In the morning of September 30, 1953, while Comuna Sacachun was celebrating the feast of St. Jerome, city council members kidnapped their monolithic totem pole San Biritute without the permission of the Wankavilka Comunero community. According to oral tradition, about a century ago, their ancestors found these pre-Colombian artifacts in their forest. They distributed these findings among themselves and protected them from Ecuadorian and international archeologists, anthropologists, and sociologists.
Since his arrival in Sacachun, San Biritute was well-known for bringing fertility to the community in many aspects. Before his arrival, the region was arid and the weather was dry. Even many women were unable to produce children. The comuneros prayed to him, danced around him, and even honored feast days for him to bring fertility in their community, and – he did! The Catholic Church, however, did not like the attention the pagan god was attracting to comuneros. It is said the Catholic Church authorized the kidnapping of San Biritute in 1953.
Nonetheless, the Catholic Church was not the only institution that violated Native community, space, and sovereignty. City council members, government agencies, military and religious organizations made every effort to destroy, desecrate, and wipe out monolithic totem poles in coastal Native communities and towns. The intend was to evangelize the Native population with Catholic teachings. In the case of San Biritute, city council members transported the monolithic figure to Guayaquil City in order to encourage Native Wankavilka pride to Ecuadorian citizens.
Juan Esteban Quimí Orrala, a Sacachun Comunero, described the experience: “Those who saw and lived here say that San Biritute almost made our people disappear in our comuna. Also, the dryness hit the area.” Without their San Biritute, Comuna Sacachun was losing family members to migration.
In the mid-1980s, a museum in Santa Elena managed to relocate San Biritute in their facilities to exhibit Pre-Colombian artifact. Meanwhile, Sacachun Comuneros protested to bring their San Biritute back to where he rightfully belonged.
After 60 years of protest, San Biritute returned back to his people and his ancestral land. The comuneros welcomed him with a big celebration. They had tons of speeches that recounted the horrific events and the unfailing presence of the community to win him back. The message to all comuneros in Santa Elena and to all Native communities is: stand up together and fight, resist, and stay strong. That’s why we still exist today in the 21st century. Our ancestors stood up against higher authorities to protect our land, our people, and our traditions.