Thoughts Abroad: Ecuadorian Societal and Civil Structures

HIGH IN THE Sierra region of Ecuador, a mindset still prevails that each individual is intimately interwoven into the fabric of the world. It is for this reason that the indigenous Andean people nurture their plants, friends and surroundings, because they know that they will in turn be nurtured by them. These are some lessons that I have learned studying abroad in Cuenca, Ecuador during my time in classes as well as working and living with groups of indigenous people throughout the Sierra region of Ecuador.  

The “chuchaqui colonial” or colonial hangover exists as an unseen relic within the social structure of Ecuador today. It is a clinging shadow that serves as a constant reminder and enforcer of an invasive way of life imposed upon the colonies of South America. The repression and exclusion of indigenous culture began when Ecuador was a colony of Spain, and though Ecuador gained its independence in 1830, the mentality that sees the indigenous as lesser has persisted.

This split exists due to a fundamental difference in the understanding of the world between the people of the Andes and their European conquerors. The Western mindset, which is taken for granted by westerners, is that the world is there for us to change, and in order to do this we must pursue knowledge. This knowledge is entirely different from the Andean wisdom, which is less concerned with changing the world but more about enjoying the world that we are a part of. The key difference is that in the Western mindset, you are an individual, separate from your surroundings, focused on the future and your own interests. This is starkly different from the Andean philosophy which does not see individuals, but rather a collective whole in which all animals, plants and spirits support one another in order to create a self-sufficient cycle of life.

With the Europeans being focused on the realization of progress and individualistic ambitions, it is no surprise that they were able to exploit and dominate the indigenous people whose central tenet was reciprocity. With the years of colonization came the creations of the Western mindset, technological advancements, private property, currency, Catholicism and the creation of hierarchical power dynamics. Over this time, the indigenous Andean life began to be seen as inferior and as something to be ashamed of. This false conception persisted well after the end of colonization in Ecuador and is still present today.

It is hard for the Andean lifestyle to find a place in this heavily individualistic world. Nevertheless, this pre-colonial life has left its marks on the culture of Ecuador. This is found in the markets where people still come twice a week for spiritual cleansing. This cleansing rests on the idea that energy, both positive and negative, connects all things. There are still people who live off of the land, acknowledging the Pachamama (time-space mother) as the source of everything. These communities, although not prominent in Ecuador, have recently been able to mobilize successful political movements. The Pachakutik party is a political organization in Ecuador strictly focused on the protection and elevation of the rights and status of indigenous peoples. The Pachakutik party currently holds several seats in Ecuador’s National Assembly, and has been successful in changing Ecuador’s constitution to self-recognize as a multicultural country.

Still, the “chuchaqui colonial” is still palpable in Ecuador, and the suppression of indigenous culture is still evident. The indigenous Andean life has so much to offer to the way we see the world today. It is a call to live and enjoy the world and all the many ways it can give to you and you can give back to it. More than anything, it is a suggestion that you are a part of this world, and that your dependency on other things, and their dependence on you is what makes it all work. There is no separation, no distinction, only the reciprocal one. I believe that this is a valuable lesson to consider in this world in which we have become so separate from our surroundings. Understanding your place in the world is necessary in order to understand yourself.   

Written by Jackson Bramhall.

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