Anthropology and Latin America

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Holy Intoxication to Drunken Dissipation: Alcohol Among Quichua Speakers in Otavalo, Ecuador

Barbara Butler

On the eve of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, peoples throughout the Andes brewed beer from corn and other grains, believing that this alcoholic beverage, called asua, was a gift from the gods, a drink possessing the power to mediate between the human and divine. Consuming asua to intoxication was a sacred tradition that humans and spirits shared, creating reciprocal joy and ties of mutual obligation.

When Butler began research in Huaycopungo, Ecuador, in 1977, ceremonial drinking was causing hardship for these Quichua-speaking people. Then, in 1987, a devastating earthquake was interpreted as a message from God to end the ritual obligation to get drunk.

Holy Intoxication to Drunken Dissipation examines how the defense of drinking and getting drunk ended abruptly as the people of Otavalo re-evaluated their traditional religious life and their relationship with the wider Ecuadorian society, and defended a renewed traditional indigenous culture with increasing pride. This account presents both the local people's views of their struggles and a more general analysis of the factors involved, and concludes with thoughts about how their culture will adapt in the future.


Barbara Y. Butler retired as associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. She also works with the Maquipucuna Foundation in Quito, Ecuador, which is dedicated to rainforest preservation and sustainable development there.


"(Butler's) book does a superb job of exploring the complexities of alcohol consumption within its cultural, social, and historical embeddedness."



6 x 9 in. 480 pages 52 halftones