August Mission: Reflections on Ecuador #2

Spanish is Ecuador’s official language, while Quechua and Shuar are the two major indigenous languages. Quechua is the language of the Inca, which was the dominant culture in Ecuador when the Spanish arrived. Quecha can still be heard throughout the Siera regions. In fact, some older people hardly know Spanish. Shuar comes from a group of indigenous people in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Ecuador does not have a large amount of immigration. There are higher concentrations of Afro-Ecuadorians on the coast, which is mainly due to the slave trade conducted by the Spanish. Small Chinese communities have developed in the cities of Guayaquil and Quevedo.

Spanish nobility designated the mestizos as upper class landowners. Indigenous people had to work on farms, and lacked opportunity to improve their stations. This system of labor continued from the 16th century through the 1960s. In the 1960s, agrarian reform broke up the tracts of land still controlled by Ecuador’s gentry. Many indigenous people could once again control the land and become campesinos, the Spanish term for subsistence farmers.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Ecuador experienced a huge demographic shift. Ecuador’s oil exportation increased. Many Ecuadorians who were living on farms moved to the cities in search of more profitable jobs. This led to overcrowding, and cities like Guayaquil developed large slums. In the past decade, Ecuador’s improving economy has brought a renaissance to cities like Guayaquil, to the enormous benefit of both Ecuadorians and visitors alike.

Ecuadorian Families
In rural communities, Ecuadorians rely heavily on neighbors. The term compadres refers to couples who serve as godparents to each others’ children. Even in urban Ecuador, there is a strong emphasis on the nuclear family, due in large part to the pervasiveness of Roman Catholicism.

Yet Ecuador’s nuclear family has some problems. Domestic abuse is a widespread social ill. It’s estimated that 30 percent of Ecuadorian women with partners endure some form of physical abuse.

Traditional Religion
Mountains have strong spiritual significance in traditional Ecuadorian religion. The largest mountains in a region are often called Taita, the Quechua word for father, and the second smallest is Mama. Catholic shrines appear throughout the mountains, erected by the Spanish in spots where the conquistadores had discovered Inca religious sites.

Every native culture in Ecuador relies on healers for spiritual guidance and physiological treatments. These healers can be men or women. They combine native knowledge of medicinal plants with traditional forms of witchcraft. Medicinal plants include coca leaf, quinine, tobacco, and the psychotropic plant ayahuasca. Over the years, healing rituals have come to incorporate Catholic prayers. (

– Mission Committee