Ancestral wisdom and traditions are not just “a thing of the past” but can be found in the present! And there is much to learn from them still. Today, Hilda Labrada Gore, Wise Traditions podcast host and ancestral health advocate, shares stories of the ancestral health ways she encountered in Ecuador last summer. She notes the respect and gratitude toward Mother Earth (Pacha Mama) that she witnessed among the indigenous people, on display in particular during the spectacular Inti Raymi festival, celebrated during summer solstice.
She describes how Mama Rosita Colta, a Kichwa partera (midwife) and curandera (healer) emphasized the importance of honoring life as something sacred, and how she was empowering women in her community to maintain their traditional birthing methods. Hilda also discusses the variety of traditional dishes that remain a part of Ecuador’s culinary culture, including fried cuy (guinea pig). And, finally, she comments on how a small village in Ecuador handled COVID.
Listen to the podcast here:
Ecuador’s Ancestral Wisdom
Have you ever wondered about ancestral health and foodways in other parts of the world? What Wise Traditions are still kept elsewhere? What can we learn from them? This is episode 333 and it features ancestral wisdom in Ecuador. Join in as I get interviewed about a trip I took with Carishina travel to explore the culture, traditions, and food of a beautiful country with a rich indigenous history and present.
Highlighted in this conversation are lessons we can apply wherever we live, including our connection to the Pachamama or Mother Earth, the need for community, and the importance of nourishing food traditions. You will hear about the spectacular Inti Raymi Festival celebrated around the summer solstice, a unique partnership between a local hospital in Otavalo and a Kichwa partera or midwife named Mama Rosita Colta, and diverse foodways that include fried cuy or guinea pig.
You know me as the host and producer of this show but here’s a little bit more that you may not know. I am a speaker, podcast coach and go-to ancestral health advocate. I also run Holistic Hilda Productions. Our latest project is slated to come out this 2021. A documentary focused on ancestral wisdom in Ecuador.
Before we dive into the conversation, I want to thank Galia Kleiman, a long-time friend of the foundation who conducted this interview from Mexico.
A special thank you to Ancestral Supplements, Redmond Real Salt.
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What a privilege to be the guest? Visit my website, HolisticHilda.com to connect with me and stay abreast of the upcoming events and when the Ecuador documentary will be released. I’m Hilda Labrada Gore and it’s a joy to be the host and producer of this show on behalf of the Weston A. Price Foundation. Follow this show on your favorite podcast app so you don’t miss a thing.
Hilda, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much, Galia.
This is an unusual episode because I’m interviewing Hilda Labrada Gore, who is usually the one that’s interviewing. You went to Ecuador. I’m very curious to know what impacted you the most from your trip. What did you see that you could tell us?
There are so many stories. It’s really hard for me to narrow it down. What impacted me the most was the connection of the people to the Earth, to the Pachamama. I knew I had heard that phrase before and there was a sense in which people around the world are more connected to the Earth than we are here in the United States but I was struck by that. There are a lot of ways in which I experienced it but I found it very beautiful and refreshing. It changed my life.
I will tell you a little story. At one point, a few of us were going to hike a volcano. Quito is surrounded by all these volcanoes and mountains. We went to this one called Cotopaxi. Our guide was an indigenous woman, a Kichwa woman, who started telling us some stories as we approach the base from which we were going to climb. She said, “I don’t tell everyone this but I feel like you all are open.” She started telling us how one way in which we could respect the mountain was to place a little bit of dirt under our tongue to commune with it in a way, honor it, let it know who we are, and let it know that we know that it’s there. I can’t quite put it into words but it was very special.
To me, it was reminiscent of when I was in Australia with an Aboriginal woman. She said to us when we were on her land, “Let’s wash ourselves in this stream so that our ancestors here will welcome us.” It was very reminiscent of that to me. It was something I hadn’t done before with nature in mind. It was just beautiful. As we hiked up, that moment, as we were at the base and we put the dirt under our tongue, it really helped me respect the mountain and look at it differently because I know that dirt diversifies my microbiome, I was all about it. I did feel more connected and more respectful of the place where I was standing.
What a beautiful way to become one with the mountain. It’s very interesting. I remember you told me about this woman that works in a hospital, Mama Rosita. Tell us about it because you told me that she worked together with the doctors in the hospital.
This is a great story. Mama Rosita also reminded me of the healing energy of the Earth. She is a midwife, a partera. She’s also a curandera, a healer, who works with Western medicine in this small hospital in Otavalo. It is one of the first of its kind, I believe, in the nation of Ecuador or at least it’s worth replicating. What they do is they have the doctors work in tandem with traditional wisdom, especially when it comes to childbirth.
Mama Rosita is Kichwa. She helps the Kichwan women feel comfortable because she speaks to them in their native tongue. That’s one way in which they are lessening a barrier. Some of these women did not want to give birth in a hospital. As you can imagine, they wanted to give birth at home. The doctors felt like they could improve the birth rate and decrease problems in complicated births with high-risk pregnancies if the women could only give birth in the hospital.
They have several barriers that they have to overcome. One was the language. Mama Rosita helped cross that bridge and remove that barrier. Another issue was the color white in the Kichwa culture signifies death or poison. The women did not want to come to the hospital where everybody is wearing white and all the walls are white. They didn’t want to be there. Mama Rosita wears her traditional clothing and they have a birthing room that looks more like a room at home. Wooden panels, warmer lighting and that sort of thing.
A third issue is, a lot of times in Western medicine, and this was my case too even though I had a doula, is that they asked me when I was giving birth to lay down. Why do they do that? It’s because it’s more convenient for the doctors. I don’t mean to sound bitter but they want to put a little monitor across your belly to see that the baby is okay. You have to wear it for the longest time when you might rather be in another position.
Hospital San Luis de Otavalo allows the women to give birth in the position of their choice. The women can give birth standing, squatting or sitting. They can be in any position they want. Mama Rosita just welcomes them. She said she also tries to make the birthing area a happy place so that the baby knows it’s coming to a happy place. She demonstrated this to me. She pulled out her harmonica and started playing and dancing around. She said, “Sometimes I tell the women, ‘Get dancing,’ because it gets them moving. It makes them happy. They get alegre,” It’s like the baby knows, “I can come. This is not a tense place. This is a beautiful place.”
That is such an interesting way of incorporating the Wise Traditions of a culture with the more advanced or more allopathic way of handling health.
Yes, and this is the thing. We, as Wise Traditions people, don’t reject modern medicine. We know that it has its place and allopathic care. I know a woman, a friend of mine, who was letting the baby. The baby came to term and the doctors wanted to induce her and she said no. She was a very natural kind of crunchy granola mom. There was an emergency with her baby. The cord was wrapped around his neck and she might have even ended up having a C-section. She was so thankful that the doctors could help her.
What’s beautiful about Mama Rosita and this hospital staff is that they have what they even called a randi-randi partnership. Randi-randi is a Kichwa expression that means we have mutual respect for one another. I will tell you one more story. The mothers in this culture of this people group did not want any kind of vaginal inspection to see how dilated they were. To them, that felt intrusive and they didn’t want that.
Mama Rosita, being of the culture, knows how to read the side of the mother in labor. She would look at them and say, “There is sweat on the upper lip. She’s about seven centimeters.” She knows these things. The hospital doctors that partner with her have come to respect her wisdom. I’m telling you, it was just a beautiful thing.
We have to credit the doctors for that too because that wouldn’t happen often in our culture.
They said, “We have realized we want to care for the community.” They had to care for the community on the community’s terms. You are right. It’s a beautiful partnership. Getting back to the Earth piece is that Mama Rosita invited me to a baño ritual that evening. It was a ritual cleansing in a local creek or river that was part of this big festival that they were having at that time called Inti Raymi.
When she invited me, you can just imagine I jumped at the chance. Outsiders aren’t always invited, but she was so open. We had a connection as I interviewed her for the Tradiciones Sabias podcast. I get there and she said, “This water has a lot of healing energy.” The reason I’m mentioning that is that I believe all over the world that the waters do have this healing energy, and waterfalls especially, which there are a lot of in Ecuador, release these negative ions that our bodies desperately need.
As some people say, we are surrounded by Wi-Fi, devices, cell towers, and all kinds of radiation so our bodies build up a charge and we develop these things called free radicals that can be cancer-causing in our body. We need them to bond with negative ions and negative charges from the Earth so that the free radicals don’t turn into cancer.
Whenever we get around a waterfall, we go to the beach, we do some grounding, and whenever we are barefoot on the Earth, we receive the energy from the Earth that can help heal us. When she said, “This has healing energy,” I knew it did, scientifically. I also believe it does, traditionally. I was a part of that too, and that was just beautiful.
Let’s just say many cultures in the world have these rituals about water. Can you tell us more about the ritual? How was it? What’s it like?
I have to be honest with you. I was really nervous because I had a small group with me, a videographer because I hope to make some videos and post these on my YouTube channel, my guide and so forth. I was the only one that was going to do it. I was going to this small community so I wanted to be respectful. I didn’t want to dive in and be like, “Look at me, I’m cold adapting,” or do any of the crazy things I do.
I was nervous. I was shaking before I’ve got in the water and I realized, “I’m not cold. I’m just nervous.” Mama Rosita, as a community elder, set my mind and my nerves at ease. She welcomed me. They said a few words about how this is part of their annual cleanse. They are trying to get rid of bad energy and receive the good energy.
Part of it was not unlike a baptism of sorts. A bunch of us community members and myself included got in the water and then we waited. We also had a bundle of plant branches. I really can’t tell you at this time what the plant was. I know it was almost like a Poison Ivy because we would hit ourselves with it and it would make you a little itchy. It was just a way of making our bodies get more alert and aware of what was happening. We hit ourselves with the branches, and then she came around with a little clay or a pottery bowl and poured water over us.
Some people would scream because it was a little cold but I received it. Someone else came around with a little bowl of some burning herbs, like an incense. They put that around us. Mama Rosita whispered some words in her Kichwa dialect as she did this. I just thought, “This is a time to let go of anything bad and receive that the good that the Earth has to offer.”
She asked me a few days later because I ran into her again, and she was like, “How did you feel?” I don’t have any presenting ailments or anything. I was like, “I feel good,” but she was hoping I had some greater healing. I did feel good just from being included in the community but also to be a part of something so precious, sacred and to be in those healing waters.
It’s amazing that you’ve got to experience this but also that you were able to document it and share it with us because these are traditions that we know are getting lost. The only way to not lose them is by sharing. Thank you for that.
You are welcome. I’m really excited. I had a videographer from Ecuador because I knew he would understand the culture the best, following me around and we filmed so much. I can’t wait to get that out because everything was much more than I can verbalize. Another story I wanted to tell you is about the ritual of Inti Raymi. According to the web and the research I did, it’s a worship of the sun festival. A sun god festival. Honestly, it was so much more than that.
As a matter of fact, Apawki was an indigenous guide that I met in the town of Santa Barbara and he said, “It takes years to wrap your head around what Inti Raymi is.” I felt relieved when he said that because I was like, “This is a big deal and I’m not sure I quite understand it.” What I captured from him was this. After a mother gives birth, she feels spent, exhausted and wiped out from childbirth. He said, “We see the Earth in the same place after we get the harvest. We do this Inti Raymi festival in part to reinvigorate the Earth, to reenergize it.”
The festival includes a lot of dancing. It’s not just dancing, it’s a lot of stomping. The days I was there, it was the men. The men and the women take turns stomping. They literally stomp day and night reinvigorating the Earth. It’s like waking it up again, thanking it and giving their energy to the Earth. It was so beautiful. I’m going to cry almost but they invited me to stomp around. I looked like a girl that just got off her horse and was trying to wake her legs up because they fell asleep.
I looked crazy but I was doing it as best I could. I was trying to imitate their movement. They whistle, sing, play music as they are dancing and chanting. It was so beautiful. One thing that also moved me was that one part of the Inti Raymi festival is the Toma de la Plaza. They go to the Center Village Square and they stomp around the square four times. Different communities come, not just one. I was with a group from Santa Barbara. I wasn’t stomping at this point. I peeled off to observe what was happening.
When I went there, you are not going to believe this but because of COVID, the police in Ecuador was saying all of the festivities had to stop by 2:00 PM. I don’t know what was going to happen after 2:00 PM. I’m in this plaza watching these indigenous people doing this dance that they have done for centuries probably and I see right in front of them, police officers with their helmets on, their riot gear and shields.
It was such a contrast and so reminiscent of, in a way, how indigenous people groups have been cast aside from doing their own rituals and things for so many years by different colonists and oppressors. I was like, “I’m seeing it now of what has happened in the past.” My guide was nervous and she was like, “Anything could happen here.” She was like, “We could be in the middle of a tear gas fight. We don’t know.”
Some of the indigenous people in the other villages said, “We are not going to leave the plaza at 2:00.” We did not know what was going to happen in this particular plaza. Actually, we were all very moved as we witnessed these two different powers. The indigenous people and the powers that be. I thought, “The indigenous people have a power that nobody can stop in a way.” I found it very beautiful, moving. There was no big confrontation, just to wrap up that story. I was very touched by the enduring power of the people. It was something to behold.
I’m curious to know if younger people participate in these rituals or is it only the elders?
It was a mix. It’s not just the elders. I even saw some little children. On the day I went, it was the men’s turn. There were some young boys and there were some teenagers. What’s interesting to me is traditions change over time. I was even told that the style of the traditional dress that they wear in these Inti Raymi festivals has changed over the years.
Some of the people were even wearing military camouflage-style jackets. Why would they be wearing that? It’s because they are trying to send the message, “Our power is bigger than any power that tries to stop us.” There were even symbols on some of the hats of religious and other symbols. It was a way in which the indigenous people were saying, “We are still here. No power can stop us.” That was a beautiful thing.
There was a mix. I even saw one of the Capitan pick leaders of each little group to lead the dance around the plaza and the whole time of celebration. One of his little boys was there. He was even wearing a mariachi-style hat because it’s a little bit of a festival and people do some crazy things. It was beautiful. I remember the Capitan saying, “Inti Raymi va a seguir para siempre, is going to continue always and always.” He was repeating that over and over. That heartened me.
That’s good to know. If young people are participating, it means it can still go on for a while.
One more thing I want to share about Inti Raymi that is a characteristic of the festival is the Pamba Mesa. They have a community table that they all gather around. They spread a tablecloth the length of a bunch of yards, a very long tablecloth. The men gathered around it and the women sat on the outskirts. The women had prepared all kinds of traditional food like palta, avocado, cuy or guinea pig, chicken, pork and eggs. They put it all with some potatoes and rice in dishes that everyone shared. It was just a wonderful celebration of the fruit, the Earth and the food of the people. It was lovely.
I will say they were serving Coca-Cola as a drink. I asked a friend, and he said the original drink was chicha, which is a fermented corn drink. That has been replaced unfortunately by Coca-Cola. Even some of the traditional foods are cooked in vegetable oils. People have left some of their traditions but they are holding on as best as they can. That was my impression.
I’m so glad you brought up the food because I’m sure our audience, as well as me, are curious to know what do they eat and what’s their diet like. Do they still have this ancestral knowledge about what they should eat?
A lot of the traditional foods are still eaten. I was in Quito. I went to other small towns, Baños and Galapagos. Throughout, there was a lot of fresh food, even the “fast food.” We would stop at any little diner along the way, they would always have traditional soups, locro de papa. Potato soup is very popular there. They also have a lot of encebollado, more on the Coast, of course. It’s a fish and albacore dish served in a tomato and onion sauce.
Llapingacho is a sausage dish served with egg-like a potato pancake in peanut sauce. The potatoes are featured quite a lot. In neighboring Peru, they have varieties of potatoes. They also have quinoa. They include a lot of soups and meats. One dish I particularly liked and was excited to try was yaguarlocro, which is a tripe soup made with a lamb broth base. They served it with coagulated lamb blood, avocado and red onion.
That sounds very nutritious.
It was and it was delicious. I was thrilled to see that. Again, there is that tension that I have seen in other countries that I have traveled to, where there is a wave of veganism and vegetarianism. Even my videographer from Ecuador doesn’t eat meat. He will have cheese but he won’t eat eggs. He had these different standards. I was hoping that through what we were watching and witnessing, maybe some of that would come to his mind that, “This is the way people have been eating for centuries. Perhaps this would be good for me as well.”
I really enjoyed a lot of the traditional dishes and I’ve got to connect with Javier from Red de Guardianes de Semillas. I don’t know if you have heard of this organization. He is a chapter leader in Quito. Javier has founded a group called Red Semillas, which means “seed network.” What he’s trying to do, along with indigenous people and a whole team of folks is preserve the heritage seeds of his people and preserve their traditional ways.
I was so pleased to meet him. We’ve got to enjoy a wonderful meal. I have had a lot of traditional dishes, including cuy. They just served me a little bit of everything. There’s a dish they call bolas, which is made with plantains. It includes cheese on the inside or sometimes it has meat. There was a lot for the gastronomical palette to try there. I was very pleased to meet them and to find out that there are groups that are working hard to preserve the foodways of their ancestors.
Why would they need to save the seeds and what seeds? Was it beans or corn? What seeds do they need to save and why?
It’s not just the traditions that change over the years. Farmers start to either use hybrid. Let’s say, we find that there’s a certain variety of corn that’s especially sweet, so people leave behind other varieties. Farmers start to specialize in certain breeds or types of, let’s say, potatoes in Ecuador. They leave other kinds of behind. What happens is that your diet becomes less rich. Not only in variety but probably in nutrients as well. What also happens is those companies that make genetically modified seeds want you to start planting their seeds, which they say offer a greater yield.
What happens is their seeds are often not regenerative. What that means is you have to keep coming back and buying new seeds every year. What Javier and the small villages are trying to do is find seeds and varieties that are almost going extinct seeds that are being left behind to reintroduce them to people and to remind them of the value of a varied diet. It’s not just a varied diet in terms of, “Let me have broccoli and carrots, and other things,” but a more varied type of potato that might be even more ancestral. More like those is what our ancestors ate. That’s the kind of work they are doing. It is to preserve both the culture and the food of their people.
It’s such important work that they are doing. I’m very curious to know what was COVID like in Ecuador. Are people afraid? What are the rules? What’s the general sentiment of the indigenous people?
It turns out, Ecuador experienced, especially in the cities, a hard time with COVID. I found that in the cities, there’s much more fear and regulation than in the outskirts and the rural areas. This makes sense with what the foundation believes that it may be indeed 5G and other factors. Not necessarily the contagion of a virus that is leading to people getting sick. Of course, in the cities, there’s more 5G, pollution and glyphosate. They did have a hard time of it in the city.
What I found there is sometimes, not only did they say occasionally that we would have to wear a mask so I would always find my work-around for that but they would have a metal detector or a doorway-sized apparatus for us to walk through to spray us with disinfectant. I would walk around and no one ever said to me, “Lady, get back over here.” Maybe I was stealthy or ninja-like.
I was like, “I am not going to be sprayed by some chemicals because of something that I’m not afraid of.” I found my work-around. Even at waterfalls, when we went to one called Pailón del Diablo, they had a little spot where you could put your feet in some kind of disinfectant as you walked in. It just makes me so sad but I want to tell you a couple of happy stories.
One is when I was in Santa Barbara, Apawki wife told me that many people in their community got sick. She said, “Do you know what we did? We’ve got 24 local herbal plants and medicines. We took them to each family that was suffering from COVID symptoms. No one was hospitalized and died.” I was like, “Give me the list of those herbs and medicines,” but then I realized it probably worked for them because they were from there. Also, think about how it came in the context of community. I thought that was just beautiful.
Another story was with Mama Rosita herself got COVID. She was in the hospital with an IV and they were like, “You are not doing well.” She thought, “Do I want to die here or die at home? I don’t want to die here.” She told me this story. She pulled out the IV. She went home. She drank sambo soup, which is like a squash. She got out to the forest with the trees and the birds, and she got better. To me, it was a testament to the healing power of nature, food, community, and all the things that we know. I was happy that our group and others around us were not afraid. Fear also suppresses the immune system. I’m grateful that Wise Traditions in more ways than one is being honored there and helping people through this time.
We are very grateful that you went and you came back to tell us all these stories and almost transport us there. You have this tradition on the show that’s asking if there’s one thing that people could do to make their health better, what would that be?
Now I know why guests pause before they answer because there are so many things. I really think one of the most important things we can do is to get outside. It sounds so simple, yet our lives are often indoors. We are at home, we wake up, we get in the car, we go to work, we come home, we are sitting and we are inside. Getting outside gives us the opportunity to commute with nature. Like I did in Cotopaxi and Ecuador. I can do it here at home. Go barefoot, experience the Earth, and marvel at the changes of the seasons. Marvel at an ant crawling along the sidewalk. Wonder why he’s carrying that little crumb. It’s a beautiful thing.
As we experience more of nature, it helps us realize everything is going to be okay. It reduces our stress level. It reminds us that we are not separate from nature but we are a part of it. We will find that healing. We don’t have to go to remote corners of the Earth to experience waterfalls and streams, although I do recommend it we can really experience nature right where we are. I do believe that we will go far to promote our healing. You can do it a little bit in the morning, a little bit in the middle of the day and a little bit at night. You can even just take your meals outside as often as the seasons will let you do that. I do believe it will help promote healing in everyone.
Thank you. That is such good advice. It’s something that we can all start doing immediately.
You are welcome. It has been a pleasure. It has been fun to be in the guest role and I appreciate you very much, Galia. Thanks so much.
About Hilda Labrada Gore
Hilda Labrada Gore (a/k/a Holistic Hilda) is an ancestral health advocate who has traveled the world exploring indigenous practices for optimal well-being. From Kenya to Peru to Australia to Ecuador, Hilda has uncovered ancient traditions and wisdom that can benefit anyone, anywhere on the globe. She is convinced that the secret to good health lies in looking to the past for guidance—not in some pricey program or product. A translator in a former life, Hilda specializes in translating complicated concepts into easy-to-grasp steps that result in vibrant health.
Hilda is a biohacker, an Integrative Nutrition certified health coach, and an ACE-certified fitness professional. She is also the host and producer of the Wise Traditions and Tradiciones Sabias podcasts, on behalf of the Weston A. Price Foundation. Hilda shares the best of experts, experiences, and epic adventures on the podcasts, her Holistic Hilda YouTube channel, and on ancestral health tours that she leads. She also is the director and producer of “Holistic Hilda Productions”: movies that highlight ancestral wisdom.
In addition to being a health coach, Hilda is a podcast coach and the author of “Podcasting Made Simple.” She especially enjoys helping people in the health and wellness space launch their shows.
Hilda has energy to spare thanks to her love for sunshine and liverwurst.
- Galia Kleiman
- Holistic Hilda Productions
- Redmond Real Salt
- Red de Guardianes de Semillas
- WiseTraditions.org – Wise Traditions Conference
- Tradiciones Sabias – Wise Tradition Podcast in Mexico
- YouTube – Holistic Hilda