BAÑOS - ECUADOR
14 Km to the east of the city of Ambato, on a sandy plain, are to be found the Salasaca people; this is a scattered population, located in the province of Tungurahua, the San Pedro de Pelileo canton, and the García Moreno and Salasaca parishes.
Salasaca is a place where one of the most vibrant indigenous cultures of Ecuador is to be found. The "Salasaca", who are considered mitimaes (groups or entire peoples, transferred in Inca times to other places far distant from their origin), are probably from Bolivia, which the Incas conquered, later moving the people to the foot of Teligote mountain, in the province of Tungurahua, now halfway along the road from Ambato to Baños (the Amazon port). The population is some 12,000 people. The Salasaca territory is a sandy plain with total area of 20 km2 The language they use is Ruan Shimi (Kichwa) and they are part of the Kichwa nation. Their main economic activities are agriculture, livestock-raising and handcrafts, which they begin learning from a very early age. One very characteristic aspect of the Salasaca is their exquisite tapestries, which are woven by hand on looms of very ancient technology. Many of the designs depict different aspects of their lives. They also weave ponchos, sweaters, bags, hats and other articles. The Salasaca are fine craftspeople, who have specialized in Andean textile art and have gained a good national and international market.
The ethnic group of the Salasaca Indians is the largest in the province and they occupy approximately 20 km2 of a sandy area of the Pelileo canton. Some consider that they are descendants of the ancient mitimaes from Bolivia. Other studies suggest they are related to the Puruhaes. The dress of the Salasaca consists of a shirt and white linen trousers, a long, narrow black poncho and a white woolen hat decorated with a red or green ribbon. The population is currently thought to number approximately 12,000, organized in about 24 communities.
This tribe is considered one of the most interesting ethnic groups, because of their surly and rebellious social behavior, not wanting to mix with the whites, living in isolation, maintaining their traditions and customs. They cultivate sisal, weaving cords and bags that they sell in the traditional Ambato fair. Their knowledge is handed on orally and in practice, from parents to children; this is the area of socialization of the family and the community.
The Salasaca are a people undergoing a transition from a consumer to a market economy. They present crops on different ecological floors and this is leading to an expansion of their economic activity; on the first ecological floor they cultivate maize, wheat, barley, beans, potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, beetroot, cauliflower, apples, pears, peaches and cape gooseberries. The most common animals are sheep and cattle. Dairy production is minimal, and is given to the mestizos (half-breeds) in the area. If there is good irrigation, then good quality grassland is produced and excellent alfalfa crops, destined for the provincial market. The second ecological level is for the natural plateau vegetation, devoted to feeding and raising strong bulls, used for renting out for the festivals of several towns, and even for other provinces. Potatoes are also cultivated.
Part of Sangay National Park is within the area of the Salasaca people's territory and there are communities installed in its interior.
The organizational base is the community in which the highest authority is the Assembly and then the Council meeting; being a mayor gives one status in the community. Work for the community is done in minga (work groups carrying out a job in accordance with an established program). Decisions are taken democratically in the assemblies.
A great part of the communities are organized in the Salasaca Indigenous People's Union (UNIS), and in the Peasant Organizations Corporation of Pelileo, branches of the Indigenous Movement of Tungurahua.
If we talk about the Salasaca people, we have to refer to Pelileo, a town located between Ambato and Baños, which can be reached by a paved road, climbing from 2,100 to 4,700 meters above sea-level. It is in the Province of Tungurahua, very near the western Cordillera, 17 Km north-east of Ambato. This is the Salasaca people's territory, both the city and its surroundings, and there are various settlements and communities there.
The word Pelileo possesses different meanings, like "Great Lake", "Powerful Chief", "Strong as Lightning", etc. The city of Pelileo was founded by Don Antonio Calvijo in the year 1570. On July 22nd, 1860, it was declared a canton.
As well as its beautiful natural landscapes, Pelileo has the attraction of its crafts of weaving, woodworking, and shoemaking and, above all, the jeans industries, which has made the city famous and is most appreciated by national and foreign tourists.
There is a marked difference in Pelileo between the new city and the old city, of which only its church is the reminder of an almost lost era, making it a place the tourist cannot fail to visit in order to see, among other interesting sites, "Pelileo Grande", the old, original settlement of the city, before the earthquake of 1947, known to us only through stories.
Another important tourist, cultural and crafts site within the Pelileo canton is the indigenous community of Salasaca, where the local indigenous people, skilful weavers, sell their crafts in the Sunday fair, which takes place in the central square and in private houses, where they put on display a great variety of designs of tapestries, ponchos, bags, handbags, hats and a huge diversity of souvenirs made by hand. There are also places where tourists can enjoy the typical food of this community. Their fiestas have a special pre-Hispanic and Inca essence, recalling mythical and comical situations and involving the INTY RAIMY (Sun God) in each of their dances, drinks and clothes.
Foreign tourists appreciate the high degree of originality in their designs and the fine workmanship of the textiles of the Salasaca, which are specially made by the women. In each house there is at least one loom, on which they weave sheep's wool that they wash and color themselves with vegetable dyes. Every design evokes the ancient gods that are part of their traditions, like the sacred Hill of Teligote, where year after year, at the end of August, there are pilgrimages in which the young Salasacas collect plants to manufacture the dyes with which they color their clothes, as well as essences and medicines. They barter with the Chibuleos community, exchanging food, animals and handicrafts.
Pelileo has its fair on Saturdays and Tuesdays. Its tourist attractions are unique, such as excursions to the mountains of Teligote, Shaushi, and Mul-Mul surrounding the town. There is also a spectacular panoramic view by day and by night of the activity of Mama Tungurahua Volcano from the look-out points of Zurangay and of La Cruz.