Did the Spanish take the “Indio” out of my ancestors? Did they think that intimidating us into cultural assimilation would make us forget about our roots? Four hundred and eighty years of colonialism meant nothing to the Wankavilka people in Santa Elena, Ecuador.
Their action poses an interesting question to the North, Central, and South America mixed-Indigenous people. Every mestizo is Indigenous to some degree. Some choose to embrace it fully. Others, partially. Most, deny it completely. But, it’s a matter of time when most of them will wake up and realize that their Indigenous heritage is important in the 21st century. Especially when the migrant parents come to the States and face discrimination at best because of their brown skin, their culture, and their Spanish language.
Let’s take a look at how the Wankavilka descendants camouflaged their Indigenous traditions, rituals, and Wankavilka dialect in the Spanish-Ecuad0rian mainstream culture.
200,000 comuneros speak Spanish in their Wankavilka and Quechua dialects using words like Engabao, Chanduy, Yagual, Guayal, Guayas, Chawi, Baidal, etc.. They even slur their R’s and speak in rhymes to tell the Oral tradition.
What do you say to Comuna Salango in 2013 as they celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day by wearing the traditional clothing of their ancestors, fishing in balsas in the sea, and telling Wankavilka stories? (Picture above)
What do you say to Comuna Sacachun in 2013 as they protest and fight for the return of their Wankavilka totem pole San Biritute? After sixty years of protest, they still worship this god and invite others to join in the prayer, in the round dance, and and share the experience.
What do you say to Comuna Engabao in 2013 as they resurrect the sacred rights of the Two-Spirits by honoring and integrating them back into society as it used to be in our ancestor’s time? Two-Spirits people are shadows of the Wankavilka past and need they need to be brought into the light in the present. Once, as many Two-Spirits in the Americas, they held high positions of power in regards with counseling, medicine, and leadership.
What do you say to Schuberth Ganchozo, a famous Ecuadorian musician, who travels throughout Santa Elena Peninsula in hopes of rescuing Wankavilka songs, poems, and music? He just released an album that echoes their traditions in modern-day music.
What do you say to Silvia Graciela Alvarez Litben, a renowned anthropologist, who spent 30+ years of her life studying the Wankavilka culture and publish all her findings in books and scholarly articles so that Ecuadorians can understand the Wankavilka people and recognize their collective ancestral land in the peninsula?
What do you say to me in 2013 after I spent a decade researching my roots and reclaiming my culture? I will never forget the day my mother told me the Oral tradition when I was five years old and I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “If I’m un Indio, why is it so bad to say that in public?”
Did they take the “Indian” out of us? Los comuneros from Santa Elena Peninsula, my people, my relatives, and my ancestors fought all these years to have the culture we have today. They even passed down their Indigenous names to the new generation: Mite, Lindao, Yagual, Tigrero, Crespin, Parrales, Quinde, Baidal, Guayal, and so forth. They passed down tribal stories through oral tradition. They passed down the Wankavilka meals to today’s ceviche, encebollado, and yucca dishes.
Most Ecuadorians consider the Tsachila, the Epera, and the Awa Indigenous Nations only because they wear traditional regalia and speak their Native language. But most people, even the Ecuadorian government overlook and ignore the comuneros in Santa Elena, Manabí, Guayas, and Puna because they do not speak a native tongue or traditional regalia.
The oral tradition states that the Wankavilka-Manteno-Puna people re-invented their culture by adapting to the Spanish technology and language of the colonial era. This was a strategic decision to avoid expropriation, exploitation, and enslavement. However, they retained their Indigenous identity, culture, and traditions out of sight of the colonizers. In this way, the Wankavilka-Manteno-Puna people were able to experience hardcore cruel treatment from the Spanish because they fooled the Spanish into thinking the “Indio” was out of them. But the Indigenous people of the Andes did the opposite. They held on to their culture, language, and traditions and lost all of their lands, rivers, and forest.
What do you say to the new generation of comuneros in the picture below? Ask them and they will reply, “Soy comunero. Soy Indigena. Soy Wankavilka. Soy Manteno. Soy Puneno.”