Keeping the Otavalenos Culture | National Humanities Center

Humanities Moments

Keeping the Otavalenos Culture

July 17, 2020

Chacon, Esther (Student)

Cultural Identity; Cultural History; Travel; Clothing

My Humanities Moment started when I moved with my family from Utah to Ecuador in July 2019. My family is originally from Venezuela but moved to the United States many years ago. I am currently living in Ecuador because my dad is the mission president for the Church of Jesus Christ in the Quito North area. This has required us to travel to multiple cities; one of those cities is Otavalo. I thought it was going to be like any other modern, updated country, but when I arrived in Otavalo I realized that everyone was dressed in their traditional clothing. I became very interested in their attire, since all the other cities I visited in Ecuador people wore the common clothing we see in the United States.Therefore, I began to ask around for details about their clothing and if there were symbolisms behind each piece.

The females in Otavalo, starting from a young age, wear a white blouse which is embroidered with flowers. Having the shirt embroidered by hand represents the dedication and wealth of the woman wearing it. The skirt and Alpargatas vary in color depending on the tribe the person was born into. Most Otavaleno females use a black skirt with black Alpargatas. Then comes the shawls and scarves, that depending on the material and thickness, represent the wealth in the family. They use these shawls as a cover-up to protect them from the sun. The most interesting part for me was the jewelry. Of course if you have gold that shows how rich the person is, but that is not it; Otavaleno women wear 10 or more gold necklaces so that people can see she is royal or rich.

The males wear white shirts and pants with a blue poncho, and on special occasions they wear hats as well. Again the Alpargatas depend on the tribe, but the males usually use white Alpargatas. The interesting thing that all males do is grow their hair from a young age, maintain it in a braid and never cut it. Even the government understands the importance of them doing this, so that when Otavalenos enter the army they are not required to cut their hair. The length of the hair, when they are older, represents the wisdom in the man. They say “ the longer the grey hair is the wiser they are.” I thought it was fascinating that their hair represents wisdom for them and how they continue to believe in that.

I began to ask the Otavalenos why they continued to wear the clothing that their ancestors wore. One sir said “ It is a respect for those in our past and we continue to honor them by maintaining the culture.” That response shocked me because even though my family and I kept some culture, we didn’t honor the whole culture of our ancestors. I realized how important it was for the Otavalenos to maintain their whole culture and to teach their children at a young age the life of their ancestors. I admired how whether rain or shine, young or old, male or female, rich or poor ;they continued to embrace their culture proudly.

This moment made me realize that there are smaller towns and cities that still keep their culture alive and do not modernize like the bigger cities do. This has influenced me to increase my knowledge and be more interested about new and different cultures. Since that moment I learned about the Otavalenos and their culture I became more interested in my own Venezuelan culture. I plan to pass this knowledge down to my future family so they can see how a culture can be so important to some people. I am grateful for this moment because it has opened my mind in seeing the power a culture can have in a life and how important it can be.


Anthroplogy / Cultural Identity / Cultural History / Travel / Clothing /

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