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Native Cultures

When we speak of the Pre-Columbian Cultures, we refer to the ethnic groups that lived in America before the arrival of Columbus. America is not only the "new" continent Columbus and his fellow Europeans met, it has a history of thousands of years.

We do not refer to these people that inhabited pre-Columbian America as tribes, they are cultures, ethnic groups. At that time, North, Central and South America housed cultures that lived for many centuries, however, these cultures, to the eyes of the Spaniards, were poor and "primitive". In reality, these were and some still are developed cultures in many ways, which saw the world and life in a different manner. Some of these cultures have remained isolated, and developed their own style of dress, artistic expression, spiritual beliefs, etc. In the sixteenth century, with the advance of Christianity, many of these cultures lost ground as to their religion, language, and arts, and learned new ones brought by the Europeans. The Spaniards imposed the Christian religion, and to this day, many of the indigenous cultures have adopted the Catholic religion. However, they maintain their original language, dress and artistic expressions. Some cultures are still isolated and have had little or no contact with the new comers. To this day, they maintain their way of life as their ancestors have lived for way over 500 years.

In Ecuador, when we speak of mega-diversity we speak not only of our magnificent biological world, but we also refer to the human factor. Our bio-diversity and ethnic-diversity is rich and different, with characteristics depending on the natural environment of the Coast, the Highlands and the Rainforest.


The oldest known cultures of America lived on the Ecuadorian coast (8800 a 3500 B.C.). The cultures that subsist to this day are three different groups: the Awá, the Chachis or Cayapas and the Tsachilas or Colorados. They live in the tropical rainforest on the west Andes and possibly settled there escaping from the invasion of the Incas from Peru (XV Century) or from the Spaniards (XVI Century).


Many archeologists sustain that some of the oldest cultures that survived (over 10,000 years) are actually from this tropical humid rainforest, impossible to reach for many centuries. In the "Cosmo vision” of these indigenous groups, the human being is a part of the "Amazanga" (rainforest) and the human spirit wanders in this forest every dawn. The human spirit can enter an eagle or a serpent or a jaguar, each one with a symbolism as to their nature according to their beliefs. The rainforest provides their food, medicinal plants, and spiritual richness. To these people, the tropical rainforest is their home, their drugstore, their supermarket, and their religion; thus, their extreme respect to the ecological balance. These people are neither naturalists nor consumers. They are apparently very poor (according to modern world economical standards), however, they have a rich spiritual life and live in peace surrounded by their families, taking from nature only what they need for survival and taking time to meditate and enlighten their spiritual selves. To share a few days of their normal lives is an incredibly enriching experience. The Kapawi project has considered this, and offers a fantastic opportunity. The Ashuar Community, together with a tourist company, is co-managing this unique travel experience

The cultures of the highlands are by no means the oldest but the most visited and known, probably because of their geographical location on the Andean Highlands with access by roads and highways.

Many of these communities share their lives with other Ecuadorian cultures and it is fantastic how they still maintain their cultural manifestations through dress, language (Quichua), and festivities. Just 100 km. north of Quito you can visit the Otavalo Indian Market, a must for any tourist that comes to Ecuador.
This market offers wonderful weavings, tapestry, rugs, bags, and more products of the hard working community of Otavalo. These people are very skillful and artistic.

Families work together and then sell together at the fair. Transactions take place most quietly with bargaining and all. These are a very proud people that have not lost their cultural identity despite the fact that mestizos and whites inhabit Otavalo city as well, and also that they all have televisions to expose them to the modern globalized world.

Otavalo Indians travel around the world merchandising their goods.

You might find them in your trips through many European capitals, absolutely identifiable through their unique dress. Other communities also take their handicrafts to sell at the famed Otavalo Fair.





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