Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city – with a population of around 600,000
The modern city was founded by the Spanish in 1557, but there had been a great city here long before then. In Inca times the city had been called Tumebamba, and in terms of opulence was said to have been second only to Cusco, the Inca capital more than 2000 Kms further south.
But when the Spanish arrived they found only ruins. Tumebamba – the old Inca city – had been completely razed – most likely by the Incas themselves – possibly to deny the city to the conquistadors, or possibly because of a civil war.
One theory is that Tumebamba was actually El Dorado – the city of Gold that the conquistadors had searched for but never found…
This video was shot on December 31, 2016. Donald Trump had just been elected and there was a great deal of apprehension about what his presidency would mean for Latin America – even in Ecuador – a country which uses the US dollar as its currency.
But nothing was going to prevent the people of Cuenca from celebrating New Year’s Eve in the traditional manner…
Monigotes are doll-like figures made of old clothes stuffed with paper and fire crackers. Some are papier-mâché creations representing popular figures. Usually a monigote is created to represent something negative from the ending year. The monigote accompanies its creator for hours to days before it is burned in a street fire at midnight. This symbolically eliminates the problems of the old year and ensures good luck during the new one.
Although the burnings are practiced all over Ecuador, the city of Cuenca lays claim to being the tradition’s epicenter. On New Year’s Eve, neighborhood block parties happen across the city, where the highlight of the evening is the burning of the Monigotes in the streets.
It’s like Guy Fawkes night, but combined with a healthy dose of karma cleansing, together with the usual NYE optimism for the coming year. A lot of fun!
You can watch this video in HD full-screen on You Tube. It has optional captions in both English and Spanish.