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Ecuadorian nationalities
Ecuador's population is estimated to be 12,646,095, with a less than 2% annual growth rate. The population is ethnically mixed: 55% mestizo [mixed indigenous - Caucasian], 25% Indigenous, 10% Caucasian, 9% African, and 1% other.

Although the population was heavily concentrated in the Andes highlands region a few decades ago, today it is divided about equally between that area and the coast. Migration toward cities - particularly Quito and Guayaquil - in all regions has increased the urban population to more than 50%. The rainforest region to the east of the mountains remains the most sparsely populated of Ecuador's three continental regions and contains only about 3% of the population.

Amazonian frontier towns, Pacific coast fishing villages, rambling old haciendas, packed markets, and colonial cities provide the stage on which Ecuador's cultures intermingle; each striving to maintain its own identity and history while also charting a meaningful path into the future. Even outside these cultural crossroads, in a day, because of Ecuador's compactness, one can experience any number of Ecuador's distinct cultures.

Eleven different groups, make up Ecuador's Indigenous population
|see map of ecuadorian nationalities|^|. By far the largest of these is the Andean Quichua, who number more than 2 million. In addition to the Quichua, the Otavalenos, Salasacas, and Saraguros - all modern-day couriers of the ancient tongue of the Incas - reside in the Ecuadorian Andes, while the Secoyas, Sionas, Cofan, Huaorani, Zaparo, Shuar, Achuar in the Amazon Region and the Chachis in the Coast. In addition to the numerous native cultures, Ecuador is home to a Mestizo culture, and a sizable Afro-Ecuadorian culture, the descendants of African slaves who worked on coastal sugar plantations in the sixteenth century. Today's Afro-Ecuadorians are famous for their marimba music and dance festivals.

The extraordinary ethnic diversity of Ecuadorians is nowhere more apparent than on the streets of Quito. Sitting outside a cafe on the busy, exhaust-filled main street of Avenida Amazonas on a weekday lunchtime, the river of Ecuadorian life flows past.

The first people to catch your eye as a visitor will be the indigenous peoples in traditional costumes and pork-pie hats selling trinkets and paintings on the sidewalks. Probably they are indigenas from Chimborazo Province in the highlands, where they make colourful Tigua paintings on leather brilliant miniatures of fiestas under snow-capped volcanoes; tourist art, to be sure, but charming in its way, a glimpse into the surreal and dreamtime mind of the Quichua Indian.

There are estimated to be about two million highland Quichua-speaking Indians in Ecuador, mostly descended from the various tribes who lived in these parts of the Andes before the Inca invasion. Some are descendants of the Incas themselves, such as the black poncho-wearing, white-hated folk from Saraguro, and others will have ancestors who were
mitmakuna, peoples who were transferred by the Incas from other areas as educators, military personnel or administrators, or simply because they were considered to be troublemakers.

Quechua, spelled with an e, is the language of the Quechua peoples, the language imposed by the Incas. Part of the Andean-Equatorial family of languages, it is lingua franca among indigenas in Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia, Argentina, and Chile. There are several dialects, one of which is Quichua, with an i, which is commonly spoken in Ecuador. Quechua and Quichua are different transcriptions and are often used interchangeably. If this sounds complicated, so it is.

During the colonial days the Quichua [
or Quechuas] worked in feudal conditions on the estates of the big haciendas, and some still do. But with the land reforms of 1964, most of the estates were broken up and local Indians lost their jobs and security. Now they farm their small holdings in the mountains or come to Quito to sell trinkets on the streets.

Many of Quito's fast-growing population of about three million have come from the countryside in the last 30 years and few of them have regular work. The 1970s and 1980s saw a huge increase in the urban unemployed. Though as a visitor you may not see slums, there are many deprived areas in the city without running water, sewage systems or electricity.

Trinket-selling Quichuas are only a small minority of the crowds on Avenida Amazonas. Most are office workers and business people, smartly dressed in western clothes, busy, walking fast to get things done on their lunch breaks or to grab a hamburger at a fast food joint. These are olive-skinned mestizos, mixed race peoples who make up the majority of Quito's growing middle-class.

Although they might have some Spanish blood, young mestizos are generally not much interested in the colonial past or the festivals that celebrate the founding of their city by the Spanish. They identify themselves as Ecuadorians and are less an ethnic category than a segment of the social spectrum. Making up about half of the population, it is mostly mestizos that you will meet in Ecuador.

Down the street from where we sit, ladies from Otavalo, in their crisp, clean embroidered blouses, bright glass necklaces and long dark skirts, set up stands selling sweaters, shawls and ponchos. They feel themselves more Otavaleno than Ecuadorian and are proud to wear their traditional costume. Otavalenos are the success story of the Quechua Indians. Otavalo textiles are almost an international brand name and are sold all over the world. Otavalenos run their own businesses and gain professional qualifications as doctors, accountants and archaeologists. Some of them drive around in new BMWs.

A tall black woman in a very short skirt strides past. Perhaps she's a model or a visiting pop star from the United States, or maybe she works here in Quito in the night time entertainment business. Blacks are a very small minority in Quito. They come from the coast in Esmeraldas province, where for centuries they existed more or less as an independent state cut off from the rest of the country. Descended from slaves who escaped from a shipwreck off the coast in the 16th century, they have retained many aspects of their African culture, in particular the intricate rhythms of marimba music. Another community of blacks, heirs of local plantation workers, lives in the Chota Valley in the northwest of the country.

You won't see many people from the Oriente in central Quito. The indigenas from the rainforest only come here when they have to, which could be for a protest meeting about the damage being done by oil companies to their traditional homelands. The Huaorani from the Napo area have been particularly active in this respect. Organized by CONAIE [
Confederation of Indian Nations of Ecuador], protests were also held in 1992 against the 500th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the Americas that the indigenas consider to have led to a brutal conquest. In recent years, CONAIE has been at the forefront of anti neo-liberal policies which, they argue, impact hardest on the poorest.

There are several tribal groupings living in the Ecuadorian Amazon, ranging from the Cofans, the Siona and the Secoya in the north to the Huaorani in the central areas south of the Napo River, and the Shuar [
also known as Jivaro] and Achuar in the Pastaza river area in the south. Each have their own customs and language, but many people speak Quichua and some Spanish. Other Quichua-speaking tribes, the Awa , the Cayapas, the Colorados, live in the coastal lowlands but their numbers are dwindling.

Roughly speaking, whites, or blancos, make up 15 percent of Ecuador's racially mixed population of some 13 million, with the indigenas accounting for 40 percent, mestizos 40 percent and blacks, five percent. A few pureblood whites are descended from the Spanish rulers, but in most of the old families there are some traces of Indian blood. Many whites have arrived in Ecuador in the recent past to work as English teachers, perhaps, or in the oil industry.

Other immigrants to Ecuador include the Chinese, some of whose families arrived at the beginning of the century to help build railways. Lebanese are also an important group of new Ecuadorians, most of whom live in Guayaquil. The former president, Abdala Bucaram is from a Lebanese family. The Ecuadorian river of life that flows down Avenida Amazonas includes all shades, from black to white.
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