At least half of Ecuadorians are mestizo, with a mix of indigenous and Spanish blood. In the colonial era the Spanish developed a complicated system of status according to what degree of Spanish blood a person had. Nowadays that’s impossible but along with money, skin colour still influences status. The rich elites are predominately white skinned, especially in Guayaquil, even though most are a mix of something (aren´t we all!).
How people live
Until the 1970s Ecuador was almost all rural. Then with the development of the oil industry more people moved into Quito. In the last twenty years hardship and floods have forced people from the lowlands into an ever increasing number of poor barrios on the edge of Guayaquil and the total population is now about 50% urban.
As in most countries, life outside the cities is generally slower and more relaxed but other regional differences can also be detected in Ecuador. In the highlands the rural campesino is tough, patient and very careful. Life is a struggle, farming poor volcanic soil. The land on the fertile valley floors has been in the hands of a few rich families since the days of the encomiendas. This and the hacienda system created a stratified social order where most indigenous families could only live a subsistence lifestyle. After agrarian reform in the 1960s some people got land, the ones who didn’t had to go to the cities.
In the lowlands the soil is much more fertile and the climate is warmer. However the risk of flooding or blight is ever present. People are more easy-going and emotive. They don’t worry too much about tomorrow because they don’t see it can do them much good. These characteristics seem as true in the city as the countryside. Society on the coast has always been more liberal and equal than the highlands.
In the Amazon region, the people have traditionally enjoyed a lifestyle in harmony with their natural environment and close to their tribe, although relatively isolated and sometimes in conflict with other tribes. They avoided the subjugation that was imposed on the Andean people by the Spanish. However recently the increased exploitation of the land for oil, timber and other minerals has increased links with the rest of the country and changed their way of life, usually adversely. Thus many groups are threatened by the encroachment of mining concessions and mestizo and other indigenous settlers.
In general Ecuadorians are peaceful and patient. They don’t complain very much and are willing to accept a strong authoritarian hand that could not endure in other modern societies. That said, various groups including indigenous organisations and political players have conspired to overthrow quite a few of the most recent presidents. What remains is the corrupt and inept stratas of government underneath. Modern Ecuador needs more homes and there are many people who still lack electricity and running water and sewage. According to UNICEF two thirds of the people live in poverty and the average wage is under $2 a day. 10% of the population are unemployed and over 35% of workers are street vendors or craftsmen. However the cost of living is low and almost everyone has four breeze block walls with a roof to live in.
About a quarter of Ecuadorians are indigenous. The biggest group are the Andean Quechuans (about 3 million) who speak Quechua (and Spanish). Their dress and kinship ties vary from highland region to region.
There are also groups of Quechuans (or Kichuans) in the north Amazon region who speak a different dialect and obviously live differently. The originally migrated from the highlands and number about 70,000. In the south Amazon the main group is the Shuar (also 70,000). Then there are several other smaller groups – Achuar, Huaronai, Cófan, Secoya.
Significant numbers of black people live on the coast in Esmeraldas province and the Chota valley in Imbabura province in the northern Andes. Many others have migrated to the big towns and cities. A high percentage of professional footballers and most of the national team are Afro-Ecuadorians, bringing some prestige to a group which frequently suffer from racism and poverty.
Many people who live in the rural coastal lowlands identify themselves as Montubios . This is a sort of Ecuadorian cowboy who still enjoys the local rodeo. As well as the culture of controlling the land or cattle on horseback the montubio cuisine and music is also quite distinctive.
There are fairly small numbers of immigrants from China, Lebanon and other European countries apart from Spain. The troubles north of the border have prompted a large influx of Colombians, many of whom have claimed refugee status. Even in Ecuador they suffer (as a group) from a perceived connection with drugs gangs and organized crime.