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Indigenous peoples in Ecuador

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Indigenous peoples in Ecuador

Indigenous peoples in Ecuador
Total population
3.4 million
25% of Ecuador's population
Regions with significant populations


Mainly: Sierra (Andean highlands) and Oriente (Eastern)
Kichwa, Spanish language, Achuar-Shiwiar, Cha'palaachi, Cofán, Tsachila, Cuaiquer, Secoya, Shuar, Siona, Tetete, Waorani
Traditional religion, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Indigenous peoples in Peru, Indigenous peoples in Colombia, Indigenous peoples in Bolivia

Indigenous peoples in Ecuador are the groups of people who were present in what became the South American nation of Ecuador when Europeans arrived. The term also includes their descendants from the time of the Spanish conquest to the present. Their history, which encompasses the last 11,000 years,[1] reaches into the present; 25 percent of Ecuador's population is of indigenous heritage, while another 65 percent is of mixed indigenous and European heritage. Black people, people of Spanish descent, and others make up the remaining 10 percent.[2]

Photograped in the Historic Center of Quito at the Old Military Hospital are these antique dug out canoes in the courtyard


There are different theories about how the American continents became populated. The prevailing theory, the Land Bridge Theory, holds that the first inhabitants of Americas migrated from Asia across the Beringia. According to this theory, the first inhabitants of South America arrived from North America via the Panamanian isthmus.

Other theories hold that the first humans to reside in the Americas came across the Pacific Ocean from Oceania or across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe.

Archaeological periods

While archaeologists have proposed different temporal models at different times, the schematic currently in use divides prehistoric Ecuador into five major time periods: Lithic, Archaic, Formative, Regional Development, and Integration. These time periods are determined by the cultural development of groups being studied, and are not directly linked to specific dates, e.g. through carbon dating.

The Lithic period encompasses the earliest stages of development, beginning with the culture that migrated into the American continents and continuing until the Late Pleistocene or Early Holocene. The people of this culture are known as Paleo-Indians, and the end of their era is marked by the extinction of the megafauna they hunted.

The Archaic period is defined as "the stage of migratory hunting and gathering cultures continuing into the environmental conditions approximating those of the present."[3] During this period, hunters began to subsist on a wider variety of smaller game and increased their gathering activities.[4] They also began domesticating plants such as maize and squash, probably at "dooryard gardens."[4] In the Andean highlands, this period lasted from 7000-3500 BP.

The Formative Period is characterized by "the presence of agriculture, or any other subsistence economy of comparable effectiveness, and by the successful integration of such an economy into well-established, sedentary village life."[3] In Ecuador, this period is also marked by the establishment of trade networks[4] and the spread of different styles of pottery.[4] It began in about 3500 and ended around 2200 BP.

Regional Development is the period, dating roughly 2200–1300 BP, of the civilizations of the Sierra, described as "localized but interacting states with complex ideologies, symbol systems, and social forms." The people of this period practiced metallurgy, weaving, and ceramics.[5]

The Integration Period (1450 BP—450 BP) "is characterized by great cultural uniformity, the development of urban centres, class-based social stratification, and intensive agriculture."[6] The Integration Period ends and the historic era begins with the Inca conquest.


The oldest artifacts discovered in Ecuador are stone implements discovered at 32 Cotton Pre-ceramic (Paleolithic) archaeological sites in the Santa Elena Peninsula. They indicate a hunting and gathering economy, and date from the Late Pleistocene epoch, or about 11,000 years ago. These Paleo-Indians subsisted on the megafauna that inhabited the Americas at the time, which they hunted and processed with stone tools of their own manufacture.

Evidence of Paleoindian hunter-gatherer material culture in other parts of coastal Ecuador is isolated and scattered.[7] Such artifacts have been found in the provinces of Carchi, Imbabura, Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Azuay, and Loja.[8]

Despite the existence of these early coastal settlements, the majority of human settlement occurred in the Sierra (Andean) region, which was quickly populated.[8][9] One such settlement, remains of which were found at the archaeological site El Inga, was centered at the eastern base of Mount Ilaló, where two basalt flows are located. Due to agricultural disturbances of archaeological remains, it has been difficult to establish a consistent timeline for this site. The oldest artifacts there discovered, however, date to 9,750 BP.[8]

In the South, archaeological discoveries include stone artifacts and animal remains found in the Cave of Chobshi, located in the cantón of Sigsig, which date between 10,010 and 7,535 BP. Chobshi also provides evidence of the domestication of the dog. Another site, Cubilán, rests on the border between Azuay and Loja provinces. Scrapers, projectile points, and awls discovered there date between 9,060 and 9,100 BP, while vegetable remains are up to a thousand years older.

In the Oriente, human settlements have existed since at least 2450 BP.[10] Settlements that probably date from this period have been found in the provinces of Napo, Pastaza, Sucumbíos, and Orellana.[10] However, most of the evidence recovered in the Oriente suggest a date of settlement later than in the Sierra or the Coast.

Origins of agriculture

The end of the Ice Age brought changes to the flora and fauna, which led to the extinction of the large game hunted by Paleo-Indians, such as giant sloth, mammoth, and other Pleistocene megafauna. Humans adapted to the new conditions by relying more heavily on farming. The adoption of agriculture as the primary mode of subsistence was gradual, taking up most of the Archaic period. It was accompanied by cultural changes in burial practices, art, and tools.

The first evidence of agriculture dates anywhere from the Preboreal Holocene (10,000 years ago)[7] to the Atlantic Holocene (6,000 years ago).[1][4]

Some of the first farmers in Ecuador were the Las Vegas culture of the Santa Elena Peninsula, who, in addition to making use of the abundant piscine resources, also contributed to the domestication of several beneficial plant species, including squash.[7] They engaged in ritual burial and intensive gardening.

The Valdivia culture, an outgrowth of the Las Vegas culture, was an important early civilization. While archaeological finds in Brazil and elsewhere have supplanted those at Valdivia as the earliest-known ceramics in the Americas, the culture retains its importance due to its formative role in Amerindian civilization in South America, which is analogous to the role of the Olmeca in Mexico.[8] Most of the ceramic shards from the Early Valdivia date to about 4,450 BP (although some may be from up to 6,250 BP), with artifacts from the later period of the civilization dating from about 3,750 BP. Ceramics were utilitarian, with the exception of small feminine figures referred to as "Venuses."

The Valdivia people farmed maize, a small bean (now rare) of the Canavalia family, cotton, and achira, a water-plantain. Indirect evidence suggests that maté, coca, and manioc were also cultivated. They also consumed substantial amounts of fish. Archaeological evidence from the Late Valdivia shows a decline in life expectancy to approximately 21 years. This decline is attributed to an increase in infectious disease, accumulation of waste, water pollution, and a deterioration in diet, all of which are associated with agriculture itself.[11]

In the Sierra, people cultivated locally-crops developed, including potatoes, quinoa, and tarwi. They also farmed crops that originated in the coastal regions and in the North, including ají, peanuts, beans, and maize. Animal husbandry kept pace with agricultural development, with the domestication of the local animals llama, alpaca, and the guinea pig, as well as the coastal Muscovy Duck. The domestication of camelids during this period laid the basis for the pastoral tradition that continues to this day.

In the Oriente, evidence of maize cultivation discovered at Lake Ayauchi dates from 6250 BP.[4] In Morona-Santiago province, evidence of Regional Development period culture was discovered at the Upano Valley sites of Faldas de Sangay, also known as the Sangay Complex or Huapula, as well as at other nearby sites. These people created ceramics, farmed, and hunted and gathered.[10] They also built large earthen mounds, the smallest of which were used for agriculture or housing, and the largest of which had ceremonial functions. The hundreds of mounds spread over a twelve square kilometer[12] area at Sangay demonstrate that the Oriente was capable of supporting large populations. The lack of evidence of kings or "principal" chiefs and also challenges the notion that cultural creations such as monuments require centralized authority.[13]

Development of metallurgy

The period from 2450 BP—1450 BP is known as the "Regional Development" period, and is marked by the development of metalworking skills. The artisans of La Tolita, an island in the estuary of the Santiago River, made alloys of platinum and gold, fashioning the material into miniatures and masks. The Jama-Coaque, Bahía, Guangala, and Jambalí also practiced metalwork in other areas of the Ecuadorian coast.[14] These goods were traded though mercantile networks.

Pre-Inca era

Prior to the invasion of the Inca, the indigenous societies of Ecuador had complex and diverse social, cultural, and economic systems. The ethnic groups of the central Sierra were generally more advanced in organizing farming and commercial activities, and the peoples of the Coast and the Oriente generally followed their lead, coming to specialize in processing local materials into goods for trade.


The coastal peoples continued the traditions of their predecessors on the Santa Elena peninsula. They include the Machalilla, and later the Chorrera, who refined the ceramicism of the Valdivia culture.


The economy of the peoples of the Oriente was essentially silvicultural, although horticulture was practiced. They extracted dyes from the achiote plant for face paint, and curare poisons for blowgun darts from various other plants. Complex religious systems developed, many of which incorporated (or perhaps originated from) the use of hallucinogenic plants such as Datura and Banisteriopsis. They also made coil ceramics.

Map showing settlements at prior to the Inca conquest


In the Sierra, the most important groups were the Pasto, the state.


Using the system of multicyclic agriculture, which allowed them to have year-long harvests of a wide variety of crops by planting at a variety of altitudes and at different times, the Sierra people flourished. Generally, an ethnic group farmed the mountainside nearest to it. Cities began to specialize in the production of goods, agricultural and otherwise. For this reason, the dry valleys, where cotton, coca, ají (chili peppers), indigo, and fruits could be grown and where salt could be produced, gained economic importance. Sometimes, tribes farmed lands outside their immediate purview. These goods were then traded in a two-tiered market system.

Free commerce took place in markets called "tianguez", and was the means by which ordinary individuals fulfilled their need for tubers, maize, and cotton. Directed commerce, however, was undertaken by specialists called mindala under the auspices of a curaca. They also exchanged goods at the tianguez, but specialized in products that had ceremonial purposes, such as coca, salt, gold, and beads. Seashells were sometimes used as currency in places such as Pimampiro in the far North. Salt was used in other parts of the Sierra, and in other places where salt was abundant, such as Salinas.

In this manner, the Pasto and the Caras undertook their existence in the Chota Valley, the Puruhá in the Chanchán riverbasin, and the Panzaleos in the Patate and Guayallabamba valleys.

In the coastal lowlands, the Esmeralda, the Manta, the Huancavilca, and the Puná were the four major groups. They were seafarers, but also practiced agriculture and trade, both with each other and with peoples of the Sierra.[15] The most important commodity they provided, however, were Spondylus shells, which was a symbol of fertility.[14] In areas such as Guayas and Manabí, small beads called chiquira were used as currency.

Also following the lead of the Sierra peoples, the people of the Oriente began congregating around sites where cotton, coca, salt, and beads could be more easily produced for trade. Tianguez developed in the Amazon forest, and were visited by mindala from the Sierra.

Political organization

The cacicazgo. Each curacazgo is made up of one or more ayllu. The Ecuadorian ayllus, unlike in the Southern Andes, were small, made up of only about 200 people, although the larger ones could reach up to 1,200 members. Each ayllu had its own authority, although each curaca also answered to a chief (cacique), who exercised power over the curacazgo. The cacique's power depended on his ability to mobilize manual labor, and was sustained by his ability to distribute highly-valued goods to the members of his curaca.


Local beliefs and practices co-existed those practiced regionally, which allowed each ethnic group to maintain its own religious identity while interacting, especially commercially, with neighboring groups. Some regional commonalities were the solar calendar, which marked the solstices and equinoxes, and veneration of the sun, moon, and maize.

Inca conquest

The Inca empire expanded into what later became Ecuador during the reign of Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, who began the northward conquest in 1463. He gave his son Topa control of the army, and Topa conquered the Quitu and continued coastward. Upon arriving, he undertook a sea voyage to either the Galápagos or the Marquesas Islands. Upon his return, he was unable to subdue the people of Puná Island and the Guayas coast. His son Huayna Capac, however, was able to subsequently conquer these peoples, consolidating Ecuador into "Tawantinsuyu", the Inca Empire.[15]

One of the Inca's tactics included uprooting groups of Quechua-speakers, called mitmas, loyal to the empire and resettling them in areas that offered resistance.

Many tribes resisted the imperial encroachment, in particular the Cañari in the south, near modern-day Cuenca,[16] and the Caras and the Quitu in the North. However, the Inca language and social structures came to predominate, particularly in the Sierra.

Some scholars dispute the Inca heritage of indigenous people of Ecuador.[17]

Spanish conquest

In 1534, at the time of the arrival of the first columns of Spanish conquistadores, the population of the present day territories of Ecuador is believed to border the figure of one million inhabitants. This might have been a result of epidemics of smallpox and diphtheria that spread in the Andes after the first contacts with Spanish explorers and their livestock. According to early Spanish chronicles the Inca Huayna Capac died of smallpox and then the territories of Collasuyo and central Peru so a period of civil war for the control of the royal household between two brothers each an heir to the dominions of their respective maternal feudal lands.

Huáscar was a prince born to a noble family of Cuzco and Atahualpa was a son from a noble family of the Quitus. The quitus were a tribe that formed an alliance with the Incas during the conquest of Huayna Capac. Most important in this civil war was the participation of Huayna Capac generals on the side of Athaulpa's faction, probably due to the late sovereign wish.

Rubber boom

The 19th century marked a time in history when the need for rubber came into high demand in the world.[18] Many Western Territories including America wanted to produce Rubber Industries in desire to produce economic prosperity. They also expressed an alternative goal, which was to also make better the region they will be in partnership with by improving their land and their economic status as well.[18] Reasons as to why they decided to obtain partnership with the Amazonian region was for a couple a reasons. One of the reason being that the location was ideal. Two of the most high quality rubber trees grew in that region, the Hevea tree and the Castilloa. tree[19] the Hevea tree was only able to be used 6 month out of the year while the Castilloa was able to be used the whole year.[19] To begin the trading system, the Western territories began to obtain discourse with the Mestizos of the land which were know to be the more prestigious of the different groups residing in Ecuador. They became highly tied into the trading system that was created. There was fast money involved in this system that attracted the Mestizos. Economic prosperity seemed promising. As the rubber industry flourished many other factors came to surface in the system of Rubber production. Because of the high demand for rubber at the time, the Mestizos who became known as the Caucheros (rubber barons) decided that they needed to obtain an abundant amount of workers that would work for low wages.[18] The indigenous population soon came to mind because of a couple of factors. One was due to the fact that they seemed the best fit to perform the labor. They knew the lands to which they would work on because of their long history of them living on the land. They were well adapted to the climate and was familiar with the means of survival like hunting and gathering.[18] The enslavement of the Indigenous people soon became an epidemic. Natives were taken from their homes by a group called the Muchachos who were African men hired by the Caucheros to do their dirty work.[18] They were in turn forced to work in the rubber industries by fear and intimidation and were put on a rubber quota in relation to a certain time period and were expected to meet the demands.

If the requirements were not met they were punished. Punishments by the Muchachos were very severe and brutal. Common punishments including flogging, hanging, and being put into a cepo.[18] When the workers were put into a cepo they were chained in pain inflicting positions and left without food and water for an extensive amount of time.[18] More extreme punishments included the shooting of workers if they tried to escape or they became to ill to work.[18] The pay for their hard labor was minimal. They were put on what was called a debt-penoage where they had to work for a long period of time in order to gain funds to pay back debt they owned to the Caucheros for supplies that were given to them for their daily tasks such as tools to work, clothes, and food.[18] It most commonly lead them to work their whole life for the rubber barons due to the fact that very little money was compensated for their labor. They usually received a small item that they were able to keep such as a hammock, the rest was given straight to the employer.[18] Government intervention was minimal to none because of bribery that lead local officials to overlook what was occurring and the fear of being attacked by the Indians.[18] The end of the Rubber Boom was marked in 1920 when the prices of rubber diminished. The enslavement of the Indigenous people seized in association with this.

Modern times

Population and demographics

There is debate about the quantities of indigenous currently inhabiting Ecuador. Some elements of society, most famously the former President [20]

Approximately 96.4% of Ecuador's Indigenous population are Highland Quichuas living in the valleys of the Sierra region.[20] They are Quichua speakers and include the Caranqui, the Otavaleños, the Cayambi, the Pichincha, the Panzaleo, the Chimbuelo, the Salasacan, the Tungurahua, the Tugua, the Waranka, the Puruhá, the Cañari, and the Saraguro. Linguistic evidence suggests that the Salascan and the Saraguro may be the descendents of Bolivian ethnic groups transplanted to Ecuador in a mitma, or forced migration.

Coastal groups, including the Awá, Chachi, and the Tsáchila, make up 0.24% percent of the indigenous population, while the remaining 3.35 percent live in the Oriente and consist of the Oriente Quichua (the Canelo and the Quijos), the Shuar, the Huaorani, the SionaSecoya, the Cofán, and the Achuar.


In 1986, indigenous people formed the first "truly" national political organization.[20] The Abdalá Bucaram in 1997 and Jamil Mahuad in 2000.

In 1998, Ecuador signed and ratified the current international law concerning indigenous peoples, International Labour Organization Convention 169.

Petroleum operations

The year 1978 marked the beginning of petroleum production in Ecuador.[22] Texaco is documented to be the primary international oil company that was given permission to export oil from the coast of Ecuador. This company managed the oil operation from 1971 to 1992.[23] The Ecuadorian government along with Texaco began to scout the Oriente in a joint business known as a consortium.[22] Major shipments of oil were put into action in 1972 after the Trans-Ecuadorian Pipeline was finished. In the years of production business in oil production increased rapidly and Ecuador soon became the second largest producer of oil in South America.[24]

Texaco's contract for oil production in Ecuador expired in 1992. PetroEcuador then took over 100% of the oil production management. 1.5 billion barrels of crude oil was reported to have been extracted while under the management of Texaco.[23] There were also reports of 19 billion gallons of waste that had been dumped into the natural environment with the absence of any monitoring or overseeing to prevent damages to the surrounding areas.[23] In addition there was a report of 16.8 million gallons of crude that was dispersed into the environment in relation to spillage out of the Trans-Ecuadorian pipeline.[23]

In the early 1990s a lawsuit led by Ecuadorian government officials of 1.5 billion dollars was presented against the Texaco company with claims that there was an immense pollution epidemic that led to the demise of many natural environments as well as an increase in human illnesses.[24] A cancer study was conducted in 1994 by the Centre for Economic and Social Rights which found a rise in health concerns in the Ecuadorian region.[24] In 2002, it was found that there was a notably higher incidence of cancer in women and men in the countries where there was oil production present for over 20 years.[23] Women also reported increased rates in a copious amount of psychical aliments such as skin mycosis, sore throat, headaches and gastritis.[23] The primary argument against these findings were that they were weak and biased. Texaco decided on jurisdiction in Ecuador. The case put against Texaco remained in the works for some time. In 2001, Texaco was taken over by Chevron, another oil company, which assumed the liabilities left by the previous production.[24] On February, 2011 Chevron was found guilty after inheriting the case left by Texaco and was said to be required to pay 9 billion dollars in damages. This is known to be one of the largest environmental lawsuits award recorded.[25]

List of indigenous groups

See also


  1. ^ a b Salazar, Ernesto (1996). "Les premiers habitants de l'Equateur". Les Dossiers d'archéologie (in French) (Dijon: Faton) 214: 3–85. 
  2. ^ "Ecuador". CIA World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. 2008-06-19. Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  3. ^ a b  
  4. ^ a b c d e f Marcos, Jorge G. (2003). "A Reassessment of the Ecuadorian Formative". In J. Scott Raymond. Archaeology of Formative Ecuador (PDF). Richard L. Burger. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University. p. 13.  
  5. ^ Peregrine, Peter (forthcoming). Outline of Archaeological Traditions. New Haven: Human Relations Area Files. 
  6. ^ "Integration Period". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology. Oxford University Press. 2003. 
  7. ^ a b c Stothert, Karen E.; Dolores R. Piperno and Thomas C. Andres (2003). "Terminal Pleistocene/Early Holocene human adaptation in coastal Ecuador: the Las Vegas evidence" (PDF). Quaternary International (San Antonio, Texas, USA: Center for Archaeological Research, The University of Texas at San Antonio,). 109-110 (South America: Long and Winding Roads for the First Americans at the Pleistocene/Holocene Transition): 23–43.  
  8. ^ a b c d Salazar, Ernesto (2003). "Los primeros habitantes del Ecuador I: Los primeros habitantes del Ecuador-2". La Hora (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 2008-05-01. Retrieved 2008-07-14. Puntas de lanza de varios tamaños han sido encontradas en diferentes lugares del país, particularmente, en las provincias del Carchi, Imbabura, Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Azuay y Loja. 
  9. ^ Lynch, Thomas F. (2000). "Earliest South American Lifeways". In Frank Salomon. South America. The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas III. Stuart B. Schwartz (third ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  10. ^ a b c Rostoker, Arthur (2003). "Formative Period Chronology for Eastern Ecuador". In J. Scott Raymond. Archaeology of Formative Ecuador (PDF). Richard L. Burger. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University. p. 541.  
  11. ^ Lippi, Ronald D. (1996). La Primera Revolución Ecuatoriana: El desarrollo de la Vida Agrícola en el Antiguo Ecuador. Quito: Instituto de historia y antropología andinas. 
  12. ^ Erickson, Clark (2000). "Lomas de ocupación en los Llanos de Moxos" (PDF). Arqueología de las Tierras Bajas (Montevideo): 207–226. Retrieved 2008-07-18. 
  13. ^ Roosevelt, Anna C. (2000). "Maritime, Highland, Forest Dynamic". South America. The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas III (third ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 264–349 [344].  
  14. ^ a b Shimada, Izumi (2000). "Evolution of Andean Diversity: Regional Formations (500 B.C.E-C.E. 600)". In Frank Salomon. South America. The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas III. Stuart B. Schwartz (third ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  15. ^ a b c Rudolph, James D. (1991). A Country Study: Ecuador. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. LCCN F3708.E383 1991. 
  16. ^ José Luis Espinoza E., Tomebamba, Pumapungo, Hatun Cañar Arqueología Ecuatoriana 2010
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Ingrid Fernandez, The Upper Amazonian Rubber Boom and Indigenous Rights 1900-1925 Florida Gulf Coast University
  19. ^ a b
  20. ^ a b c d Gerlach, Allen. Indians, Oil and Politics: A Recent History of Ecuador. SR Books, Wilmington Delaware. 2003
  21. ^ NORMLEX International Labour Organization (ILO)
  22. ^ a b Background on Texaco Petroleum Company's Former Operations in Ecuador
  23. ^ a b c d e f
  24. ^ a b c d Carly Gillis, Ecuador Vs. Chevron-Tesaco: A Brief History April 27, 2011
  25. ^ SIMON ROMERO and CLIFFORD KRAUSS, Ecuador Judge Orders Chevron to Pay $9 Billion NYTimesFebruary 14, 2011

External links

  • Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (CONAIE) - Indigenous rights organization of Ecuador
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