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 CULTURES OF THE COAST
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).
THE AMAZONIAN CULTURES
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
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
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.