Otavalo Globalized -- There's a fair chance you'll have seen them on the streets or public plazas of cities around the world: a group of Otavaleños performing traditional Andean music and selling woven textile goods and other handicrafts. Known by both the Incas and Spanish conquistadors as talented weavers, Otavaleños are an indigenous group who live throughout much of Imbabura province, but who are named after the town with the world-famous Saturday textile market. They have woven their way into the history books, and their enduring culture stands out as a unique success story in a time of globalization and diminishing ethnic identity.
With an official government seal of approval, Otavaleños and their craftsmanship were promoted -- beginning in the 1950s -- as part of a nascent tourism drive. Dutch artist Jan Schreuder, an Ecuadorean resident at the time, searched out pre-Columbian designs to incorporate into rugs, wall hangings, and ponchos, and -- bizarrely -- he is also responsible for the Escher knock-offs and more modern motifs that are still seen today.
Things took off in the 1970s with increased international tourism. Peace-Corps assistance helped hone styles and colors to suit "foreign" tastes, and the Otavalo market became a must-do for everyone visiting Ecuador. With typical enterprise, Otavaleño weavers have embraced market trends and set forth: to Colombia, the United States, Europe, and as far away as Asia and Australia. With a strong independent streak and plenty of business acumen, they use no middlemen; the traditionally dressed couple sitting on an international flight to Amsterdam will have financed their flights; woven and bartered for their merchandise; and, in turn, will keep all the profits from sales.
Otavaleños proudly display their culture; in fact, this is part of their successful "brand image." Quichua is their first language, although most also speak Spanish and many master other tongues as well. The men's long, braided hair is such a strong cultural symbol that Otavaleño men are not required to cut it off when they enter the Ecuadorean armed forces. Women wear embroidered white blouses, wool skirts, and many necklaces made of gold or red beads; the size, color, and quantity of the beads all carry cultural significance.
Many Otavaleño youngsters travel abroad -- a rite of passage into the globalized world. The majority return home and add their experience and earnings to one of the world's most prominent indigenous groups.
Tree Tomato -- When is a tomato not a tomato? When it's a tree tomato. Although the Cyphomandra betacea belongs to the same family (Solanaceae) as its more universally recognized bright red cousin, the tree tomato grows as a small perennial shrub up in the hills, and looks like a colorful egg when ripe. Its succulent, tomatolike flesh is tart enough to pucker your lips -- don't even think about eating the skin, which is more like a shell.
Tree tomatoes were cultivated by the Incas and probably originated in one of the Andean countries between Chile and Colombia. Today, they're grown commercially in New Zealand and Australia, as well as in Ecuador.
In Ecuador the tree tomato, or tamarillo, flourishes at 1,500 to 3,000m (4,921-9,843 ft.), and you will see them growing in the highlands. You can find both the tart golden-orange and smoother, deep-red varieties in any market around the country. Being rich in natural pectin, they make perfect setting agents for jellies and jams -- orange and tree tomato are a sublime combination. You will most commonly find tamarillo served as a fruit drink or skinned and stewed as a dessert compote. It is also a popular local ice-cream flavor.
With supposed medicinal properties to treat everything from respiratory disease to obesity, stress, and colds -- as well as improving your immune system and lowering cholesterol -- the tree tomato seems to be a bit of a wonder fruit. And it's pretty good with rum, too.
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