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Society

A multi-ethnic country

In a nutshell...

The provinces of Ecuador are inhabited by people of varying ethnic backgrounds.

The « Mestizos », the children of parents with Spanish and Amerindian roots, represent the major ethnic group, accounting for approximately 65 % of the population. Amerindians, too often referred to as « Andinos » because their physical features are associated with the Andean range of South America, account for about 25 % of the population.

Europeans, Spanish descendents, and Asians, arriving with the last waves of immigration, account for nearly 7% of the population. The remaining 3% of the population is comprised of Afro-Ecuadorians, the descendents of former slaves.

This ethnically diverse population of Ecuador is characterized by a variety of spoken languages. Quichua, an ancient Amerindian language, and Spanish, are the two official languages of the country. There is also however, a great variety of spoken dialects in Ecuador, particularly in the Sierra and Oriente.

In the words of an Ecuadorian:

« In each region of the country, indigenous people have kept their culture, their language and their organization.

Spaniards settled down on this earth and brought their language, Christianity, their own lifestyles, their values and prejudices. But all these elements weren´t easily assimilated by local people. A new cultural identity that included elements of both origins emerged from the cultural shock and domination. Moreover, even since the beginning of colonization, natives and Spaniards gave birth to children who inherited both cultural and physical features.

This way the mestizo emerged, not as the mere sum of the natives and the Spanish, but as a new reality with its own elements, with a distinct identity (...)

Spaniards brought (...) hordes of black slaves, meant to work on the Coast and on the burning hills of the Andean range.

This population of African origins suffered the most degrading treatments, but they survived and succeeded in conserving some personal cultural features.

In the republican period, slavery was abolished but the afro-Ecuadorian population never became free of manpower exploitation and discrimination.

Today, they account for an important part of the country.

The ethnical diversity of our country is big. Adding to indigenous, mestizos and black people, waves of migrants from different countries brought to the country a small but noticeable amount of people, who participated in the complexity of our country and who indeed have an impact on our society.

For instance, migrants from neighboring countries; or those who come from much further, such as Europeans, Chinese or Lebanese people. Ecuador became the shop window of an important part of ethnic groups and cultures of the world, living inside the same boundaries and conserving genuine specific features of their identity. » [1]

A Catholic country

In a nutshell...

Introduced and converted to Catholicism by the Spanish, 95 % of Amerindians are Catholic. A number of inhabitants of el Oriente continue to worship ancient gods, preserving traditions that existed prior to the days of colonization. In addition, there are some small religious groups, thought of as sects by many, that have a significant influence on the country's culture.

In the words of an Ecuadorian :

« Over the years, Ecuador was the battlefield of hundreds of battles, fights and struggles.

In most of the internal armed conflicts, fighting Ecuadorians were convinced that they were battling for God's sake or for religious purposes.

For more than one century, the country was divided on the question of religion. The ideological monopoly of the Catholic Church was overruled at the beginning of the 20th century by the liberal reform, which guaranteed freedom of thought and religion.

But the fights remained, underground and undisclosed.

It's only in the last few years that the state implemented secularism and respect of religion. Religious confrontation has also been overcome. 

The society of Ecuador has started to accept the different beliefs with time, things have changed. Today, we take it as granted that there is a religious diversity in our country and even that some people may have no religious belief at all. Also, we now know that the freedom of thought is a right that has various consequences in our everyday life. The religious diversity is consequently one of the main features of our life, among our society, our country. »  [1]

A provincial country

In a nutshell...

Ecuador is divided into provinces. The people of Ecuador define themselves through their origin, but they also gather in geographical areas that generate their own specific identities.

This reality is so vivid that the administrative division of the country into 22 provinces is sometimes random, and sometimes dangerous, as it reinforces the people's sense of belonging to a small piece of land, isolating them from their surrounding neighbors.

This provincialism participates to the phenomenon of Ecuador's national disunity.

In the words of an Ecuadorian:

« Among the diverse reality of our geography and population, provincial entities were created, all along our history, with their own cultural and political features.

It is the case of provinces around Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil, which maintained some specificities along the centuries but modified their borders and their interconnections. This regional reality is most visible in our country.

Whereas there were four geographically distinct areas (Costa, Sierra, Oriente and Galapagos), history founded provinces determined by their own political, cultural and economical specificities.

Researchers gave them a name: North Centre Sierra, South Sierra and Coast. » [1]

A poor country

In a nutshell...

Explorer Von Humboldt was amazed by Ecuador and said:

« Strange people (...) who live in poverty on mountains of gold, sleep quietly at the bottom of volcanoes and have fun with sad melodies » [2]

While Ecuador is not in principle a poor country, most of its people live in poverty. The uneven distribution of the wealth between the different social classes appears to be mainly responsible for this phenomenon, which becomes evident not only in walking the streets of Ecuador's main cities, but also off the beaten track. Many Ecuadorians survive on less than 2 US$ per day, in living conditions far below modern western standards, and closer to how one might imagine western societies to have been like several centuries ago. Child labor, sexual violence, alcoholism, and delinquency are not uncommon occurrences.

In the words of an Ecuadorian:

« There is a shameful and obvious difference between Ecuadorians. Indeed, the existence and persistence of extreme living conditions and poverty among the majority of the country's population is not flattering, especially since a minority of the population owns most of the country's wealth and power. Since this situation also exists in other Latin American countries, it underlines the idea that this feature, the most negative of our diversity, is also the most long-lasting..

Recently, this gap between poor and rich people got wider and wider, reflecting the enlargement of differences between western countries and developing countries. » [1]

More information

Demographics of Ecuador

Culture of Ecuador

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[1] In : ECUADOR: UNIDAD EN LA DIVERSIDAD, de Enrique Ayala Mora

[2] In The Open Veins of Latin America, E. GALEANO