Friday, December 11, 2020

Earliest Ecuadorians

Pre-Columbian Ecuador included numerous indigenous cultures, who thrived for thousands of years before the ascent of the Incan Empire, with the oldest known cultures of the Americas lived on the Ecuadorian coast. Some of these early peoples are extant today and made up of three different groups: the 1) Awá, or Kwaiker, Awa-Kwaiker; 2) the Chachis or Cayapas; and 3) the Tsachilas or Colorados.

These cultures lived and still do in the tropical rainforest on the west Andes and possibly settled there escaping from the invasion of the Spanish conquistadores, or the Incas before them. Another culture is the Las Vegas that existed along the southern Ecuadorian coast and considered one of the very oldest cultures in the Americas.

The location of the (in red) Las Vegas Culture along the (green arrow) coast in Ecuador


They were located on the Santa Elena Peninsula, which is the northernmost extension of the coastal desert that stretches for some 1,900 miles along the Pacific coast of South America.

The city of Santa Elena receives about 9.8 inches of precipitation annually, nearly all of it from January to March. Under the influence of the cool waters of the Humboldt Current, temperatures are mild, averaging 73 °F with only a few degrees in seasonal variation. The natural vegetation near the coast is xeric, or dry deserts, featuring cacti and other desert plants. Inland, precipitation generally increases and the vegetation becomes more varied and lush, changing from desert to seasonally dry forest (J. Scott Raymond, "The Process of Sedentism in Northwestern South America," Handbook of South American Archaeology, Springer, New York, 2008, p80).

Many archeologists believe that some of the oldest cultures that survived (actually some 5,000 years from this tropical humid rainforest, impossible to reach for many centuries, and are part of the "Amazanga," or rain forest.

To these people, the tropical rainforest was and is their home and their drugstore because of the many medicinal plants and herbs. It was also their supermarket, and their religion; thus, their extreme respect to the ecological balance. These people are neither naturalists nor consumers. They are apparently very poor (according to modern world economical standards), however, they have a rich spiritual life and live in peace surrounded by their families, taking from nature only what they need for survival and taking time to meditate and enlighten their spiritual selves.

Thirty-two Las Vegas sites have been identified on the Santa Elena Peninsula, scattered over an area about 16 miles east-west and 7.5 miles north-south. Most of these sites are along the Rio Grande and its tributaries, including the Las Vegas River. Additional similar sites of human habitation probably remain to be discovered near and along several hundred miles of Ecuadorian coast (Karen E. Stothert, "Terminal Pleistocene/Early Holocene human adaptation in coastal Ecuador: the Las Vegas evidence, 2002, p3).

Evidence of a human presence on the Santa Elena Peninsula has been radiocarbon dated back thousands of years (around the time of the Jareditess), but with the onset of the Las Vegas period, the evidence becomes much more extensive. Archaeologists have divided the Las Vegas culture into two periods: early and late Las Vegas. The dividing line between the two periods is a lacuna (gap) in the archaeological record at one representative site. The Las Vegas culture was pre-ceramic, meaning that the people did not utilize pottery.

According to archaeologists, during Early Las Vegas the "basic unit of social production, distribution, and consumption was the relatively self-sufficient family, flexibly organized for carrying out a wide variety of subsistence tasks using a few generalized tools and facilities."

Houses were small and it appears that family units moved from one site to another to take advantage of seasonal food sources. The people gathered wild foods and hunted and fished in the variety of habitats in the region: the desert, dry tropical forest, and the Pacific coast. Deer, fox, rabbit, small rodents, weasel, anteater, squirrel, peccary, opossum, frog, boa constrictor, indigo snake, parrot and lizard were exploited for food. Intertidal species and crab were also harvested in small quantities. The Las Vegans were broad-spectrum hunters and were able to hunt these many different species and not rely on any one source of food (Karen E. Stothert et al., “A Prehistory of South America,” University of Colorado Press, Bolder, 2002, pp96-97).

Later Las Vegas continued to rely on hunting and gathering, but with a greater dependence on fish and shellfish from the ocean. The harvesting of offshore fish species suggests that the Later Las Vegas people probably had boats (J. Scott Raymond, "The Process of Sedentism in Northwestern South America" Handbook of South American Archaeology, Springer, New York, 2008, p81).

Given the desert and near-desert conditions and the scarcity of surface water, the Santa Elena peninsula does not seem a promising area for pre-historic agriculture, but the Las Vegas people were among the earliest in South America to practice agriculture, thought it did not replace fishing, hunting, and foraging, but complemented these traditional means of subsistence.

The Awá were an ancient indigenous people of Ecuador and southern Colombia. They primarily inhabited the provinces now referred to as Carchiu and Sucumbíos, in northern Ecuador, and southern Colombia, particularly the departments of Nariño and Putumayo

Later historical evidence shows that the Awá Kwaiker also have surnames of groups that lived in distant areas of the coast, which leads to the assumption that this was not a distinct Indian group, but rather a mix of various groups that lived in the coastal area. Later, roads were built and the region was invaded by settlers attracted by the gold found in the rivers. Since then, the Awá Kwaiker have been stratified internally by the degree of cultural assimilation; that is the mixing of cultural tradition of a population or group the community assimilated many immigrants.

2) The second group were the Cayapas who were (and still are) found in the coastal lowlands of western Ecuador, one of the few aboriginal groups left in the region. The Cayapas, called the Chachi today, speak a Chibchan language somewhat related to the language of the neighboring Tsáchila people, and like the Tsáchila, the Cayapas believe themselves to be descended from peoples of the Andean highlands.

The Cayapas were river people, equally at home in the dugout canoe as on land. They farmed man­ioc and other root crops, and seasonally important fruits such as the peach-palm; they also grew maize (corn), and were involved in both fishing in the rivers and hunting in the forests. They speak a language of the Barbacoan family (which includes Colorado and Coaiquer).

The Cayapas “Settlement pattern” consisted of single houses dispersed along the high banks of the Cayapas River and its major tributaries. The single-house settlement was always preferred, though in recent years there has been a tendency for the traditionally dispersed households to congregate at missions or govern­ment-sponsored schools.

The architecture, with­out walls and with an elevated house, is a simple but elegant piece of elevated floor. It is eminently well designed for a warm, humid, and flood-prone en­vironment. The house is a rectan­gular structure varying widely in floor area from 65 to over 500 square feet, the size depending largely on whether a small nuclear family or a more extended retinue of kin is being housed.

 The elevated house floor is divided customarily into a large living and sleeping space and a smaller kitchen with a clay-lined hearth, off of which culinary waste is tossed to the ground. As is also seen in the figure, the clearing or yard surrounding a Chachi house typically is studded with a host of useful and carefully tended plants, especially fruit-bearing trees. The major gardens of plantain bananas are usually found inland within an hour’s walk. Linguistically, their closest living relatives are the Tsachile people of Ecuador (Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard, Peoples of the Earth: Andes, Vol.7, Danbury Press, Danbury CT, 1973, p40).

3) The Tsachilas, also called the Colorados, meaning “the red colored ones,” were located near the base of the Andes. The province has a surface area of 2,396 square miles, an altitude of 2050 feet, and is located 75 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The province shares a border to the north and east with Pichincha, to the west with Manabí, to the south with Los Ríos, and the southeast with Cotopaxi. Ecuador’s northwestern zone is the zone that receives the most rainfall in the country. It has a great hydrological wealth where five important basins and micro-basins are located (Julio Quezada Crespo, et al., “Nutrient critical levels and availability in soils cultivated with peach palm in Santo Domingo de Los Tsácilas Ecuador,” Agronomic Act, vol.66, No.2, University of Columbia, April 1, 2017, pp235–240).

The east and northeast, the middle and lower course of Toachi, belongs to the White River basin; to the south, the sub-basin of Borbón which belongs to the Guayas river great basin, and is joined with the Babis (Nino Torres). In the southeast, the Peripa river sub-basin; to the northeast. The sub-basin of Quinindé, along with the White River sub-basin; the northeast belongs to the Esmeralda River basin. The city is located at the end of the Toachi river basin which is located to the east side of the city. It doesn’t have any higher elevations except for the Bombolí hill.

The end of the Las Vegas Culture came to an unknown end around nearly 2,000 years,  which was followed by the Valdivian culture in the same area.

1 comment:

  1. This makes you imagine that the Jaredite extinction was only metropolitan and the same for the Nephites.

    James Muir