Culture and Ethnic Identity
Otavalenos in Ponchos, Shimbas, and Fedoras
    A major aspect of Indian identity in Ecuador is dress.  People familiar with native dress can often tell roughly where an Indian is from based on what they wear.  Otavalenos are no different, and many still wear their traditional dress. For men, this consists of a blue poncho, fedoras, white calf-length knickers, and a shimba, a long braid that hangs down nearly to the waist.  This tradition probably dates back to pre-Inca times, and is an established and deeply rooted tradition.  In fact, this tradition is so important as a symbol of Indigenous ethnic identity that when Indigenous men serve in the Ecuadorian army, they are not required to cut it off. (Meisch, 1987, p. 108).    In addition, a fedora, or felt hat, are almost always worn by Otavalo men.

    The women's dress is the closest to Inca costume worn anywhere in the Andes.  (Meisch, 1987, p. 10).  Women are dressed in white blouses, blue skirts and shawls.  Jewelry is also an important addition to the Otavalena's outfit- layers of necklaces of predominantly gold beads,  and red coral bracelets are the most common form of jewelry worn by the Otavalo women.  Although visitors to the area view their dressing styles as quaint or cute, to the Otavaleno, their dress is connected to their Indian identity and is a way to outwardly express their ethnicity.

        In Otavalo, many Indians still speak their native Quichua language, another strong piece of evidence of their ability to hold on to traditional cultural values and practices despite years of oppression from colonization.  Many vendors speak both Quichua and Spanish, and some even know a little English or French, but for the most part, Quichua is still commonly spoken at home among the Otavalenos, and is the first language of most Indigenous families.  This, tied in with the traditional clothing styles, are powerful ethnic markers that defines the Indigenous Otavalenos as specifically Indian.  
                                  (Information for this page taken from:  Meisch, Lynn.  (1987).
                                             Otavalo: Weaving, Costume and the Market.
                                                           Quito:  Imprenta Esquina.)