Ecuador's new President Lenin Moreno traveled Thursday to the ancient city of Cochasqui alongside his Bolivian counterpart Evo Morales to particpate in a centuries-old Indigenous inauguration ceremony a day after the leftist leader was officially sworn in in the capital city Quito amid throngs of supporters.
Indigenous leaders presented Moreno with a "sacred, ancestral, spiritual" wooden scepter as a symbol of his inauguration in Indigenous tradition.
"This scepter is of the people," an Indigenous leader said after Moreno received the sacred item. "Every four years we will do this people's ceremony, but we will also be walking alongside you to continue building this intercultural and plurnational state."
Speaking after receiving the scepter, Moreno said, "Ecuador is plurinational and its orientation should be intercultural."
Gathered in a circle with Moreno and Morales, Indigenous leaders offered prayers for the president's inauguration, while musicians played traditional music with drums, flutes, conch shells and other instruments.
"Unity is the strength of the people," said Morales, Bolivia's first Indigneous president, adding that social movements have been essential in resisting and rebuilding social fabric after generations of colonialism, military dictatorships and neoliberal governments in the region and that social organization continues gaining strength despite constant hostility, including in the form of attempted coups against progressive governments. "Unity is the most important to defend our revolutionary processes."
Nearby, hundreds of others gathered to witness the ceremony near a large design on the ground of two wiphala — a spquare emblem representing Indigenous peoples of the Andes across modern-day Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and parts of Argentina, Colombia and Chile — flanking the Ecuadorean flag. Many observers also held small wiphala flags in their hands.
Two hours north of Quito stands the architectual gem Cochasqui where the ceremony of the ceremony, focused on the presentation of the sacred walking stick, took place. During the ritual, a head shaman blessed the newly appointed president with good energies and presented Moreno with the wooden scepter, which was also presented to former President Rafael Correa. The passing of the scepter and blessings are a symbol representing the support from the Indigenous community for their new leader.
Crafted by artisan Luis Chandi in 2009, the scepter's ornate design wraps around the neck with traditional symbols and incorporates all of Ecuador’s diverse cultures. A hummingbird and star for the Quitoan culture, a stone chair and Ilia for the ancient Valdivian culture, petroglyphs for Alto Napo, and finally a pelican and an iguana for the Galapagos Islands.
Home to a diverse population, Ecuador has made strides toward greater inclusion and equality in the past 10 years under the Correa goverment and its social and political project known as the Citizen's Revolution. The country has established itself as a plurinational state in its constitution, Quechua and Shuar have both been recognized as official languages, and Indigenous legislators make up 11 percent of the National Assembly.
Bolivia's Morales stood at Moreno's side throughout the ceremony.
"He is the only president invited for this event. What will happen in Cochasqui is the delivery of the ancestral baton under ancestral guidelines, the amautas will be handing the walking stick to Lenin Moreno," said Bolivian Foreign Minister Fernando Huanacuni.
Moreno, former vice president under Rafael Correa, a renowned disability rights activist and former U.N. special envoy on Disability and Accessibility, has promised to continue and expand the progressive policies championed by the Correa government.