GATA works with quite a few communities in Ecuador and Colombia. We value our personal relationships with the people of these communities, and are passionate about giving our travelers the opportunities to create their own relationships across cultures. This is a vital part of our mission, but also a delicate one. We are very conscious of our impact within communities and the effect of globalization on the indigenous people we visit. While we encourage cultural exchange, we by no means want to “whitewash” the communities we visit, and we certainly don’t ever want to exploit them. We have designed our business to maximize the value of our trips for the local communities, and to encourage learning and respect for their cultures, languages, and traditions. We promote authentic interaction with communities, not just photo opportunities.
All that being said, here’s a very quick look at just 3 of the indigenous communities that we work with.
Sinchi Warmi: Sinchi Warmi is a woman-lead community of Amazonian Kichwa people. “Sinchi Warmi” means “Strong Women” in the Kichwa language, and in this amazing, close-knit community, women are not just respected, they are the bosses. The men also play an important role in the community and are valued as well, but it is the women who lead the community. They are dedicated to sustainable development and sharing their traditional way of life with travelers who come to stay with them. They have a cocoa farm where visitors can help make their own chocolate. Sinchi Warmi is a fascinating balance of managing volunteer tourism with their ancestral way of life in the Amazon Basin.
Tsachila: The Tsachila of Santo Domingo, also known as “los Colorados”, are a vibrant and distinct indigenous group in Ecuador. Santo Domingo is nestled in the tropics between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Coast, and is their ancestral homeland. The men are easily recognizable, as they have a uniform hair style that is shaved on the sides and back and then slicked forward on top and painted bright red with achiote seeds. The men wear black, blue, and white woven skirts and no shirts, while the women wear brightly colored striped skirts. They also paint their bodies with black horizontal lines. They speak Tsafiki, their native tongue, and their shamans are renowned for their healing power and knowledge of medicinal herbs and remedies.
Today, there are only about 2,000 Tsachilas who maintain their traditional way of life, the sum total of 8 communities. GATA has a close relationship with one of these communities and work closely with them on their sustainable development projects. Visiting the Tsachila is a truly unique and special experience, as this vibrant and endangered culture is so special and has an incredible history.
Andean Kichwa: There are many varieties of Kichwa culture and languages in Ecuador and across the broader region of northwest South America. Kichwa is a Quechuan language that connects its many speakers under one umbrella, but the millions of Kichwa speakers actually form many distinct cultures and across geographic regions. The language itself has more than a dozen different dialects, depending on region. The indigenous people I am referring to now are those that live in the Andean highlands of Ecuador. Even in this specific region, there are distinct communities and dialects, but also many commonalities.
Kichwa people are the most populous of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, with over one million people still using their traditional language and dress. Women wear long, wrapped woolen skirts–either navy blue or black, with white blouses, colorful woven belts, red or gold necklaces, and white closed toe sandals. Men also where the closed toed sandals and grow their hair long and keep it in a single braid. The Andean Kichwa people traditionally live off of subsistence farming, planting corn and “chochos” on steep mountainsides. GATA partners with several of these traditional farming communities to bring travelers to live and work alongside Kichwa. There is much to learn from their ancient culture, as well as how they have adapted to survive in the modern world. Today, many Kichwa live in big cities and are very visible in daily modern Ecuadorian life. They have retained their traditional way of dress, culture, and language while adapting and living in a modern globalized world.