People

About half of Ecuador's 14 million people are
mestizo
, descendants of
indígenas
and Spaniards.
Cholo
is another (mildly derogatory) term for this group, although infrequently used in Ecuador. Rural coastal dwellers are referred to as
montubios
. Roughly a quarter of all Ecuadoreans today belong to one of 14 different indigenous peoples.

Andean peoples

The largest indigenous group are the
Andean Quichuas
, who number around three million. The common language, Quichua, is closely related to the Quechua spoken in parts of Peru and Bolivia. Once thought to have been imposed on conquered peoples by the Incas, Quechua/Quichua is now considered to have developed as a common trading language in the central Andes, long before the advent of the Inca Empire. Though Ecuador's highland natives all speak a similar language, indigenous dress differs from region to region. In the north,
Otavaleño
women are very distinctive with their blue skirts and embroidered blouses, while in the south the
Saraguros
traditionally wear black. A very important part of indigenous dress is the hat, which also varies from region to region.

Rainforest peoples

The largest native groups in the Oriente are the
Kichwas
, in the north, and the
Shuar
, in the south. They number about 70,000 each. The Amazonian Kichwas speak a different dialect to their highland Quichua counterparts and their way of life is markedly distinct. Other Amazonian peoples of Ecuador include the
Achuar
(3000 people) and
Huaorani
(2000 people) as well as the
Cofán
,
Secoya
,
Shiwiar
,
Siona
and
Zápara
, all of whom have fewer than 1000 members and are clearly in danger of disappearing.

Those few jungle peoples who still maintain a traditional lifestyle, hunt and practise a form of itinerant farming which requires large areas of land, in order to allow the jungle to recover. Their way of life is under dire threat and many Amazonian indigenous communities are fighting for land rights in the face of oil exploration and colonization from the highlands.

There are also small groups of
indígenas
on the coastal plain. Around 1000
Awas
live in Esmeraldas and Carchi provinces; around 4000
Chachis
and 250
Eperas
live nearer the coast and a little further south; some 2000
Tsáchilas
, formerly known as Colorados, live in the lowlands around Santo Domingo. These coastal natives are also under threat from colonization.

Native organizations

Despite the many pressures they have faced throughout history and still today, the various indigenous groups of the Sierra, the coast and the Amazon rainforest have managed, to some degree, to survive and preserve their cultural identity. The interests of these different groups vary widely. Whereas in the Sierra and on the coast the main issues are obtaining infrastructure for native communities and access to water for irrigation, in the Amazon it is resistance to colonization and the ever-encroaching oil and mining industries.

Today, Ecuador's native people have grouped themselves into various regional bodies as well as some other entities set up along religious lines (ie Catholic or Protestant). The national body which brings together many, but not all, of these regional organizations is the
Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador
(
CONAIE
). In addition to their political activities, these groups work with foreign NGOs and at times with the government, to foster native interests.

Afro-Ecuadoreans

Ecuador's black population is estimated at about 500,000. They live mostly in the coastal province of Esmeraldas and in neighbouring Imbabura and are descended from slaves who were brought from Africa in the 18th century to work on coastal plantations. Although the slave trade was abolished in 1821, slavery itself continued until 1852. Even then, freedom was not guaranteed until the system of debt tenancy was ended in 1881 and slaves could at last leave the plantations. However, the social status of Ecuador's black population remains low and most still work on banana plantations or in other types of agriculture. Furthermore, they suffer from poor education and the racism endemic in all levels of society.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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