Photo © Andres Brenner

Burning the Past

In Vilcabamba, Ecuador, the locals welcome the New Year with a fiery ritual of renewal.

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By Andrés Brenner

Videographer

31 Dec 2017 - 6 Minute Read

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This video arose out of pure chance. We traveled to Vilcabamba, Ecuador, because we’d heard that a large number of residents here live to be over 100. We thought it would make an interesting story. We didn’t find many people of extreme age, though – that phenomenon, if it still occurs, happens in more remote places.

What we did find were locals creating large effigies – dolls the size of people, or bigger – out of papier-mâché, and painting them with bright colors. It was the end of December, a few days before New Year’s Eve. The second or third time we ran across someone doing this, we stopped and asked them what it was all about.

We learned that the effigy represents the año viejo, or “old year.” The locals put all the good and bad from the previous year into the effigy, and set fire to it at midnight on New Year’s Eve. They’re also supposed to jump over the fire three times as it burns, for good luck.

I thought it was a wonderful practice – letting go of the past and welcoming the new year with good vibes. Some families build one large effigy, some build small ones for each member of the family. Some gather in front of their house for the ceremony, and some go to the main square – but the whole community shares this tradition of cleansing and renewal together.

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Winner of the World Nomads 2013 Travel Film Scholarship, Andrés is a co-founder of Meanwhile Productions.

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