Ecuador's Cultural Diversity

Ecuador's 14.5 million inhabitants comprise an amazing cultural and social diversity.

What is nowadays Ecuador's territory has been home to several different cultures through its history. Advanced indigenous tribes inhabited the area as far back as 9,000 BC. The Incas conquered the region and settled here in the 1500s, and then, the Spaniards arrived to stay until today. Today's generations are the result of the mixture of pre-Incan and Inca civilizations, Spanish conquerors, and slaves imported from Africa, which is evidenced in the food , religious customs, music, and dress of today's society. According to 2010's census, ethnically 72% of the population is "mestizo" (mix of indigenous and white, which originally resulted from the mix between the Spanish conquerors with native women), 14% indigenous, 7% african-ecuadorian, and the remaining 7% belongs to other ethnic groups. The Spaniards also brought their religion, Catholicism, which remains the country’s main religion until today, practiced by 80% of the population.

The indigenous people have kept their traditions, language, beliefs, and ways of life through time and against all odds, and nowadays are trying very hard, with the support of the government, to keep it like this and, in some cases, recover their identity. But the impact of the Spanish conquest is evident in the local festivals and celebrations which show a curious mix of the native cultures’ and Spanish and/or Catholic traditions and beliefs.

Of the indigenous people, by far the largest group are the Kichwas (also written Quichuas), who live all along the Andean region and in the Amazon region. Among the first, which are divided in smaller communities identified mostly by their costumes, the most well-known are the Otavalos, who can be seen all around the world selling their crafts and playing Andean music. Some others are the Kayambis, Saraguros, Salasacas, Warankas, Puruhas, and Cañaris, but there are several more. As one travels along the Andean region, one can remark the differences between their hats, ponchos, or skirts. They have kept their language, culture, and traditions, and at the same time have integrated to the modern ways (most of them speak Spanish). Their main living means are agriculture, textile industry, and commerce.

The Amazonian indigenous groups are much less numerous and more dispersed than their brothers from the mountains. Their climate and environment are very different, and thus their looks and way of living differ from their relatives’ from the highlands. They have struggled the most to keep their identity, especially against the incursion of extractive industries (oil and timber), some having even managed to remain isolated in their communities. Others, while maintaining their identity, have opened up their homes to tourists, and some own lodges and organize tours for visitors. Their territories have been legally recognized, with most of them having become national parks and reserves. The groups of the Amazon include the Secoyas, Sionas, Cofans, Waoranis, Shuars, and Achuars.

The Tsa'chilas, from the province of Santo Domingo de los Tsa'chilas, a small province between the highlands and the coast, are also known as the Colorados, the "Reds", because of their custom of painting their body and hair in red with annatto seeds. Although they have adopted the modern ways completely, they still keep their hierarchical titles and practice ancient herbal medicine. They wear their traditional clothes for local festivities.

Most African-Ecuadorian people live in the province of Esmeraldas, on the northern coast of the country, but many have migrated to other regions, especially to the larger cities. There is also a small community in the valley of El Chota, Imbabura province, the only "serrano" (from the highlands) African-Ecuadorians; several famous soccer players are native from there. The coast is also home to the descendants of the Huancavilcas and Mantas, who nowadays are mostly "montubios", mestizo peasants of the coast.