IN SEARCH OF ECUADOREAN CONVERSOS
by Ed Samiljan
[Note: I, Dr. Barry Reder - the webmaster, have added a few thoughts of my own throughout this narrative. These will be in brackets- as is this message. All photos are mine unless otherwise noted.]
When you sit on a mule in the Andes of Ecuador at a height of 14,000 ft. and it is cold and very windy; the mule has just stumbled on a hard rock base covered with rock stubble; you look down past the clouds that are two thousand feet below and you cannot see ground you ask yourself, "What am I doing here?"
The questions others ask is "Why do it? Why look for conversos in Ecuador? What's the point?" I am going to try to answer those questions as best as I can. You will see that some of my interests are peculiar to me, personally, while some of my interests are similar to the current concern with Marranos or conversos that I have seen throughout the Jewish Community.
About a year and a half ago my father died and I received as my legacy a couple of dozen books relating to Jewish History, Israel and contemporary Jewish problems. A number of these books deal with the history of the Marranos. I wanted to read the books left to me to determine if there were insights to be had about my father from the literature he collected. My father was a man who totally assimilated into the secular world. Why would he collect these books?
As I read these histories I became fascinated with the stories of Jews or Conversos who fled Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries to establish new lives in foreign lands. Often the Inquisition followed them to the new lands. I considered it amazing that despite five centuries some of these people were known to continue to practice Judaism in secret, or to practice Catholicism while in secret maintaining rituals or practices that even today are recognizable as Judaic in origin. What an extraordinary strength of religious purpose these people had that took hundreds of years and generation after generation to destroy.
To me the Inquisition was one more event in the cycle of persecutions of Jews that culminated most recently in the Holocaust. How do you develop a perspective of this cycle of horror if you are not familiar with its history?
There has been considerable interest in the Marranos of New Mexico recently and a reasonable amount of literature has been written and considerable investigation about these people has occurred. In the case of Ecuador, my inability to find literature and the apparent lack of prior investigation I found intriguing.