Healing Through Remembering

By Eli Farinango

Over the next few months, we will be featuring the projects from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. Healing Through Remembering by Eli Farinango is the fourth in the series.

I met Inguen when I started going to the Wachuman ceremonies. Her smile reminded me that I can be happy. She reassured me that the earth can help me heal and I can lead a life where I am at peace. This concept was getting lost the longer I stayed inside my head. I had forgotten how to live because anxiety and depression took a hold of me and mental health was something barely talked about in my community. The idea of seeing a therapist is reserved for those that have “lost it” and in that space, the only way I could heal was by coming to terms with all of the wounds I had covered up. As I acknowledged them, all the women in my life supported me with knowledge and personal stories that are often dismissed, undervalued, misunderstood, and judged. The women I call family, held space for me: they understood me, empowered me. Made sure I stayed alive. In each story, I found hope, strength, courage and for that I am grateful.

I asked Inguen: how did you learn about ceremonies and healing? “I didn’t learn,” she replied. “I’m simply remembering. All of this is already inside us, they just made us forget.”

“The dreams and prayers of our ancestors” Saywa and Leisha. 2017

I light a candle before sitting down to write this, because I need a moment to settle in and take in the fact that I am pouring out myself into these pages — letting the world read them and letting myself be seen. I had written the proposal for healing through remembering during a very difficult moment in my life, and it had been my way of expressing the need that I had for movement and change. I couldn’t find myself and that brought a lot of pain. For the longest time I had told myself the same narrative over and over again — that this is meant for someone else, that my voice doesn’t matter. Working on Healing Through Remembering has been empowering. It has been a challenge on many levels because it forced me to be vulnerable and honest with myself while also opening up space in my family to share our stories of survival.

My Family – Mamita Virginia, Leisha, Tia Rosi, Daysi, Pauli, Cory, Samia, Tia Trancito. 2017

When I thought of this project, I thought how amazing it would be to document alternative ways of healing by accessing my family’s memory and ancestral knowledge. I honestly didn’t think that this would be a painful process. I was sad, and I was broken most of the time because as it turns out, unravelling memory is not always a happy thing. The conversations I had with my grandmothers were painful as both of them recounted times in which family members had been abused, discriminated against, treated as less than because of who they are and those things had been silently tucked away into acceptance.

This past year, I spent time with my extended family in Ecuador, getting to know their stories and trying to find a place for myself within that space. Visiting every once in a while was exciting, but living there full-time was a different story. I had hoped to come out with a flowery recount of how romantically beautiful it is to return “home” but instead I was left with more questions, and lots more healing to be done. For me, making sense of my cultural identity has been a central part of my life. I was born into a Kichwa family from the Northern part of Ecuador. My earlier years were spent with my grandmother, tending to the land and the animals that lived with us.

Mama Killa. Mother Moon. 2018

My family and I moved to Canada when I was 9, my family and we started a new life away from everything and everyone I associated with connection and the idea of “home”, and although I am grateful that my parents made the decision to move to Canada moving here unrooted me and caused me years of anxiety. I never really found a place for myself here and when I went to visit Ecuador after years of living far away everyone treated me differently and I felt really uneasy about who I had become. I came back to the feeling that I didn’t belong to either place. I needed to be part of something, so I stubbornly held on to the idea that by permanently moving to Ecuador and “doing what I was supposed to do” I would somehow have that feeling of home and belonging. As a teenager, I remember looking out my window and imagining a time where I would have enough resources to go to and live in Ecuador. I travelled back and forth for a while until I finally stayed in 2017. I had been chasing the feeling of home for so long that I allowed myself to make a series of choices that I thought would assure I would be welcomed into this imagined community; I allowed my boundaries to be crossed many times over in the name of immersion and while being in the mountains, with my grandmother, with everything I had ever wanted, the feeling of not belonging never really went away.

Pachamama y yo. 2018

I immersed myself in the life there as much as I could and I began to open myself up to new experiences. I had hoped that by being in this place and connecting with my culture, I would find peace, but instead the space began triggering wounds I had forgotten about. Ones I had purposely thrown dirt over started to open up and I realized remembering was not about learning about a distant past but it meant honouring my own experiences and giving them the validation they deserve. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and day after day her stories began to weave me into her world, I began to understand myself in the larger context and acknowledged the pain and struggles of my family. I realized that the stories my family was sharing with me were meant to be shared amongst us and with future generations so that we can somehow end hurtful cycles and play a part in collectively healing our family.

Mamita Virginia and the youngest baby in the family. (Right) Pancarita (Left) 2018

My grandmother who is 78 years old, grew up alone. Her mother had problems with alcohol and left her daughter to raise herself and her brother. My grandmother made an effort to go to school by using the money her madrina gave her to buy supplies, but eventually had to leave that dream when she was 9 years old to work in a mestizo (person of mixed spanish-indigenous ancestry) household – cooking and cleaning – to survive. Her experience with those families were tainted with abuse and hardship. I sat there listening and breaking at the same time. In her eyes the racist and abusive relationship between Indigenous people and mestizos is normalized as something that is just part of life. I struggled to understand her but after spending time in Ecuador I began to understand how one gets tired of fighting back all the time. Even while living in a predominantly Indigenous city, racist attitudes aren’t something of the past or limited to mestizos. I was made very aware that belonging to an indigenous society did not except us from having a multiplicity of problems, even within our own family, class lines exist, internalized oppression and machismo run deep. As painful as it was, it was so clarifying to see the romanticized version of Otavalo dissipate and get to a place where I could understand the roots of the intergenerational trauma we carry.

The universe speaking. 2018

I wondered how my grandmother coped with all of this and I began to see her beyond her pain and focused my energy in seeing the resilience she embodies. She was widowed when she was 32 and her 7 children are scattered between Spain, Canada, the US and Ecuador; she prays for them every single day. Bringing each and every one of them back through prayer. Mamita Virginia taught me so much about spirituality as she lives a life in which ritual takes many forms – from caring for animals, to making food- ritual is in everything.

During my time in Ecuador I went to a lot of different ceremonies where I was hoping to find quick relief for anxiety, depression and answers to all the questions I had prepared. I participated in various organized ceremonies and realized healing didn’t have to come from consuming anything, or workshopping, or that it isn’t handed down from one particular person. But rather, as my grandmother does, my healing came in the form of acknowledging every experience I live, honoring myself enough to treat myself with respect and love during hard times and being in gratitude for giving myself the opportunity to heal.

I remember the day that I walked out of the Wachuman ceremony, feeling overjoyed by the fact that I was in Ecuador and starting this journey; asking my ancestors to send me knowledge and healing. They did, in the most powerful way. They sent me lessons through life experience; I was healing through connection and my memory was awakened. The wounds were exposed to the fresh air of the Taita Imbabura, asking to be healed with lots of care and patience. The plants, spirits and people I crossed paths with were the bursts of energy that pushed me out of my comfort zone to grow, and I began making my story, my medicine. Healing myself through my memory and my intuition, realizing that the things to make myself feel better are not random, but rather pieces of knowledge passed down from a place I’m still learning about. In my personal ceremony, I felt like I was getting closer to what I was looking for: I made sense, and by looking inward I found belonging.


Eli Farinango  was born in Quito into an Kichwa Otavalo family, they migrated to Canada with her parents in 1996, she has been going back and forth between her family home in Canada and Ecuador for the past 5 years.  Through her photography, she hopes to capture the joy she experiences when seeing the beauty of the Pachamama and its people. Her photography is deeply personal as she uses art to disentangle herself and heal old wounds.

As a Kichwa woman, she feels the responsibility to open space for indigenous voices and at the same time use photography as a way to challenge stereotypes and the misrepresentation of indigenous peoples. Her work is inspired by other indigenous photographers, activists, her family and the community of women who have supported her journey in finding herself, unlearning colonialistic practices, and honoring her art.

Her work has been featured in Remezcla, Telesur English, Waging Non Violence, Red Rising Magazine, St. Sucia Zine,  Notimia (for the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples at the UN) @elifarinango

Deeply Rooted: Healing and Reclaiming Traditional Knowledge Through the Land

By Elizabeth Farinango

Over the next few months, we will be featuring articles and conversations from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. This is the third in the series.

The sounds of people covered up my nervousness as I approached the farmers market where Nelly sells her goods. As an introvert, I am always shy about meeting new people and this time was no exception. My cousin and I spotted her from far away and we sat drinking our milky corn drink, while I thought of ways to approach Nelly. After a few sips I finally gathered enough courage to get up and say hello. Nelly came over with a big smile and asked me why I had taken so long to get there, it was 11 am, the best produce was gone and it was almost time to pack everything up. I liked this familiarity and felt like I was meeting an old friend. She introduced me to three other women who were selling everything from fresh carrots to fermented drinks known for their digestive benefits. At that moment, I was glad I stepped out of my comfort zone. This project has been in the making for years and I’m so grateful I didn’t let my social anxiety get the best of me.

Minutes away from Ayora, the community where Nelly Morocho lives with her family. Pictured is the Cayambe Mountain.

On the ride to her house, she began narrating her story and how empowered she felt by being connected to her land and helping others make a living out of reclaiming their traditional foods and medicine.

At 54, Nelly is one of the most active and socially involved people I have ever met. Aside from being a leader of various women’s organizations in her community she is involved in running the farmers market, and training other women who are interested in learning about organic farming. She is also the granddaughter of healers, or Taitas from the Kayambi community of northern Ecuador, and through her work she advocates for the reclamation of traditional foods and medicine as a way of resistance.

Nelly Morocho welcomes me into her home as we are greeted by her chickens.

As we walk into her house, the dogs are barking and her chickens follow us up the dirt road. Nelly greets all her animals and points over to the biggest tree on the property, she explains that this tree – el floripondio blanco, a tall tree with large white flowers – is the energetic guardian of her property. People in her community have been planting these trees to guard off negative energy from those who visit since time immemorial. My heart is beyond happy to see that these traditions are kept alive, and I kneel with Nelly as she asks for permission to enter the land.  While we make our way through her farm, she shows me all the plants, fruits and vegetables she cultivates, teaching me how to prepare teas that treat all sorts of illnesses from anxiety to cancer. From something so familiar as mint to other plants such as the marco (for warding off bad energies), tilo (for reducing anxiety), mashua (for cleansing the reproductive system and prostate) and aji rocoto (a hot pepper used to treat cancer), I learn more from the two hours I spent with Nelly than I would from any book or class. She is a natural-born teacher who has made it her life’s work to take care of this land, share the wisdom and use plants to care for our physical and mental health.

Floripondio blanco t. Brugmansia arborea. In the andean region it is known for its energetic properties.

This work to reclaim ancestral foods and medicine is part of a larger movement amongst indigenous women all over Latin America who are being empowered to live lifestyles that instill pride in indigenous medicine, food and traditions. In Ecuador, every year various women’s organizations gather all over the country to trade ancestral seeds, organic produce, information and provide training on new production methods.

Nelly Morocho shows me the paico a plant used to heighten attention spans and increase productivity.

One of the things that stands out about the work being done in the Kayambi communities is the idea of reciprocity and communal learning. In addition to training women in pre-production, food handling, packaging, and customer service, many of these organizations also discuss many different aspects of social justice. Organizers such as Nelly, view a strong connection between social issues, food sovereignty and cultural survival.

My search for plants to help with depression and anxiety frame my conversation with Nelly as she begins to share different plants to help women heal themselves with things they can grow at home. She explains that one of the most common things people ask her about are menstrual cramps, for which she tells me people can use fig leaves boiled into a tea, or boiled ruda flowers. While we walk in the farm she grabs a colorful purple plant –Amaranto– and gives it to me asking me to boil it with tamarind to make a tea when I am having an anxiety attack. I grab the plants and continue our conversation about family. At this point Nelly had began telling me about her grandmother and how she had always nurtured her curiosity by taking her on healing appointments in her community. She smiled as she remembered the woman that taught her all she knows and asked me about my grandmother who has been living with me for the past year. I told her about my gratitude for my grandmother and expressed my worry for the pain she always feels in her bones. Nelly quickly walked over to a green bush with pretty purple flowers and explained that I should boil the wagra ortiga leaf into a tea and the flor filanjilla when fevers are involved.

flor filanjilla. Used to treat fevers and pain.
Wagra ortiga. Used for spiritual cleansings and in a tea for bone pain.
Ruda. Used for energetic cleansings and to treat menstrual cramps.

As my time with Nelly concludes, she shows me the wealth of seeds she’s been able to grow over the years and has invited me back to her house to learn about planting them so that I may also have my own garden with medicinal plants. This sharing is part of the work that Nelly and her organization do. For Nelly it is her life’s work to learn and pass on the wisdom left by her ancestors, and in the process, teach other women to be self-sufficient and empower them into caring for their families without pharmaceuticals.

Nelly Morocho proudly showing me her aji plants.

While visiting her, we bonded over our love for mysteries of the moon cycles, laughed while her grandson chased off the  bees, and rejoiced over the idea that we can live out healthy lives by investing our time in getting to know the flora of our lands. Getting to know her has reaffirmed the need to work collectively to heal trauma starting from something as simple as opening our doors to a stranger and sharing what we know. Before I left she reminded me to: “…be conscious that we are a reflection of the land. Take care of the land you live in and support organizations that are working hard to reclaim traditional knowledge and ancestral seeds.”

Eli Farinango is a Kichwa photographer and writer. She is currently working on exploring the ways in which healing takes place through herself and the women in her family. In the past, she has worked in journalism and with digital media as a tool for personal and community empowerment. Through photography, she seeks to explore herself, her culture and find new ways of resistance and resiliency. Her work has been featured in Red Rising Magazine, St. Sucia Zine, teleSUR English, Waging on Violence and Remezcla.  For her latest work: @elifrng