“Are you going to stay for the Three Kings Celebration in Saraguro?” a man asked us. e had arrived only an hour ago. Now that was an interesting start of this visit. What was the Three Kings Celebration?
We had arrived only an hour ago. Now that was an interesting start of this visit. What was the Three Kings Celebration?
From the Peruvian border and Vilcabamba (read about it here) we had driven to Saraguro. We had arrived a couple of days before the end of the year, and were immediately introduced to Ecuador’s custom of burning effigies during New Year’s Eve – or in the days prior to this date (here is the story). While we watched the burning of the hospital worker’s effigy, we discussed Ecuador’s traditions and celebrations, and the topic of Saraguro’s Three Kings Celebration came up.
Saraguros are one of Ecuador’s largest indigenous groups. Their dress is remarkable. First of all, it’s one of the few places in South America where men still don their traditional garb, sporting a single ponytail and wearing a black poncho with knee-length black shorts.
Some of the Saraguro women are among the most elegantly dressed I’ve ever seen (especially when dressed up for a celebration like Three Kings), wearing ankle-length, black skirts and shawls fastened with extraordinary ornate silver pin called a tupu. Most Saraguros wear classy hats, like white ones with black dots, or black hats.
Sunday Market and Traditions
We happened to be in Saraguro on Sunday, when people from surrounding villages and farms flock to town to sell and buy produce. In front of the church, women were making flower decorations for the church. They get together every week (or ‘every eight days,’ as they call it) to make fresh ones. Each year a new group of women get elected for this honor job. However, the tradition may well cease to exist as the younger generation no longer takes interest in participating. The women told us that in the old days they were with enough to make fifteen of these decorations; today they make three or four.
We found Saraguro an easygoing town, pleasant to amble along. At the market women encouraged us to try their new horchacha tea, alfalfa juice, or bread filled with fresh cheese that is roasted on coals.
The Three Kings Celebration in Saraguro
We decided to make a loop to Cuenca and indeed return to see the final celebration for the Saraguros’ annual, two-week Christmas / Three Kings Celebration on January 6 (here’s more on the subject).
We never cease to be amazed at how complicated it can be to get some practical info. For example, at what time mass would start, the procession, or other activities. Nobody knew, or everybody knew but said something different. There was nothing to do but take a seat in the plaza and wait for happenings to unfold.
In a nutshell: the church was packed, after which there was a procession around town with a couple of them dressed up in dancing costumes or wearing masks – the latter had the job to make fun of others –, or carrying ‘gigantes’ on sticks. On their return it was time for more celebration in the form of dancing. These photos will give you an impression of that day.