essential interconnections we share with mother earth – Pachamama. Ecuador is a place
where people still embody this reality, connecting and living in harmony with everything that enriches life to make it meaningful and magical.
Pacific Ocean it is home to 26 different indigenous cultures, and well over 200 distinct nations.
These indigenous civilizations represent 25% of Ecuador's population or about 3.5 million people, and their unique cultural fusion make the country very unique. Spanish & Quichua are the
main languages spoken however there are over ten native languages still spoken - Achuar-Shiwiar, Cha'palaachi, Cofán, Tsachila, Cuaiquer, Secoya, Shuar, Siona, Tetete, & Waorani.
The country has three main regions: the Sierra or Andes, the Oriente Amazon lowlands, and the Pacific coast. There is an indigenous presence throughout this diverse country, and they are
identified with their respective geographic regions. These peoples history encompasses 11,000
years living here prior to the arrival of the Europeans, and this rich diversity of multi-ethnic indigenous cultures in Ecuador is at risk for disappearing.
Many of the indigenous communities continue to live according to their traditional values,
including systems for sharing and exchanging, which clashes with the individualism of modern western society. An example is the highly valued tradition "minga" – communities working
together to harvest crops or build roads, community infrastructure, and homes.
Because of demographic pressures, the expansion of agro-industry exporting in the Andean highlands, and colonist encroachment in the Amazon, each year indigenous communities are
left with less land for production. From the land we get food, medicines, materials for
ceremony, clothes, tools, and crafts. Without land people are without life - land is our
The Agrarian Reform Law encouraged the colonization of 'empty' forested lands, despite the
fact these territories had been traditionally inhabited by minority groups for thousands of years. Afro-Ecuadorians were ignored by agrarian reforms because their traditional lands on the
northern coast were excluded from the legislation. So while the boom brought the hope of
prosperity, it threatened minority groups and their homelands.
Ecuador was one of the poorest Latin American countries until the 1970's oil boom. Prior to
that it was largely dependent on agricultural exports, with very little industry. Ecuador began
to cash in on the benefits of this new source of wealth. Much of this wealth was wasted in
military spending, and corruption and poor planning. Inhabitants of oil-producing territories
suffered displacement and pollution of their lands, parts of Ecuador did experience apparent
benefits. For example, there was an explosion of infrastructural development: education and
medical facilities, power systems, highway networks, and canals.
and mineral extraction practices contaminate rivers, and cause cancers and skin diseases. Oil extraction in the Amazon has already caused the extinction of the Tetete and Zaparo
nationalities and continues to threaten indigenous peoples.
Jamil Mahuad in 2000.
The 1998 Ecuadorian constitution recognizes Ecuador as a pluri-ethnic nation and guarantees
the rights of both indigenous peoples and Afro-Ecuadorians. This includes the right to
collective territory, the use of natural resources, cultural patrimony, and bilingual education.
Political turmoil and economic conditions however has meant little actual realization of these
rights beyond paper recognition. The socio-economic disparities between indigenous and
Afro-Ecuadorian and the majority white/mestizo population, continues to be significant.
Much of Ecuador's oil wealth lies in the Amazon rainforest region where some indigenous populations still live in voluntary isolation. Of the 400,000 barrels of oil per day produced by Ecuador more than 32,000 barrels annually spill into the Amazon River systems, mostly in
areas inhabited by indigenous groups.
In 2005, members of the Hauorani indigenous were unsuccessful in preventing plans by
Petrobras a Brazilian oil company to drill for oil in the Yasuní forest. Insensitive environmental practices have damaged the environment and caused the extinction of smaller indigenous groups
like the Tagaeri & Taromenani, who had been isolated from the outside world until recently.
An estimated additional untapped 900 million barrel oil reserve has been identified in the heart
of the bio-diverse rainforest. In light of ecological concerns – including the future of indigenous populations in June 2007 Ecuadorian officials indicated to the UN that Ecuador would ban exploitation of huge oil reserves if compensated by the international community for its effort to
save the Amazon region and its indigenous inhabitants from ecological collapse. They hoped to
raise 350 million dollars per year, approximately 50 percent of what the state would earn from extracting the petroleum. Unfortunately the idea did not receive the necessary support.
and customs of the native peoples, and provide quality education. On July 23rd 2014 more than
200 students of indigenous nationalities in Cuenca graduated with a Bachelor degree in
Intercultural Bilingual Education and will become part of the Ecuadorian public education
system. The program sponsored by the Ministry of Education promotes teacher training of
teachers to indigenous nationalities of the coastal, andean and amazon regions. The Achuar,
Awa, Chachi, Cofan, Huaorani, Quichua, Sápara, Sequoia, Shiwiar, Shuar, and Siona peoples
$ 5 million dollars, and has laboratories for physics, chemistry and languages, a multi-purpose
room, bar, parking, library, restrooms, civic courtyard, technology labs, smart boards,
classrooms, sports courts and offers early education to high school.
reference to the fact that these schools are financed by 12% of the oil surplus.
the Amazon, or through the Sierra. These experiences are like entering into another world filled
with sights, vibrant colours, smells, flavours, and sounds often never experienced before.
diversity of our local people.
stone tools. Hunting and gathering cultures evolved to wider varieties of game and gradual domestication of agriculture. The first farmers in Ecuador were the Las Vegas culture from
the Santa Elena Peninsula, who engaged in ritual burial and intensive gardening, and are known
for the domestication of squash.
and the Quitus united to form an elaborate civilization which ended with the birth of Quito as
the capital. Known for their utilitarian ceramics, fishing, and cultivation of maize, cotton, mate,
coca, and water plantain. In the Sierra they cultivated the locally developed crops of potatoes,
quinoa, peppers, & peanuts. Animal husbandry domesticated the llama, alpaca, guinea pig, and muscovy duck.
Trade networks were established and different styles of pottery made. Metallurgy, weaving, and ceramics refined, agriculture intensified, and urban centres developed.
Prior to the invasion of the Inca, the indigenous societies of Ecuador had complex organized
tribal communities and diverse social, cultural, and economic systems. The ethnic groups of the central Sierra were generally more advanced in organizing farming and commercial activities for efficiency and specialization. Year long harvests of a wide variety of crops provided economic success.
Quichua, or Kechua. Large numbers fled their mountain homeland for the coast and the jungle
during the Spanish conquest. There were also significant deaths as a result of diseases brought
by the European conquerors. An official census in 1580 recorded 8.28 million. In 1839, 250
years later, that number had fallen to 1.393 million. It has bounced back with currently over
12.5 million - the largest indigenous population in the world.
Sierra. They are primary descendents of the Incans. They speak Quechua and include the
Cañari, Caranqui, Cayambi, Chimbuelo, Otavalenos, Quitu-Caras, Paleo, Panzaleo,
Pasto, Pichincha, Puruhá, Quito Salasacan, Saraguro, Tugua, Tungurahua, and
The Andes contains 30 mountain peaks of volcanic origin. The highlanders live amongst them
on hillside terraces farming maize, quinoa, beans, potatoes, and squash with systems for planting
and harvesting multiple cycles of crops.
In June, all highland Quechua communities celebrate Inti Raymi - a harvest festival of the sun.
A traditional sun dance where the dancers move in a rainbow pattern, wearing wool masks and feather crowns. The feathers are from the extinct pacharaco bird. The community spectators are costumed representing anything from wolves, to brides, to shamans.
Azuay near Cuenca, were the most advanced, and most feared by the Inca, due to their fierce resistance to the Incan expansion. Cañari used a lunar calendar and built temples in circular or moon-like shapes. Cañari construction rivaled the Incan capital, Cuzco.
Ingapirca ( remains shown above ) & Tumebamba's impressive and beautiful architecture
was known as the "second Cuzco." Their architecture remains were later destroyed by Spaniards
and the Incas. While they retained their ethnic origins, the Inca language and social structures
came to dominate.
The Cañari held the snake and the macaw sacred believing they were their ancestors.
Today they are probably most well known for the Panama Hat which they started making for
their economic survival in the 1950's.
their traditional pan flute music and crafts.
Famous for the Otavalo market ( plaza de Ponchos ) of art, embroidery, jewelry musical
instruments. They are easily identified by their traditional dress.
For men a blue poncho, white pants, long braided hair ( shimba ) topped with a black felt fedora.
Women wear distinctive white lace colourfully hand embroidered blouses, dark skirts with a
black sash, shawls, and often jewelry. They are probably the most prosperous indigenous group
in South America, traveling the world selling their alpaca wool sweaters, unique handicrafts and
playing traditional Andean music.
While primarily concentrated around Otavalo in the province of Imbabura they have established
a successful outlet for their goods in most cities throughout Ecuador. It is fascinating that with
their success in the modern world, the Otavaleno's have managed to hold on to centuries-old
traditions. They are very proud people and it shows.
For more information about the people of Otavalo:
Tapestry designs depict scenes from their daily lives. The handicrafts, ponchos, bags,
handbags, hats, & tapestries may be found in the central plaza market "Plaza of the Arts".
Their traditional melodies use a flute and drum. Their traditional dress is a shirt and white linen
trousers, a long, narrow black poncho and a white woolen hat decorated with a red or green
ribbon. Their traditional house has walls made of mud and bamboo, no windows, one door, and a straw roof. The bed, sleeps the entire family , is made of bamboo.
economic independence through ranching & cattle production. Their land holdings are
sufficient enough to : provide their own food (maize, potatoes, beans, squash ) dependent solely
on rainfall; provide clothing from sheep wool ; firewood fuel from their forests; timber for home
construction; and raise cattle for selling. Saraguros often individually own large cattle ranches
which is highly controversial with the rest of the Indigenous movement which emphasizes
collective rights and land use.
Saraguros language is Quichua as well as Spanish. Their traditional dress is based on
black-dyed clothing, shorts for men with flat-brimmed hats, and skirts, shawls, and silver
bead necklaces for women, for both hair is worn in a long ponytail.
consumer society owning vehicles, computers, televisions, stereo systems, cameras etc.
and providing tours. To learn more about the Saraguro people, you can visit their site, Saraguro,
Province of Loja, Ecuador.
These tribes are the guardians of the world's biological heritage - having lived there for more than 10,000 years, they know its trees, animals and rhythms. Many live in voluntary isolation in this remote amazon rainforest. This garden of eden is home to some of our favorite foods: avocado, black pepper, Brazilian nuts, cayenne pepper, cashews, cocoa, cinnamon, eggplant, figs,ginger,sugarcane, vanilla and yams.
They extract dyes from the achiote plant for face paint, and curare poisons for blowgun darts from various other plants. Shamans diagnose and treat illness with rituals and plant medicines.
Access to the jungle is obtained by road from Quito to Coca, Baños to Puyo, or Cuenca to Macas.
Life centers on the domestic household with hunting, fishing, and gardening pursuits. Women give birth to their children in the sanctity of their gardens. The men hunt with 8 ft long blowguns and " pencil lead " thin darts. Fishing may be done with a hook and line or with a wicker basket filled with crushed barbasco vines which weaken the fish.
Their huts are 25 ft high oval structures, open on the sides, with palm leaf roofs, dirt floors, and a bench around the circumference. Cooking is done on an open fire, and sleeping in a small enclosed area.
Daily each morning the entire family gathers to tell stories. These stories serve as guidance for the children and to preserve their people's history.
Some western technology such as motors for canoes, chainsaws, lamp torches, rifles and solar powered radios have been incorporated into their lives. An airstrip saves lives during medical emergencies. Even today these western influences are minimal. They want access to education and health care to evolve and retain their rights.
Their economic security is currently provided by tourism where they opened Kapawi Lodge & Reserve hosting about 1,000 visitors annually. United Nations has declared it one of the top five environmental conservation and community development projects in the world. Currently embroiled in a struggle to protect their resources in which native people have almost always lost. The government has ordered the breakup of a group named Fundacion Pachamama supposedly in an attempt to stifle dissent and quiet those that speak for the Achuar.
They are known for their piercings in their noses and ears for displaying feathers, and flowers. Currently they are working to bring back traditional animals to their region by raising turtles and caimans for release into the river. Pink dolphins, tapir, and several monkeys which are endangered in other regions have healthy populations there.
Blowguns with poison tipped arrows, and spears are the main weapons for hunting and fishing. When hunting for their food they held deer, snakes, and the jaguar as sacred. The Huaorani people and crude oil were both discovered at the same time in the Amazon Basin. The western world was most interested, but of course there was no commonality between the interested groups. In 1990 the Huaorani won rights to a land reserve within Yasuni National Park. Speaking the language of Wao Tiriro, they remain the most isolated from civilization, hostile to outside intrusions and willing to resort to violence to defend their territory. Threatened by oil exploration and illegal deforestation practices they continue to reject outside contact and move deeper into isolated areas. The Tagaeri and Taromenane tribes continue to live entirely off the land without external contact to this day. As isolated indigenous groups throughout the world continue to be assimilated into surrounding cultures, hopefully we can learn from the Huaorani experiences and avoid repeating the mistakes made.
The Amazonian Quichuas' population is between 30,000 and 40,000, whom are divided into two subgroups: Napu Quichuas Runa of the Upper Napo river and the Canelos Quichuas, located in the province of Pastaza. They speak the Quichua language which was found in the Amazonregion before the conquest as a trade language and introduced from the Andean mountains in the seventeenth century by Catholic missionaries.
Their geographic home is protected from outside interference by the eastern slopes of the rugged Andes and angry river rapids. When the Spanish invaded their territory the Shuar were successful in revolting, and most encroaching Spanish settlements were destroyed and their occupants driven away.
Shuar homes known as "jivarías" were single room structures - divided for men's and women's spaces, oval in shape, with thatched roofs and chonta-pole walls. Traditionally they were isolated in small clusters of 2 or 3 along riverbanks and only accessible by canoe. Once food resources were depleted in the area they would move to a new location.
As horticulturalists they would clear the jungle vegetation and plant gardens of manioc. Manioc is both eaten and fermented into an alcoholic drink known as chicha. As they raised few animals, hunting small animals with blowguns and poison darts and fishing were their major food sources.
Their territory was devastated by oil exploration and they fought back by suing Texaco for more than one billion dollars for a variety of environmental abuses, including dumping more than three thousand gallons of oil a day into their lagoons.
Ramón Piaguaje is the most famous Secoya with his painting "Eternal Amazon." It was selected from over 22,000 entries by professional artists from 51 countries as the winner of the first prize of the United Nations Millennium Art Exhibition in aid of UNICEF - "Our World in the Year 2000."
The Siona people are a very small indigenous group of about 200 live in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in Sucumbios province. They share territory with the Secoya, and speak Tucano. Besides some traditional activities for subsistence, they now have tourism activities. This sector has generated various sociocultural and economic changes such as immigration to neighboring cities, gender issues, and economic dependency on tourism revenues.
the Tsachila, who refined the ceramics of the Valdivia culture. They were seafarers and
fishermen, but also practiced agriculture and trade, with each other and the tribes in the Sierra.
The most important commodity they provided were Spondylus shells, which was a symbol of fertility.
Their agriculture is known as "slash and mulch," where the land is cleared leaving the fallen vegetation to decay providing a rich humus mulch for growing. They practice intercropping and
grow different varieties of manioc, plantains, maize, Colocasia, Xanthosoma, beans, sugarcane,
hot peppers, chirimoya, tomato, tamarindo, mango, achiote, borojo, naranjilla, papaya, inga, avocado, and peach palm.
to imitate customs that provide them prestige in the eyes of Whites, rather than an internalization
of these religious beliefs. Death is seen as simply moving to another life. When the dead are
buried, food, tools, and clothes are placed with the body so they will be able to fulfill their duties
in the next life. Because of this belief extremely sick people receive no medical care to prolong
their lives, which would be contrary to their supernatural beliefs.
Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian army.
the coast during the Inca & Spanish conquests. Now they often clash over limited resources
with the Afro-Ecuadorians who occupy the same region. Their language is Chapalachi.
Traditionally their economy was based on hunting, gathering, and fishing, but now they
engage in agriculture for domestic consumption and grow coffee and cacao for export.
thousands of animals including monkeys, opossum, ocelots, pacas, jaguarundi, coati, toucans,
parrots, and hummingbirds. The Chocó forest also supports a coastal mangrove system.
Mangroves are important because they filter the water, prevent erosion and protect the land
from tropical storms.
They get their food, medicine and fuel for fire from these forests. Food such as bananas,
mangos, papayas, citrus and guava, also fish, shrimp, & crab from the mangroves. One
very important plant that grows under the forest canopy here is cocoa trees. The fruit of the
cocoa tree grows in large pods that hang from the trunk and branches of the tree. Inside the pod
is a white delicate flavoured fruit and dark purple seeds from which chocolate is made.They want
to continue to harvest cocoa so not to destroy the rainforest - home to so many plants and animals. They grow cocoa in the shade so that they can keep the rainforests standing. Essentially this
means that crops grow in the rainforest, instead of cutting down the trees to make room for their crops.
head decoration, the use of red body paint, and a hairstyle fashioned to look like achiote seed
At one time the Tsáchila community was subjected to the ravages of smallpox. A Shaman
requested spiritual guidance for a cure and they were guided to an achiote bush. Covering
themselves with the red juice the plague of smallpox was reduced drastically. They have
been forever grateful and continue to use the plant for disease protection.
Their economic activity is primarily agriculture cultivation of pineapple, papaya, oranges,
harvesting native tropical products for traditional medicine, and the Tagua or Corozo nuts
used to manufacture hand-crafts.
Traditional dress for men is horizontally striped cobalt blue/black and white skirts, and for
women brightly colored horizontally striped skirts.
The Afro-Ecuadorians are descendants of black African slaves brought by the Spanish in 1533
for their conquest of Ecuador from the Incas. The ship headed for Peru was stranded off the Ecuadorian coast allowing their escape. Currently there are over 1.1 million Afro-Ecuadorians located mainly on the northwest coast in the province of Esmeraldas and the Valley of Chota in Imbabura. They represent about 5 % of the country's population.
Their most well known cultural influence is their distinctive marimba music using marimbas
and drums, and bomba played with guitars and bongo drums.
One of the most famous Afro-Ecuadorians currently is Ecuador's national soccer team's captain Antonio Valencia who also plays for Manchester United.
Resources on American Indian history, culture and society in Ecuador:Life and Death in Early Colonial Ecuador: Interesting book about the post-Columbian
history of the Indians of Ecuador.
Highland Indians and the State in Modern Ecuador: History of the modern indigenous
rights movement in Ecuador.
Blood, Revenge, War and Victory Feasts Among the Jibara Indians of Eastern Ecuador:
An anthropology book on the Jibaras.
Sumak Allpa: Native Ecuadorian organization working to preserve indigenous culture.
Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador: Article dealing with the various Ecuadorian Indian tribes.
Languages of Ecuador: Map showing where Ecuador's languages are spoken.
Native American Nations in Northern South America: Information and photographs of
the Quechua and other tribes in this region.