosette, the center of the crown; this is made with eight fibers in a tight lattice. As the weaving proceeds, new straws are added to enlarge the circle and bring the crop up to the desired size.  This part can be done in a seated position… when the end of the crown is completed; the piece must be placed on a form which is itself set on a tripod stand, after which the work is carried out on an upright weaving position.”  This is a long, uncomfortable and painstaking process. Then, the artisan has to have a good eye to make a fine brim for his hat. It usually takes about a month to make one Panama Hat!  Although some finos and superfinos can take up to six months!   Once the basic hat is complete, it usually goes to Montecristi where another artisan will give the hat its “final touches.” If the result is to be an exquisite hat, the process requires skill, patience and in the last stages, creativity.  For this reason the Panama hat has become a coveted item around the world.

An Icon of Masculine Elegance

In the 1940’s Panama Hats had become a symbol of masculine elegance around the world. Therefore, it became one of Ecuador’s main exports during this time! Political figures such as Winston Churchill, Gustavus V King of Sweden, Krushev, and President of Ecuador Galo Plaza often wore one during international events.  Film stars also helped glorify the Panama Hat.  For example, Visconti’s famous movie “Death in Venice” showed scenes in which the main characters wear the hat.  Paul Newman also flaunted it. Today, Brazilians, Peruvians and Ecuadorians often wear the hat for classy occasions.

From Pre-Columbian times, to the Ecuadorian Liberal Revolution, to the making of the Panama Canal, themontecristi has witnessed important historical events. It is valued because it must undergo an arduous elaboration process, and is considered refined, yet comfortable and practical. For this reason, even though it is misnamed as the Panama hat, it remains an elegant ambassador of Ecuador to the rest of the world.

A few tips to finding a quality Panama hat:

  • The quality of the hat is measured by the fineness of its weave and the rows in its crown
  • Though Cuenca also makes beautiful hats, the montecristi should not be confused with straw hats made in Cuenca.
  • The texture should be thin and smooth
  • Look at the weave through a magnifying glass

Sources:

Buchet, Martine. Panama: A Legendary Hat. Paris:Editions Assouline.

Tamariz  de Aguilar, María Leonor. Tejiendo la Vida “Las artesanías de Paja Toquilla en el Ecuador”, CIDAP.

http://www.sica.gov.ec March 2008

www.edufuturo.com March 2008

Personal Interview: Miriam Gonzalez, Maqui Crafts, Quito, March 2008.

Buchet, Martine. Panama: A Legendary Hat.  Paris:Editions Assouline.

Tamariz  de Aguilar, María Leonor. Tejiendo la Vida “Las artesanías de Paja Toquilla en el Ecuador” ,  CIDAP.

Buchet, Martine

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Spondylus Shell Jewelry: A Symbol of Fertility and Power

Several Pre-Hispanic societies would sail rough waters to the Gulf of Guayaquil in search of the Spondylus shell.   Though some species exist in the Californian Coast, because of Ecuador ´s warm waters, two species of this beautiful red spiny shell thrive under the seas of the Gulf of Guayaquil, Esmeraldas and Isla de la Plata and Salango area. Why would people be willing to sail miles throughout the Pacific Ocean in search of these shells?   This is because these apparently simple shells, are charged with symbolic powers since Pre-Columbian times.

Feminine Powers
Spondylus has also been associated with femeninity.  This is because of its shape like the female vulva, and therefore they it was considered a powerful fertility symbol which needed to be present in religious ceremonies.  In Peru the Pre-Incan Mochica culture made ceramic objects representing the shell.  In Ecuador, the sophisticatedpre-Incan Valdivia culture, (3000 BC) which boasts the oldest ceramics in the Americas, made wonderfully elaborate necklaces, nose rings, and other objects out of Spondylus. Many archeologists believe the Valdivia Culture was a matriarchic society, so it would make sense that feminine symbols would be considered so powerful. At any rate, only members of the elite and high priest could wear Spondylus objects.  The Incas also shared this obsession for the spondylus, and some historians even think this is what led them to conquer what is present day Ecuador.

An Ancient Trade Route
Because of its importance, this shell made its way not only throughout the coast, but also from the jungle, to the Andes, and even to Central America.  Some archeologist believe it was used as a form of monetary exchange or ancient “coin.”

An Omen of Rain
In Peru the Spondylus only appeared when the water became warmer during the time of the El Niño Current in December, right before the rainy season.  For this reason, the indigenous people of Peru saw them as bringing forth the rain.   In hostile and dry areas such as the Peruvian Coast, it is no wonder these “omens of rain” were considered valuable.  When there was drought, and no Spondylus around, it only seemed logical to travel to the Gulf of Guayaquil in order to find these shells which would help bring the rain.

Spondylus Today
Unfortunately, Spondylus is threatened by Ocean pollution, harsh fishing methods, and overexploitation for it fleshy inside, which is also considered a delicacy by locals.  As far as consumption for jewelry, because it difficult to carve its spiky surface, there aren’t a lot of people who shape spondylus.  For this reason, local spondylus artisans aren’t really considered a threat for this shell.

Today, one can admire samples of these beautiful ancient handicrafts in many Quito museums and Ecuador Museums such as the Salango Museum, Banco Central Museums, and in the Olga Fisch  Museum.  Artisans from the Coast are still being inspired by the beauty and symbolism of the Spondylus and continue to create necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry.  This is because spondylus has a shimmering effect with hues ranging from bright crimson, delicate pink, to a tangerine orange.  When one wears this fine jewelry, one can still feel the sense of mystery and sensuality it held in for the ancient dwellers of the Northern Coast of South America.