Communities in the United States are not as close as they could be, not as willing to come together for a cause unless it’s something they consider to be big, and I get it, I’m part of a community like that. Many communities are like that, no matter how big or small we are. This happens in many levels, from the biggest one, the entire community as a whole, to the smallest one, a single family. It’s a common societal issue, discussed quite a bit, from how we are more likely to put our elderly in assisted living homes than keep them at home, to a town issue such a burglary or a predator like a mountain lion lurking in the neighborhoods. (That last one is a current issue in my town, and not uncommon enough for it to be entirely shocking. I live in a small town in the mountains, what can I say?) That’s not to say these communities never come together. Natural and man made disasters have a way of bringing people together in ways they didn’t bother with before. But when considering all this, it is a bit sad that it takes something like a disaster to bring people together. This is not always the case though, not everywhere. There are plenty of places where taking care of one’s community and coming together to help a neighbor build a house or pave/fix a road that’s in need, are done without question. It is such an important part of their culture and community, that it is only natural. The unification of these communities is something beautiful to hear about and see, and is something everyone should experience, as it would be a big step in making the world a better place.
There’s an old running joke in archaeology, when presented with an artifact we aren’t entirely sure about the use of, we sometimes say “When it doubt, ritual.”. It’s a joke because at the end of the day, when it comes to some artifacts and some historical rituals, we aren’t always able to pinpoint every item used and how. However, it is a very different set of questions when these ceremonies and rituals are still being practiced in parts of the world, and is a reason why the different forms of anthropology are so vital to understanding what is being produced at archaeological sites.
If you are lucky enough to be able to witness one of these old ceremonies or rituals in person, it provides valuable insight into further understanding a culture and people much better than before. If you are lucky enough to be a part of a ceremony or ritual, the understanding and connection to the process, often lengthy, goes even deeper, and you not only have a slightly better understanding, but also a better appreciation for the ceremony, ritual, culture, and people. If you are an anthropologist, you look at things from the etic, or outsider view, and you can learn a lot, don’t worry about that, but the opportunity to do research and be able to understand from the emic, or insider view, whether it be living in another country as the citizens there do, having in depth conversations with locals, or both, that information will provide something that is missing in so many texts: a human connection.
Which is how I shall start off this entry in Unity In Ecuador, with the insight gained from being a part of rituals and ceremonies performed by native Ecuadorians, who graciously honored the group of students I was traveling with, by allowing us to be a part of these ceremonies and rituals.
Recently I had the opportunity and the honor to go on a three week long medical anthropology research trip in Ecuador along with people from the university I attend (California State University, San Marcos) and an educational institute located in Quito, Ecuador, called Fundación Cimas del Ecuador, or , as we called it for the majority of our time there, Cimas. (If you would like to learn more about the lovely foundation, here is their website.) At the risk of sounding cliche, I can honestly say the trip changed my life, and I’m so humbled by the experiences I had and the things I saw on that journey.
I learned how to live like an Ecuadorian in Quito, figuring out bus routes, taxis, learning about boiling tap water and that aji, a special sauce that was everywhere we went in the country, is one of the best sauces ever, and the United States is missing out. But one thing that stood out to me the most in my three week stay in the country was the sense of community, most importantly the over-arching sense of unity among the people, that is just not seen at such a level in the United States. In this three part series, I will discuss music, ceremonies/rituals, and community, all with their own unique attributes, but with one important, over-arching theme: unity. It was overwhelming to hear about, see, and participate in these communities and how that take care of each other. While not without it’s faults, politics are politics all over the world, there was a wonderful feeling of connection in Ecuador that I wish could be brought here to the United States.
I shall start with one of the most universal forms of communication and community: Music.