Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest Tours and Cruises

The People of the Amazonía


The Ecuadorian Amazon is home to seven ethnicities, some of which are mainly differentiated by the language that they speak. The Kichwa of the Amazon, for example, are actually a very segregated group –they live in communes throughout the area and don’t share common ground – but are united by the Kichwa language, and have organized accordingly as one people. This is by far the largest human group, the one that has most spread out throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin, and the one that has best adapted to modernity. At the other end of the cultural spectrum, we find the fascinating Huaorani, who voluntarily have shied away from so-called civilization, and were only discovered in the second half of the 1900s. Stories of violent encounters with missionaries, oil company employees, settlers and Quichuas were common until the 1980’s, which earned them the reputation and namesake, in Ecuador, of savages, or Aucas.  They were originally a nomadic hunter-gatherer group with limited navigational and farming skills.  Huaorani people are divided into family clans within a vast territory inside the Yasuni National Park. 

The Cofanes, also known as A’i, live in the border region between Ecuador and Peru, in the San Miguel and Aguarico Rivers since long before the arrival of the Spanish people.  After the 16th century, the Jesuits caused drastic changes in the Cofan culture.  The “Maloca” or family clan system was changed for a European system of small families, thus becoming monogamous. The Cofan people then suffered from the impact of leather exploitation,  colonization, drug trafficking and the oil boom, to the point of being brought to the brink of a violent social and cultural disintegration, accompanied by alcoholism and prostitution. 

For this very reason, 20 years ago, a small clan of Cofanes moved eastward to Sabalo, where they have now possess about 50,000 hectares within the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. The A’I people of Sabalo are dedicated to preserving their ancestral traditions, their territory, and their way of life.  At present time, 400 Cofanes live in Ecuador and 1500 in Colombia; their decimated population is beginning to become forced to integrate with other larger groups such as the Siona or the Secoya, even though their origins are different. 

The Shuar and Achuar peoples are commonly known as Jíbaros and there are approximately 45,000 of them in two nations residing in the southern part of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Although both groups have similarities, anthropologists consider the Achuar to be a different group.  Most likely these two cultures were involved in violent confrontations that gave rise to the traditional and ritual “Head Shrinking”. 

The Sionas and Secoyas live in the northern part of the Ecuadorian Amazon as well as in Colombia and Peru.  Their ancestors were probably the “Encabellados” that occupied the areas between the Caqueta River and the Napo.  It appears they preferred to wander through the flood zones in areas like Lagartococha, Cuyabeno and Zancudococha.  Both groups have shared the same history, suffered from the exploitation by foreigners, and seen a reduction of their territory into small reserves separated by missionaries, becoming mere traces of grander and larger culture.