Cuenca High Life logo
Click here to subscribe to daily news sent to your inbox!

Cuenca News

El Wiki

He’s a joker, he protects. He dances with his small “look-alike” guaga, moving through the crowd with both grace and abandon. He steals your hat and wears it for a minute before sailing it back to you. He grabs your girlfriend and kisses her as you stand by helplessly. The crowd roars with laughter. He grabs the hem of your mama’s dress pretending to lift it so he can take a look underneath. Now, someone else is chosen as an actor in his play of pranks. The Wiki circles quickly to catch them unaware and draw them into his impromptu theatre of the streets.

It’s an honor to be chosen as a “Wiki.” They help bring the festivities together for  the ancient tradition of Kapak Raymi that gets started on the fifteenth of December. This tradition celebrates planting and the fertility of the earth. Wikis are characters that symbolize humanness. Consequently, their actions depict both the good and bad sides of humanity. Their sarcasm is pointed and can draw yips of dismay which are quickly drowned in the shouts and whistles from the crowd as people celebrate a combination of Old World and New World traditions. One of the things that Wikis do is guard the host and hostess of the festivities, the markataita and markamama. The Wikis also help in moving statuary of the Child Jesus from four different churches in the Saraguro area of Ecuador, honoring Baby Jesus at Christmastime by bringing the statuary to different homes for holiday celebrations. The Wikis lead the way along the route between the church and the home of the host and hostess, accompanying the statuary of the Christ child. They set the festive tone for the parties by gaming with everyone they meet along the route

You have to be strong to be a Wiki. And, you have to be filled with good humor. You’ll obviously have to be a risk-taker since you’re kissing girls that aren’t yours to kiss and grabbing at the hems of women’s dresses. Wikis often play the rolls of bears, lions, and so forth before they are chosen to be Wikis. I’m told the Wiki’s are thought to also function as toys of sorts for the Baby Jesus. They carry with them a doll, or guaga, as they dance their low hopping steps to the music of drums which are playing a rhythm called chaspishca. The doll sometimes has food on it. The food comes from the mouths of people in the crowd who are eating while the Wiki Dances. As a way to create attention and spawn excited responses,while the Wiki circles, the doll is pressed to the mouths of people who are chewing their food. You can see that the Wiki has lots of fun and makes a little trouble along the way too, just like all people of the world.

Well, now you’re up to speed on the traditions of the Wiki. Here’s what happened the first time I encountered and photographed a Wiki engaged in his performance. Turns out, as I well expected, it was a bit of a challenge.

Not a breeze stirred as the drums pulsed their rhythmic Andean beat into the blue afternoon sky. It was hot outside and a loosely fitting bandana was keeping perspiration at bay across my forehead and temples. I was photographing a Wiki performing his traditional dance. He circled and so did I, trying to place him in my viewfinder. He and I were moving at about the same speed and he was fully aware he was being photographed. He circled repeatedly, targeting me for some of his good-natured pranks. I have my own moves and getting him recorded in an acceptable manner on my camera’s memory card was requiring every one of them. We twisted and turned together, then apart. He wielded his guaga, me, heavy camera gear.

When it was finished and the dust had cleared, the Wiki and I shook hands. I thought the guy acting the role of the Wiki was very cool. He had done an outstanding job in working the crowd over. Everyone laughed at themselves and others and enjoyed the festive atmosphere.

Now, back home at my computer, it was time to download files and see what Wiki photographs looked like.

Well, as you would expect, he was jumbled up in the crowd and there was no real way to show him the way I wanted to with the current appearance of my photographs. That’s part of performing photography at events. Faces and bodies obscure the action making it difficult to bring adequate attention to the subject matter. He was too cool, though, to pass up as a subject for photography. The project would take time and be tedious, but it would definitely be worth it!

I selected three photographs of the Wiki dancing in the crowd that showed him in different positions. Then, I digitally cut them out, freeing them from the burden of other people. The actions of bystanders weren’t needed for my concept. I then assembled the single images on a plain white canvas, all digitally on my MAC. The final photograph depicts the Wiki and his accompanying guaga in three separate dance steps, frozen in time as he prances into forever across my white swath of digital canvas. I know the Wikis and their ways so I offer you my gift of advice. Be careful if you meet a Wiki. The joke, most assuredly, will be on you.