On November 2nd many Latin-American countries celebrate the Day of the Dead. In Ecuador, for example, there are several customs, especially on the vigil. Many families get together in the cemeteries to pay tribute to their loved ones; time to celebrate one’s dead ancestors. There, they will bring flowers and music as a gesture of affection and longing. In some rural cemeteries and indigenous communities people still maintain Indian rituals where they bring food for the dead. This food is used as offerings and part of a ceremony of reencounter with their ancestors. The traditional food prepared on this festivity are the colada morada and the guaguas de pan.
The origins of the colada morada are not certain. Some believe it originated during the Spanish rule, others affirm that it was during Prehispanic times. Carlos Gallardo, author of the book “Colada morada y guaguas de pan la esencia de celebrar nuestras memorias” after eleven years of research, he assures that this custom has Prehispanic roots. Before the Spaniards arrived to the Americas, the Indians already consumed a dark purple drink during the months of October and November in honor of their dead. It was called “yana api” or “colada negra”, made with fermented purple corn called chicha and mixed with llama blood. With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the Catholic Church was outraged with this Indian rite. They knew that changing their customs would be difficult so they suggested replacing the llama blood with fruits, spices, aromatic herbs, panela (unrefined whole cane sugar) and purple corn flour. For the Catholic Church the color purple was also important since in the Liturgy it symbolizes penance and mourning. The colada morada is mostly made in the Ecuadorian Sierra region and its preparation is an excuse to gather family and friends.
The Indians in Ecuador used to prepare a corn-base product mixed with pumpkin and “sambo” a type of squash that resembles a watermelon on the outside. This product would be eaten in the presence of the bodies of the diseased at the cemetery. Again, the Catholic Church could not accept this practice so they boosted the elaboration of what is today known as the “guaguas de pan”. Guagua is a Quechua (Indian language primarily spoken in the Andes) word for child. This sweet bread represented the children who had died. Today, the guagua de pan, shaped in the form of a small child, is also filled with cheese, guava, fresh local fruits or chocolate.
These are pictures from the Mercado de Iñaquito where we got most of the ingredients for the colada morada. In this market they sell fruits, vegetables, seafood, meat, dry goods, medicinal herbs, fresh juices and other produce.
At the Cemetery of El Batan, north of Quito, there were musicians playing nostalgic songs; their music filled the cemetery! Also, there were “tomb painters” who for one dollar cleaned and painted the tombs.