Indigenous Communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon
Deep in Ecuador’s dense Amazon jungle, far from the reach of cell towers and the clutter of modern life, there still exist a number of indigenous communities which have maintained their customs and traditions for centuries. While very few tribes are completely uncontacted by the outside world, most indigenous communities do have contact with modern society in some capacity and still choose to maintain their ways of life.
What indigenous groups are there?
There are a number of indigenous groups that live in Ecuador, so the following list gives a bit of information about several of the main groups:
The Kichwa group is the largest indigenous community in Ecuador, with a population nearing 100,000 people. Many members of this community live in the highland region of the country and speak Kichwa as their first language and use Spanish as their second language. Their language comes from the Incan Quechua language, but they are a distinct cultural group.
The Siona people, though small in number, have a fairly large territory, stretching between the Aguarico & Cuyabeno Rivers in Ecuador in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve.
This is one of the most well-known indigenous ethnic groups living on the banks of the Rio Napo in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. The population is estimated around 2,500, spread between a score of settlements in the region. While some sub-groups prefer to remain isolated from modern society, in the past century much of the population has become acculturated to parts of the Western world. Throughout the community, traditional practices are maintained, such as hunting with a blow pipe.
With a population of around 6,000 members, the Achuar communities follow a similar narrative to many others in the Ecuadorian Amazon – up until the 20th century, they were largely uncontacted, but as tourism to the region picked up, their culture has had to adapt to visitors to the region. They now work with the tourism industry to help conserve their culture, protect their lands, and share their experiences with interested travelers.
Way of life
Each community has its own unique beliefs and traditions but there are some common practices shared by all indigenous groups. For example, just as nature is at the heart of a Sacha Lodge experience, nature is at the heart of their way of life as well. They depend on hunting and gathering what they can from the rainforest.
Rituals are often very important in these communities, and the hallucinogenic ayahuasca plant is used in ceremonies, especially by the community’s shaman (medicine man). In many of these groups, the shaman holds a position of honor.
Visiting indigenous communities at Sacha Lodge
At Sacha Lodge, a community visit is a staple part of the experience. Sacha partners with the local indigenous groups to help them protect their way of life, develop their communities, and earn money through beneficial projects. The main project that Sacha works with is Shipati Warmi, which was initiated by the women of the Yasuni. The project focuses on creating a dialogue between visitors and locals to explain how they go about their daily activities, from washing and drying clothes in the rainforest to the challenges of getting to school and everything in between. Guests also have the opportunity to sample their traditional food.
“Communities”, not “tribes”
Visitors will find that many of these indigenous groups have tribal structures, but in fact it is more appropriate to call them “communities.”
Issues that are important to indigenous groups
Currently, one of the major issues facing indigenous communities in Ecuador is deforestation and the exploitation of the Yasuni for its petroleum resources. This is a very controversial subject in Ecuador’s Amazonia region, because the oil companies do offer lucrative revenue for those who live in these provinces in return for permission to drill, which often helps to improve the communities’ economic status; at the same time, this comes at the high cost of forest loss and a high risk of contamination and pollution of the precious natural resources.
Tourism is a major boon to the local economies that can help these communities maintain economic independence without relying on the petroleum companies. That’s one reason that most of these communities truly appreciate the opportunity to share their culture and way of life with the “outsiders” who come to visit. Plus, of course, they value those who come to appreciate their way of life.