Resources

Origins

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Ecuadoreans/Lynne Phillips

Ecuadoreans in Canada trace their origins to a land that over 5,000 years ago boasted the earliest known civilization in South America. Today the independent country of Ecuador, which faces the Pacific Ocean, is bordered on the north by Colombia and on the east and south by Peru. Its 11 million inhabitants are descended from Indians, Spaniards, other Europeans, and Africans. An estimated 40 percent of the population is mestizo (mixed Indian and Spanish/European ancestry) and 40 percent Indian. Despite their ethnic diversity, Ecuadoreans are predominantly Roman Catholic although Protestant groups are growing in recent years and claim about 10 percent of the population.

Ecuador has three distinct geographic regions: the western coastal region (costa); the central dry mountainous sierra; and the eastern Amazonian rainforest (oriente). The regions are so different from each other that it has been difficult to create a sense of a common Ecuadorean nationality throughout the country. Aside from differences in physical geography, the regions also have differing cultures and ethnic composition. The people of the costa are descendants of Europeans, Indians, and, in the northwest, Africans. Spanish is the dominant language of the vast majority of inhabitants in the region, most of whom are impoverished small landowners. Mestizos and Indians live in the central sierra, many inhabitants speaking Quechua, the language of the Inca. In the rural areas, the continuing presence of an indigenous identity and organization give this region a strong degree of social stability. The oriente is the least populous region. It is inhabited by Indians whose livelihood is based largely on hunting, gathering, and horticulture, though these activities have been disturbed considerably by oil exploration. Nearly half speak various indigenous Indian languages and know neither Spanish nor Quechua.

During the 1460s, the territory of present-day Ecuador was incorporated into the Inca empire that was based in Peru. Less than a century later the Incas were conquered by Spanish adventurers, so that by 1540 the entire region had become a colony of Spain. The region of Quito (modern Ecuador) was part of Spain’s viceroyalty of Peru, and after 1720 it was part of the viceroyalty of New Granada.

Beginning in 1810, Ecuadoreans staged several revolts against Spain. All were unsuccessful until 1822, when South America’s two leading revolutionary generals, Simón de Bolívar and José San Martín, met in Ecuador which was then made part of a large federation known as Gran Colombia. In 1830 Ecuador withdrew and became an independent state, although the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity were repeatedly threatened by its more powerful neighbours, Colombia and Peru, until well into the twentieth century.

Ecuador’s economy is largely dependent on income from the export of oil, bananas, shrimp, and cacao. The fluctuation in world markets has often had a devastating impact on the livelihood of the country’s inhabitants. Since World War II, frequent changes in government and political divisions between the three regions have hampered Ecuador’s development.