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Otavalo

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Every Saturday, Otavalo becomes one of the liveliest villages in Ecuador thanks to its celebrated market, a succession of brightly coloured stalls displaying woollen and textile products identified the world over with Otavalo.

In addition to textiles, an unlimited variety of crafts at modest prices, such as Panama hats, jewellery, assorted ceramics and other trinkets, are also sold here, making this locale very popular with tourists. Most prices may be haggled over; indeed, Otavaleños seem to obtain particular pleasure from the game of selling. As skilled entrepreneurs, they seem to possess an innate gift for commerce.

Otavaleños, who travel the world year round marketing their products, are easily recognized. Men generally wear hats and have long braided hair. Their dress is made up of white pants and shirts, navy ponchos and sandals. Women are distinguished by the many brilliant glass-bead necklaces they wear and by long shawls that cover their heads and shoulders. They also wear sandals and long, dark blue skirts.

The origins of the delicate and minutely detailed work of Otavaleños weavers, descendants of the Cara people, date back to well before the Spanish subjugation of the Incas. Before being colonized by the Incas, the Caras were established in Otavalo and in the surrounding little villages where they created clothing that they traded with the peoples of the Oriente and the Coast. Later, the Incas were themselves colonized and exploited by the Spanish. Over the centuries, scores of weaving shops sprang up, and native people were forced to work over 100hrs per week under unbearable conditions in order to submit to the demands of Spanish colonial management. This unfortunate apprenticeship nonetheless permitted Otavaleños to develop a unique weaving technique. At the beginning of the 20th century, a weaver decided to take up the motif of a Scottish tweed then in fashion. He was so successful that the products of Otavalo have since become renown on a global scale.

The fashion of native peoples was imposed as a uniform by Spanish colonizers, especially hacienda owners (private plantations) who wanted to differentiate themselves from local residents.

Today, it is above all the women who preserve and maintain the traditional lifestyle which is most noticeably expressed in dress.

For their part, men have replaced the traditional clothing with more modern, Western dress. The long braid is a symbol of virility in men, and cutting it was a form of punishment in the past. In general today, indigenous people who travel to Quito in search of employment do not wear traditional clothing because it is better to be taken for a mestizo than a native to increase the likelihood of landing a job.

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