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Quichuas de Chimborazo
The Cañar Natives in southern Ecuador began manufacturing Pánama hats in the 1950s as a way to deal with increasing poverty, as they slowly lost much of their land to the white population. The Incas had taken the Cañaris' territory into their empire, sixty years before the Spanish conquest, but unlike most groups the Incas had conquered, the Cañaris never lost their ethnic identity. In 1532, the Cañaris were one of the groups that considered the Spanish invaders as their liberators from Incan tyranny and entered into strategic alliances with them. Ironically, the Incas were much more successful than the Spanish in changing the ethnic identity of the Cañaris, they had later assumed the identity of their pre-Hispanic Incan oppressors in a campaign against the Spanish culture with which they had originally joined in the conquest against the Inca Empire.

A major aspect of Native identity in Ecuador is the dress.  People familiar with native dress can often tell roughly where an Native is from based on what they wear.  Otavaleños are no different, and many still wear their traditional dress. For men, this consists of a blue poncho, fedoras, white calf-length knickers, and a shimba, a long braid that hangs down nearly to the waist.  This tradition probably dates back to pre-Inca times, and is an established and deeply rooted tradition.  In fact, this tradition is so important as a symbol of Indigenous ethnic identity that when Indigenous men serve in the Ecuadorian army, they are not required to cut it off.

The women's dress is the closest to Inca costume worn anywhere in the Andes. Women are dressed in white blouses, blue skirts and shawls. Jewelry is also an important addition to the Otavaleña's dress - layers of necklaces of predominantly gold beads,  and red coral bracelets are the most common form of jewelry worn by the Otavalo women.  Although visitors to the area view their dressing styles as quaint or cute, to the Otavaleño, their dress is connected to their Indian identity and is a way to outwardly express their ethnicity.

In Otavalo, many Indians still speak their native Quichua language, another strong piece of evidence of their ability to hold on to traditional cultural values and practices despite years of oppression from colonization.  Many vendors in the markets speak both Quichua and Spanish, and some even know a little English or French, but for the most part, Quichua is still commonly spoken at home among Otavalenos, and is the first language of most Indigenous families.  This, tied in with the traditional clothing styles, are powerful ethnic markers that defines the Indigenous Otavalenos as specifically Indian.  

Quichuas de Chimborazo

Chimborazo has more Indigenous peoples than any other province, numbering at about 250,000. The principle groups noted for their distinctive dress are the Cachas, Lictos, Coltas, Calpis, Pulucates and a few others.

About forty percent of Chimborazo's population is Indigenous. Historically, they have gained a reputation as Ecuador's most rebellious highland Native group. For a week in December of 1871, Fernando Daquilema initiated an uprising from his community of Yaruquíes. It quickly caught wind and spread to neighboring communities before being put down. A central issue in this struggle was not land, but taxes which Indigenous people had been forced to pay to the Church and the state. This uprising is remembered as one of the largest, strongest, and most important in the nineteenth century in Ecuador.


The Salasacas, according to some ethno-historic sources, are descendants of a colonist group from Bolivia during the rule of the Incan Empire. They live in the province of Tungurahua, southeast of the city of Ambato in the sandy plain at the foot of the Teligote mountain.

The Saraguro Natives of Ecuador's southern province of Loja have earned a degree of economic independence through cattle production. Many Saraguros own large cattle ranches which sometimes puts them at odds with the rest of the Indian movement which is largely comprised of poor people who are short of land. This has led to contradictory approaches to land reform on the part of Ecuador's Indigenous populations, which underscores the complexity of ethnic movements in the country. To learn more about the Saraguro people, you can visit their site, Saraguro, Province of Loja, Ecuador.

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