One of the biggest celebrations of the year in Cotacachi is called Fiesta de Jora. This year, the parade celebrating Jora was the biggest parade we have seen in five years of living here. And there are lots of big parades. Ecuadorians love a parade, and use any excuse to have one.
This parade was special in another way. It is the first parade where Cotacachi expats participated. And the Ecuadorians loved it, many breaking out in spontaneous applause as the expats walked by. The expats also had a food booth that was a great intercultural success.
The following article was written by Dan Delgado, an American expat living in Cotacachi. I am going to intersperse the article with photos I took of the Parade.
By Danny Delgado
JORA: a celebration of the sprouting corn, (Jora), which unites and strengthens the Andean people and cultures.
Year after year in September, Cotacachi celebrates the festivals of la Jora with song and dance- an intercultural activity that attracts many tourists to the city. The Festival of Jora has Inca roots and is based on the permanent interplay of three elements: nature, people, and the “creative forces”. According to the indigenous native concept, the balance of these elements gives rise to our life.
This is the start of the planting season for corn, beans, chochos, and quinoa. The locals traditionally thank Nature, which they call Pacha Mama, for the fertility of the earth. In this Fiesta de la Jora, the fruits of the earth mother are specially treated so that making and drinking the Chicha, a mildly alcoholic fermented corn drink, together serves as a symbol of reciprocity with the deities; solidarity with neighbors and even a kind of redistribution of what they have managed to produce together.
This celebration began to be recognized as part of Cotacachi community identity 51 years ago, and was founded as a public festival by members of the Club El Nacional, who since the early years designated a Queen of the Jora for her moral, intellectual and physical qualities.
Over time, a civil Party Committee took over the task of organizing this event with the support of the Municipal Administration. The Fiesta de la Jora, with its displays of music, culture, art and gastronomy has always been a reflection of the essence of Cotacachi.
Chicha, drink of the gods
Corn, known in most of the world as maize, is the grain held as most sacred in the Andean Cosmo-vision, and the calendar of sowing and harvesting rituals revolves around this. The basic component of the traditional drink of September is maize in all of its varieties.
Traditionally, the earliest inhabitants of Cotacachi, after the harvest of maize, offered sacrifices to the God or gods whom they worshipped. After ceremonies, they drank this refreshing chicha de jora (corn), together with the peoples and chiefs of the surrounding areas. This is symbolized in the parade as many of the surrounding towns send delegations to participate in the parade.
The process of preparing the Chicha de Jora is long and laborious. It is first necessary to know that this beverage was used in the past for Minga, (community work-togethers), as well as for regular working days to quench thirst and provide energy.
The local version of fermented Chicha is prepared with 7 dry grains such as: (germinated) maize, wheat, barley, white and yellow and chulpe corn grains and a popcorn type called canguil. It is a process that takes about 3 months starting with germinating maize in leaves of “gilguirillas”, changing the soaking water continuously for 12 days.
Orburn having a good time!
Here’s Danny and his dancing dog. Danny is the author of this article. Many of the expats have adopted street dogs, much to the delight of the dogs.
These sprouted grains, together with other ingredients are left to dry a specific period of time before being roasted or toasted and then ground. The mixture that results is placed in a bronze vessel filled with water. Bronze is said to give a characteristic flavor. Left to boil for at least 8 hours, water and additional herb and spice ingredients are added, depending on personal or regional preferences.
Then, this preparation is fermented in a container which is known as pondo. This natural fermentation process is traditionally only for a few days, at which point, the Chicha is strained and sweetened and ready for consumption. The level of alcohol is very low at this point- about 2 percent, although with a longer ferment it can become a little stronger.
Jora in a National Context
The economic activity recorded on the city feast days is high. Leather handicrafts and local gastronomy are featured, with typical dishes including Carnes Coloradas, meat colored and flavored with Annato. Cuicocha lake with its unique landscape, is a main attraction for national and international tourists.
I wouldn’t want to run into this drag queen in a dark alley
For this years’ Festival, the Municipality of Cotacachi and the Festival Committee have prepared several activities to celebrate the 2011 Jora from the 2nd to the 18th of September.
The Parade of Joy was Friday, September 9th at 3PM on the main streets of the town with floats carrying national and international delegations; and the festivities opening program was made livelier by several Ecuadorian musical groups and the Columbian Matecaña orchestra. The entire event lasted nearly 11 days. Yes, the Ecuadorians know how to party.
For Saturday, September 10th, the election and Coronation of the Queen of the Jora was the central activity. And on Sunday, September 11 a contest for the best Chicha de Jora, a food fair showcasing local products and at midday there was an artistic finale to conclude these special days of celebration.
The highlight of the event was the queen selection pageant to select the queen to reign for the next year. We are preparing a blog with pictures of this exciting event, to be published soon.