Culture and traditions of Ecuadorian ethnicities

The observation of indigenous expressions such as shamanism and other possibilities that intercultural tourism has to offer enables the traveler to go deeper into the traditions and knowledge that have accompanied these communities from ancient times, to the native communities from South America, and more specifically from the Ecuadorian Andes, Pacific Coast and Amazon.

 

In addition to enjoying the natural environment and the touristic wonders that surround it, being able to participate in a healing ceremony is a unique opportunity to learn about the authentic culture that is still present in the ancient communities of Ecuador.

 

It is also a great opportunity to understand how these ethnic groups have survived the miscegenation of beliefs, as well as being part of them even if just for a few moments. It is also a convenient moment for those who want to experience the diversity of beliefs and look at the sacred from another perspective, far from Christianity and other religions.

 

Shamanism is a set of practices, beliefs and ancient knowledge used by certain ethnic groups for curative purposes in different regions. They are called Yachak in quichua, the most spoken language by indigenous Ecuadorians.

 

Within their different communities, the shamans are considered privileged beings, who possess special skills and great wisdom, therefore they occupy a special place in the social scale of their towns. Their healing techniques, rituals and knowledge have survived up to today and make up a fundamental part of an intangible heritage of the indigenous cultures.

 

Thanks to their isolation from big cities and their little exposure to European colonization, Amazon communities have been able to better preserve their culture, although also in the Andes (but with a less percentage) and in the Pacific Coast there are communities that conserve great part of their historic and cultural legacy.

 

The biggest amount of Ecuadorian indigenous nationalities are distributed in the Amazonian region: Huaoranis, Achuars, Shuars, Cofanes, Siona-Secoya, Shiwiars, Záparos, Tagaeris and Taromenanes; followed by the Otavalos, Salasacas, Cañaris, Saraguros and Awás who inhabit the Ecuadorian Andes as well as the Chachis, Huancavilcas and Tsáchilas who are present in the Pacific Coast.

 

Healing Rituals

The shaman sets up the table that has the elements that are going to be used during the ritual: the potion, stones, plants, tobacco, etc. Then, he identifies the conflicts, fears and ills that are affecting his patient. A healing ritual can last up to three or four hours and ends with the energetic cleanse of the individual, through the blow out of tobacco smoke on the hands, back, shoulders and head of the patient.

 

Similar rituals, although many of them do not have the presence of hallucinogenic drinks, are completed by ethnic groups in the Andes and the Pacific Coast. The rite is known as a “limpia” (cleanse), and it basically consists in the blow out of alcohol and cigarette smoke over the semi naked body of the person, at the same time they rub (clean) with bunches of herbs that are attributed to healing properties.

 

The principal duty of the shaman is to alleviate and find an energetic balance between the individual making use of their services and nature. Some of their rituals include whistles, singing, indigenous musical instruments, tobacco consumption, medicinal plants or certain natural hallucinogens processed with ayahuasca, guanto or other herbs that are found in their surroundings.

 

The shamanic ritual in the Andes is characterized by the use of personal belongings from the patient: clothes, photos and other artifacts such as the use of candles, eggs, cuy, the rosary and the blow out of tobacco and alcohol.

 

The cleanse is used to cure one´s fear and evil eye (mal de ojo), as well as traditional diseases. The Tsachilas are one of the most visible indigenous groups in the Pacific Coast. Their original language is the tsafiqui, and mainly live in communities on the province called Santo Domingo of the Tsachilas as a tribute to their culture. Furthermore, one of their most striking features are highlighted by their outfit, composed by a sort of skirt and the red pigment in their hair.

 

The shamans occupy a special place in their social organizations. Their knowledge, rituals and healing techniques, where the consumption of drinks elaborated with medicinal plants called Nepe stands out, and have transcended its frontiers as it is becoming more and more common for local tourists as well as foreigners to access these type of treatments.

 

The ancient healing ritual in the Pacific Coast includes the use of healing altars, which are the tables from the community wise man. The use of sacred elements such as stones, wood, animal bones and saints from the catholic religion are used. Previous to this, the patients undergo an herbal bath, semi naked, as it removes the bad energies from the body and spirit.

 

During their rituals the Amazonian shamans use the blow out of tobacco on the shoulders, head and back of their patient, as well as rub plants on their semi naked body and it includes the intake of ayahuasca.

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