Quito Eterno shows how the dead can teach the living

09/Julio/2012 | 14:34

By Lance Brahear

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Ten years ago a small group of young individuals began to raise people from the dead.   And though they have gained a large following over the past decade as they personify devils, vampires, and the souls from hell, there is nothing particularly macabre in their activities. But it is very serious work.

This year, Quito Eterno, a non-profit educational foundation, is celebrating ten years of success in luring people to the historical center of Quito to re-experience the birthplace of the city and take visitors on a walk back in time with theatrical tours led by mythical and historical personalities.

Pablo Boada, one of the organization’s original members, explains that Quito Eterno came about thanks to the Central Historical Corporation (an entity that no longer exists), a union of local, business people and stakeholders who had an interest in attracting people to old town Quito, but in a meaningful way.

“Our proposal was born from the necessity to understand more about our history and enjoy our cultural heritage,” Boada says.

Natalia Davila, another member of Quito Eterno, says there was a great need to reactivate a part of the city that had a negative image.  “There were a lot of ideas that El Centro was the most dangerous place in the city. People stopped coming to El Central.” she says. 

Because Quito Eterno has an educational focus,  much of their efforts are directed towards young people.

“Schools and students are our principal public,” says Davila.  “We work with them every day of the school year.”

It took a while for the idea to catch on.  In the beginning Davila says they had one walking tour per week that served approximately 15 students.   But today they average 90 students every day of the school year.

One of Quito Eterno’s goals is to make its services accessible to everyone.  To that end they offer discounts to public schools and disadvantaged segments of the population, which are   offset by  slightly higher prices to the general public during nighttime activities, which are part of Heritage Nights each Saturday in Quito.

“The nights subsidize the mornings and it allows us to maintain this work that is the principal objective of Quito Eterno.”

In the beginning, Quito Eterno actors were virtually volunteers, though they received some basic remuneration.  By comparison, today, the organization employs 11 people fulltime; each one is a theatrical guide, with 2-3 different roles and responsibilities that keep the  foundation operating, such as   communication and public relations, sales, human resource tasks, and production duties.

The growth of Quito Eterno over ten years has not only been numerical; they have been part of the process of maturation for the city offering an opportunity for citizens to contemplate their history and place it in a contemporary context.

“Remember, when we began this process in 2002, we still felt the practical and symbolic effects of the banking crisis, dollarization, and the huge migratory wave that abandoned the country.  From here, our first discourses had a very strong reflection about identity,” says Boada. 

In talking with the members of Quito Eterno one begins to see that this is not a group of theater students offering a fun tour about history, but rather serious professionals attempting to create a dialogue with the community through a very creative process. 

The historical personalities are not what you might at first envision.  Quito Eterno does not dress up as ex-Presidents or generals who walk around and talk about their  accomplishments.

“We tell the unofficial histories,” says Davila.

Characters such as the “panadera” (bread maker), the “cajonera” (the woman who sold her goods in the plazas) and the “farolero” (the lamplighter who lit the street lights at night), tell about the informal history of Quito.

Lenin Robles developed the personality of the farolero, a character who is virtually lost in history.  “Modernity arrived, electricity came, and the people forgot him.”  He says that many people think that the city was simply dark before electricity.

As the farolero, Robles not only shows people that he kept the lights on in the 19th century, but he describes how it was done - that before wax they burned animal fat and had to collect it daily and deposit it in each lamplight.  It was a job for the lower rungs of society, performed by indigenous laborers.   So the opportunity arises to expand the discourse.

“With this issue, what I try to do is teach how the people saw the indigenous.  Manual jobs were considered the worst and there were jobs that were considered the most indignant.  The farolero was one of these.”

He adds, “These are the things that we want to touch upon…people always think that we only talk about the past, how it was always pretty, how it was better...But this is not true.”

Other characters challenge citizens, forcing them to confront conditions they may not want to think about.  Davila talks of the “beatas,” a role played by several women in Quito Eterno. 

The beatas were women who, though not cloistered in the convents, spent a lot of time  in the churches.  She says they use the character of the beata to reveal the “mojigato” or hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness, of the citizens of Quito, something well-understood today.

“Quiteñans are very hypocritical.  They do things hidden and never accept that they did them.  It is a social condition.  The beata represents this, also.  She represents commonness, a way of being.”  According to Davila the beata connects with people and is very relevant today.  “She shows the double face that is in everything, still.” 

Characters like the farolero and the beata are joined by legendary figures from the popular mythology of Quito, like Cantuña. 

“Who has not heard of the Legend of Cantuña and the pact with the Devil?” asks Boada. “However, few know about Francisco Cantuña, the leader of the blacksmiths of Quito in the 18th century.”  He says the legendary figure is a bridge to the past that later allows you to discover other times, “with their crises, prejudices, and secrets.”

Boada says the success of Quito Eterno is precisely in its methodology.  “The idea is to create a critical and reflective exercise about memory that permits us to go beyond the cliché,” he says.

He believes their success with schools illustrates the impact of Quito Eterno.  “We have changed the way to look at teaching history and heritage in many educational institutions.”

Robles adds, “We want our personalities to challenge people not to forget this city, not to forget its history.”

Together, Boada, Robles, Davila, and the other members of Quito Eterno show the city that it still has a lot to learn from the dead.



Saturday nights, “Tesoros de Quito”

Tours departs 7:00 p.m. sharp, from Tienda El Quinde at Municipal Building

Cost, $6 / 45 minutes

For more information: 228-9506 / 295-4469 / www.quitoeterno.org


Ciudad Quito

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