Ecuador had a strong Incan culture that was colonized by the Spanish who enslaved most of the indigenous population to work on plantations. Over the years, a largely homogenous culture emerged, blending indigenous and Spanish beliefs, traditions, dress, art, and cuisine into an interesting national identity which owes much to the cycles of agriculture and religion.
Ecuador was originally populated by disparate Native American tribes who came from different places and spoke various languages. The geography led coastal people to developing a hunter-gatherer fishing culture and the people of the Andes to focus on farming. When the Incas arrived from Peru, it took two generations of rulers to incorporate all the existing structures into their own. A shared culture and language saw the highlands of Ecuador became part of the Inca Empire in 1463, while coastal Ecuador and the Amazon jungle remained hostile to invasion.
When the Spanish arrived, the Incan empire was engaged in a civil war that eventually saw the new Inca Atahualpa emerge victorious. After failing to convert the Inca to Catholicism, the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro and his associates subjugated the population to their rule as part of the Viceroyalty of Peru in 1563. During the ensuing 300 years, the indigenous population was decimated by European diseases and incorporated into a forced labor system.
The leaders of Quito city were the first to call for independence by establishing a local government in 1809. It only lasted for two months, but inspired the wider region to develop a thirst for emancipation. The states of Ecuador, Venezuela and Cundinamarca subsequently formed the Republic of Great Colombia, with the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil being the first to gain freedom in October 1820.
The remainder of the country gained independence following the defeat of the Spanish at the Battle of Pichincha in 1822 and joined Colombia and Venezuela through 1830. At this time, Ecuador became an unstable republic characterized by a rapid succession of authoritarian rulers until it was unified by Catholic church-backed Gabriel Garcia Moreno in the 1860’s. During this time, a cocoa boom saw much of the population move from the highlands to the coast.
The migration helped the Liberal Revolution of 1895 to reduce the power of conservative highland landowners and the clergy, which lasted until the military revolution of 1925. Between 1832 and 1904, a number of peace treaties conceded significant Ecuadorian territory to its more powerful neighbors such as Brazil and Colombia. The next 25 years were marked by a return to popularist politics and further political instability which, along with recession, set the stage for a military intervention in the 1970’s. The 1960’s saw foreign oil companies investing resources into the country, with the Andean pipeline completed in 1972, allowing Ecuador to become South America’s second-largest oil exporter.
The military overthrew the government that year, with General Guillermo Rodriguez taking power until another coup led by Admiral Alfredo Poveda occurred in 1976. Civil pressure for democratic elections caused the gradual return to a constitutional system, with reformist Jaime Roldos Aguilera being elected president in 1979. Between 1981 and 1998, the government changed every four years following the elections, while ongoing tensions and border disputes between Ecuador and Peru erupted into a war that was finally solved through a peace treaty further ceding more land to Peru.
Recent years have seen an emergence of the indigenous people, who represent one-quarter of the population, as an active constituency, while government failures on land reform, employment, and social services have led to volatility and frequent changes of authority. A police revolt against cuts to public services was quelled by the army in a one-week state of emergency in 2010.
Most of Ecuador’s population is Mestizo, people with blended Spanish and indigenous ancestry that share a Hispanic culture influenced by Roman Catholicism and Amerindian traditions. The Ecuadorians are a religious, family-oriented group with traditional gender roles, who enjoy music, dancing, food, and sport (especially soccer and horseback riding). The nation has produced many globally-recognized artists and writers over the centuries.
The remaining native communities are fairly integrated into the mainstream culture, while still retaining some of their original traditions; particularly rituals which have been incorporated into more recently introduced Catholic religious festivals and events.