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Samia Maldonado, Kichwa Filmmaker Uses Film to Recover the Kichwa Culture

Samia Maldonado a Kichwa psychologist turned filmmaker from Otavalo, Ecuador was in Paris to present her documentary Mindalae during the Geneva film festival—Filmar por Latin America—on November 23 by Traditions pour Demain (Traditions for Tomorrow).

Maldonado’s film career began in 2006, after practicing psychology for several years, when she joined the Asociación de Productores Audiovisuales Kichwas (Apak) TV production. Maldonado’s degree from the University of Quito in clinical psychology helped her in assisting in the recovery of Kichwa tradition through promotion and investigation of the Native cultures of Ecuador, “from an inside point of view,” she insists. “The quality of intercultural relations depends on knowledge: documentaries better those relations, and empower our communities.”

Founded in 2006, Apak, the Association for Kichwas Film Producers, located in Otavalo, is structured as a multi-disciplinary team, organizing video workshops, trainings, and consulting. Today, the team has produced 139 TV programs, and 50 reports on intercultural issues, Kichwa tradition, some of which is released in the weekly program, Bajo un mismo sol, on a local TV channel, Television Universitaria.

Mindalae, reveals the incredible exodus of the Kichwa travelers around the world, their adventures in search of new markets and opportunities, from Latin America, to the United States, or Europe, emphasizing the role of the Mindalaes, long distance traders, as ambassadors of the Kichwa culture, while trading their hand made woven cashmere ponchos and shawls, and various crafts, playing music, and meeting with influential improbable personalities. From 1959, until about 1990, when they spread all over.

The 76 minute long documentary, produced by Apak with the support of Unesco, is Samia’s first long-documentary: “we showed it to the community, and realized then, that they were discovering the importance of the Mindalaes, and the impact of their contribution to the development of Otavalo, and its touristic dynamism,” Maldonado said.

“Ten million people speak Kichwa in the world,” explains an Otavaleno in the documentary. In 1987, numerous young Kichwa musicians left for America and Europe, to record, or produce themselves in concerts.

Following September 11, 2001, new immigration laws arose, making the travels of the itinerant merchants more difficult, though most of the Kichwas would not choose to settle where they visited. “We always come back,” insists one of them. The documentary shows the resilience of the Otavalenos Kichwas, how they succeeded in meeting the world searching for new cultural experiences, while keeping their own, whether their traditional celebration Inti Raymi, their medicine, or religion, though threatened by the local presence of Pentecostalists, Evangelists, and others. For whom their rites are considered Pagan trying to encourage the Kichwas to abandon their traditional ceremonials.

“The indigenous do not give up, they keep trying, until they meet their goals,” comments young teenager Gabriela, in Mindalae. “I am proud of the Otavalenos, who had the courage to undertake the travels, experience new emotions, and leave all they had, to start from scratch.”

Otavalo, and its well-known Native market, remains a tourist attraction; the Kichwas, an urban community living all over the city, are fully integrated in the life and economic dynamic of the area.

“There are 24 villages, and 14 Native nations in Ecuador,” Maldonado explains, “but the Kichwas of Otavalo are the most developed economically, socially, geographically… Because of the Mindalae tradition, our trade men travel all over, selling textiles and other goods. That historical phenomenon made us prosperous, and sociable.

“Today, Mindalaes even sell industrialized crafts from other countries, as they are used to adapt, and learn from foreign cultures. My film shows the history of those international merchants, and how they contributed to the economy of our community. Before I realized the movie, I did not know about the Mindalaes. I was aware they were spread throughout the world, but had no specific knowledge about their history, or who were the first Kichwas traveling out of Ecuador. As we, Kichwas from Otavalo, are everywhere. People see us, but do not know who we are. That is why, as Native filmmakers, we want them to understand how we participate to the cultural diversity of the world.”