Guaguas de Pan

When the Spanish arrived to South America they discovered what they considered to be an eerie tradition among the native inhabitants. Once every year throughout the sierra and coastal regions the indigenous people would remove the bodies of their loved ones from their burial tombs for a procession and celebration.

The processions coincided with the beginning of winter – the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rainy season – a time when fertility returns to the Earth. The processions were a way of giving thanks and asking for blessings in the planting and harvesting of crops. The ritual also involved offering food to the deceased, since it was believed that such an offering was a way to communicate with the dead.

But the practice of parading the dead was soon prohibited by the Spanish and the tradition evolved such that objects representing the bodies of their loved ones were used during the annual festival and parade. Since food was a significant part of the tradition, representations of the dead were eventually made of bread and took the form of a baby. Marlo Brito, Director of National Projects at Mindalae Museum in Quito, says the image of a baby attests to a belief that “the moment we die we recuperate the purity of our spirit which is analogous with infancy.”

Today, we recognize these breads as “guaguas de pan” (Kichwa for bread babies). And the celebration during which they are offered and consumed is officially recognized every year on the second day of November: Día de los Difuntos or Day of the Dead.

Today, Day of the Dead celebrations often involve visiting gravesites, an act which is itself a manifestation of the processions of centuries ago. In its most traditional expression, food is actually taken to the burial sites of the deceased where it is left for the dead or it is shared among the living members of the family at the tomb of their deceased.

Food taken to the gravesites includes common items such as eggs, beans, rice, tamales, and guinea pig. Of course, the most traditional offering has become the “guaguas,” consumed with another traditional item,”colada morada“, a warm drink made with black corn flour and fruits, symbolic food items in this part of the world.

Whether or not a person visits a gravesite, virtually everyone in Ecuador enjoys the tradition of “colada morada” and “guaguas de pan”. Traditionally, they were made at home, but today you will find them ubiquitously throughout the country at bakeries, restaurants, and markets beginning in mid-October. The “guaguas” often come in different sizes. Some are very large and purchased at the marketplace and are probably better left at a gravesite than consumed, while others are very tasty and elaborately decorated.

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