All about Ecuador
South America as a continental is home to a rich cultural heritage stemming from ancient and modern interactions. Individual countries in the continent are home to some of the world’s famous animal species and plants. One such country in the continent is Ecuador: a northwesterly country in South America that boasts of matchless, beautiful sceneries. A sovereign democratic state, Ecuador has unique geographical features, climate, music, traditions, and festivals that make it a preferred holiday for many tourists. The country is bustling with a rich diversity of culture deep-rooted in ancient civilizations such as the Inca Empire.
While the Incas are considered as the main ancestors of most of the modern-day Ecuadorian population, the area was home to different hunter-gatherer Indian tribes who were the first to settle in the region. By the time the Inca Empire invaded the country in the 14th century, the Indians had spread across the area and established their culture including economic activities, religion, and architectural identities (CIA, 2019). To date, present-day locations, cities, and towns across Ecuador such as Cuenca can trace their foundation to Indian civilization. Remnants of Indian culture such as Valdivia culture are indigenous in some communities in Ecuador.
The coming of the Incas left an indelible mark in the history of the country, especially when viewed through cultural and economic lenses. The empire radically transformed the cultural composition of present-day Ecuador by eliminating most aspects of the Indian cultural, religious, and economic norms and practices. Many dissidents were expelled from the new empire while friendlier Indian communities were assimilated. This led to the loss of some Indian cultural practices and bloodlines in Ecuador. New citizens were brought from other friendly territories. By the early 16th century when the Spaniards invaded and colonized the region, Inca Empire and culture had spread throughout the region except for pockets of communities, the indigenous Amazonians, and some Indian communities.
With the Inca Empire weakened by diseases and civil strife stemming from leadership struggles, the Spaniards found it easy to colonize the region. Today mainstream Ecuadorian culture borrows heavily from Spanish culture. This is because the Spaniards ruled the region for close to four centuries. The colonialists promoted slavery throughout the region with the majority of the slaves coming from Africa. The former slaves who became free following the 1851 abolition of slavery in the country are the ancestors of the country’s present-day Ecuadorians of African descent.
Ecuador’s quest for independence was unique because it began with different towns agitating for and attaining independence. The quest began in 1809 with Quito followed by Guayaquil in 1820. By 1822, Ecuadorians had successfully fought for their independence. However, the new republic became part of Grand Colombia, a conglomeration of countries that had gained their independence in the region. The group consisted of present-day Bolivar, Panama, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. The relationship lasted for less than a decade and Ecuador declared full independence in 1830 (CIA, 2019). The country began the journey of forging its identity in 1833.
After independence, Ecuador was plagued by political instability. The country was ruled by several dictators who were mostly overthrown. The country was also under military rule between 1972 and 1979 before ushering in a new era of democracy. Currently, Ecuador is under the presidency of Lenin Moreno who was elected in 2017 (CIA, 2019). As a representative democracy, the country has a national assembly, which forms the country’s legislative branch, the judiciary in addition to Moreno-led executive branch.
Ecuador: Geography and Fan Facts
Covering a total land area of 283,561 km2, Ecuador shares its eastern and southern border with Peru while Colombia is on the northern border. The Pacific Ocean stretches along with the countries western border and covers up to 2,237 km. The country’s capital city, Quito, is a World Heritage Site due to the many intact artifacts of past civilizations. The city is located a few kilometers from the Andes (UNESCO, 2010). Ecuador is a pristine ecological area that is home to hundreds of endemic species of plants and animals such as marine iguana, tortoise, albatross, and sea lions. At 6,267 km above sea level, Mount Chimborazo is the country’s highest point (CIA, 2019). Interestingly, the mountain is also the farthest highest point on earth when the epicenter of our planet is considered and not sea level.
Ecuador has two distinct climatic conditions, which depend on the terrain or topography of the area and proximity to the equator. The coastal plains along the Pacific Ocean experience tropical climate conditions marked by hot and wet conditions and heavy rainfall. Moving inlands especially towards the Andes jungles are Ecuador’s central highlands, the climate changes to the equatorial and Amazonian tropical climate, which are also experienced in the country’s eastern jungles. The climatic conditions are cool winds and humidity leading to heavy rainfalls. Climate determines the population distribution in the country with the Andean region with its relatively low rainfall being densely populated compared to the forested areas that experience heavy rainfalls (CIA, 2019). This is despite the high level of volcanic activities in the region especially around Mount Pichincha along whose slope the country’s capital city is located.
Ecuador, despite a significant proportion of the population engaging in farming, relies primarily on crude oil. The country has large oil reserves which it exports to other countries. Other economic activities in the country include fishing and lumbering. Tourism is an important foreign exchange earner while thousands of tourists visiting the country annually to enjoy the unique culture including the historical Inca civilization and mega-diversity of its flora and fauna. One of the fun facts about Ecuador is that the world-famous Galapagos Islands, made famous by Charles Darwin are within Ecuadorian territories. The islands are known for their unique species of animals and plants which have adaptively evolved to possess distinct characteristics from their counterparts of the same species on the Ecuadorian mainland. Additionally, Ecuador is Spanish for ‘equator’. This name is symbolic because the country lies along the equator, at its westernmost end (CIA, 2019). The country’s capital, Quito, is 25 kilometers from the equator making it the closest capital city to the equatorial line in the world.
The Ecuadorian Culture, Art, Architecture, and Religion
With over 16 million people, Ecuador is home to a rich mix of culture and ethnicity. The dominant culture in Ecuador borrows heavily from American Indian (Amerindian) and Spanish heritages. The culture is practiced by mestizo who makes up over 70% of the country’s population. The mestizos are Ecuadorians of mixed heritage as they have both Amerindian and Spanish ancestry. Even though they share the same ancestry with the coastal Montubio people, mestizo is usually regarded as a distinct ethnicity. The Montubio have their unique cultural norms including attires that distinguish as the coastal mestizos. Other ethnic communities in the country include Amerindians, Spanish, Afroecuadorian, mulattos, and Africans. The country also has populations of indigenous Amazonian tribes (CIA, 2019). These different ethnic communities have distinct cultural practices, norms, and beliefs which paint a multicultural college.
Ethnic diversity in Ecuador (CIA, 2019)
Ecuador’s art, architecture, languages, and religions are reflective of its history. While Spanish is the official national Ecuadorian language spoken by over 90% of the population, some communities in the country speak indigenous and foreign languages as well as Quechua. The majority of Ecuadorians identify as Roman Catholics but the country is religious diverse while small proportions of the population identifying as evangelicals, Muslims, and Buddhists among others (CIA, 2019). Indigenous Amerindian and African American religions are also practiced in some areas.
Such connections with indigenous cultures are also seen in the country’s art, music, and architecture. They borrow heavily from these cultures and are passed down from generation to generation. Folk art is usually characterized by images chronicling the experiences of the indigenous communities including their sufferings. The predominant architecture is Spanish Baroque touch found in many buildings across the cities. However, these heritages including architecture have also evolved through cultural interactions (Ecuador.com, 2019). Therefore, it is not uncommon to encounter pop, European, American, African and Amerindian music, architecture, and art across the country.
Ecuadorian Festivals, Holidays, and Traditions
Ecuadorian festivals, holidays, and traditions are reflective of the country’s rich history and culture. As predominantly Roman Catholics, Ecuadorians celebrate New Year, the Holy Week (Easter), and Navidad (Christmas). However, Ecuadorians also celebrate different festivals and holidays which have historical, cultural, and political importance to Ecuadorians. The La Diablada de Píllaro celebrated is celebrated at the beginning of January, just a few days after Christmas, as a commemoration and celebration of rejection of Catholicism as a religion by indigenous and mestizo communities. Translating to The Devils of Pillars, the festival takes place in Pillars and is characterized by people dressed in colorful indigenous costumes including masks and devil’s suits. The true symbol of the festival is Diablada, which is the devil’s dance. During the traditional dance, the devil wears intricate Andean masks, suits, and adornments (Nature Galapagos & Ecuador, 2018). It is accompanied by cymbals and trumpets among other traditional instruments.
Source: Nature Galapagos & Ecuador, 2018.
Other traditional festivals with indigenous religion and culture themes are Ecuadorian Mardi Gras (carnival) which celebrates the second moon and prepares Ecuadorians for the period of fasting during Easter. After the colorful and touching processions of the Semana Santa or Holy Week, Ecuadorians celebrate Dia de Trabajo, the day of laborers, on 1st May followed by San Pedro & San Pablo at the end of June. The festival is characterized by women jumping over fires for fertility and street dances while carrying roosters. The Inti Raymi or the Sun Festival also takes place in June and July to celebrate the Sun god for blessing Ecuadorians with a bountiful harvest (Nature Galapagos & Ecuador, 2018). Ecuadorians also have festivals to remember those who have joined the afterlife and end year. The country also has three Independence Day holidays (Maria, 2019). Each holiday pays homage to the independence of different cities in the country gained from Spain.
In conclusion, Ecuador sits at a cultural confluence. Different cultures converge in the country creating a unique collage of cultures that set the country apart. From Spaniards to Amerindians, African slaves, and the Incas, Ecuador’s culture and everyday life are reflective of these different cultural heritages.
CIA. (2019). The World Factbook: Ecuador. Central Intelligence Agency. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ec.html
Ecuador.com. (2019). Culture. Ecuador.com. http://www.ecuador.com/culture/art/
Maria, B. D. (2019). 8 holiday traditions to embrace in Ecuador. https://www.ecuatraveling.com/8-holiday-traditions-to-embrace-in-ecuador/
Nature Galapagos & Ecuador. (2018). Ecuador festivals: A guide to the top 7 Ecuadorian holidays and festivals. Nature Galapagos & Ecuador. https://naturegalapagos.com/blog/ecuador-festivals-traditions/
UNESCO. (2010). City of Quito – UNESCO World Heritage. Whc.unesco.org. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/2