“Native to a high valley in the Andes of Ecuador, the Otavalos are an indigenous people whose handcrafted textiles and traditional music are now sold in countries around the globe. Known as weavers and merchants since pre-Inca times, Otavalos today live and work in over thirty countries on six continents, while hosting more than 145,000 tourists annually at their Saturday market.” (Meisch 2002) On the blurb of her book Andean Entrepreneurs: Otavalo Merchants & Musicians in the Global Arena Dr. Lynn A. Meisch, one of the foremost experts and scholars in the world on the indigenous people of Otavalo, gives the reader an idea about the economic success of the people of Otavalo.
In the context of the seminar “Race and the Americas” taught by Dr. Luz Angélica Kirschner at the University of Bielefeld, we engaged in the research on these extraordinary indigenous people and their economic success. Doing research on the Otavalos we stumbled on the phraseology by Howard C. Kress, who in his book Explaining the Demographic Transition in Otavalo, Ecuador: A Comparison of Three Models of the Demographic Transition calls the economic success of the Otavalos a “miracle“. But can we really talk about a “miracle” if the Otavalos struggled for centuries, being conquered first by the Inca and then by the Spaniards and being exploited by their conquerors? Can we really talk about a “miracle” if the Otavalos succeeded economically but are still struggling with the racial power hierarchies in their home country Ecuador?
Reading this we decided to unravel said “miracle”. To do so we read many books about the Otavalos and their textile production which dates back to pre-Inca times. To give our readers an idea of the people of Otavalo and their market we went on to describe the location in Ecuador, created a timeline to highlight the most important historic facts starting with the first settlements in Otavalo and described their most important indigenous traditions to get an understanding of their culture. We then engaged in the research on their economic success due to the production and selling of textile products and to the rising interest in Otavalo as a destination for tourists traveling to Ecuador. To get a better understanding of the people and the location we did Interviews with Guadalupe Yapud Ibadango, an expert on indigenous groups in Ecuador and with the above mentioned scholar Dr. Lynn A. Meisch.
As the term "race" is a basic concept in our work, it is important to describe how we use it on this website and how we understand it so that everyone can understand our arguments in the same way.
Debates about the term range from biological to constructivist explications. We understand race not as a biological concept, but as a social construct and as something that has a real impact on people. This impact can be discriminatory or can give power to people. Colette Guillaumin describes race as a power structure that is not distinguishable from skin color (Guillaumin 272). This contradiction between invisible and denied race categorization and racism and the real impact on people’s lives can be described best with her words: "Race does not exist. But it does kill people" (107).
We do not want to offend anybody and please feel free to contact us if you feel like we do so. This is the only way for us to learn more and change our way of thinking.
Please note that due to limited time our semester-long project is not entirely complete. We hope to be able to carry out further research on this highly interesting and truly extraordinary people in our academic future. We also invite fellow scholars to use our website as a base for further research.
This documental gives You a short introduction of Otavalo. Explore it.