Home > Ecuador > Exotic Tsachila Region (Part 2)

Exotic Tsachila Region (Part 2)

There is an unmistakable tropical feeling while we walk towards Alfredo’s house, set amidst natural gardens covered with colorful heliconias and other tropical plants and flowers as well as fruit trees, mainly limes, lemons, oranges, tangerines and bananas. The background stage is the dense wet tropical forest.  The legendary Tsàchila Indians most likely arrived thousands of years ago, sailing on trans-Pacific ocean rafts, and decided to settle in the lush forests which mark the frontier between Ecuador’s coastal lowlands and the lower flanks of the Western Andes.  Hunters and fishermen, they made their livelihood around farming, fishing on the many rivers which ply the area and later, after the Spanish arrived, by raising cattle on small ranches. Their relatively tall (for other indigenous groups in Ecuador) and athletic complexion, as well as their lighter skin color and Asian-looking eyes indicate a possible origin of them somewhere in or near the Polynesian area of the South Pacific.  Their language is also totally different than that of the other indigenous groups in the country.

Alfredo gives us a tour of his colorful gardens and invites us to his typical “Tsàchila” home, built on stilts, predominantly made of wooden and bamboo materials, well aired and water-proof thatch-roofed to protect them from the frequent and quick tropical rain showers. Inside, hammocks and above-ground “chonta” (a dark colored and sturdy palm wood) mats serve as the family’s beds. Space is well used and all the household utensils have their place on walls or over small shelves. The kitchen is also rustic but efficient, as most of their cooking is done outdoors, grill-style.  Times have changed and although they conserve their language, dresses and many other ancestral traditions, the vicinity with a main road and a busy commercial town, only separated by short patches of dense rainforest, has also brought elements of modern life to them.  Nowadays, TV antennas are found above their houses’ roofs, there is electricity and they communicate amongst themselves, scattered in family clusters around the forest area, by mobile phone devices…..  The younger generations now prefer jeans and modern T-shirts rather than the ancestral dresses, however, the young men still keep the distinctive red-dyed hair which they proudly wear as evidence of their Tsàchila or “Colorado” origin.

But the Tsàchilas are also well known for practicing natural medicine and many of the tribe’s elders are among the country’s most famous Shamans…. Thousands of people of all races and conditions flock to the Tsàchila area in search of cure for diverse maladies which the “western” or modern day medicine does not succeed in curing. Alfredo gives us a tour of the medicinal plants garden, behind the house: better than any high-flying city pharmacy.  Almost every single plant has a medicinal use, and the Tsàchilas have mastered at the use of this type of alternative medicine, praised by some and criticized by others.  Each root, leaf, fiber, nut, seed or flower, treated the proper way, becomes a remedy for a specific disease or wound.  No wonder the “conventional” medicines are predominantly made of plants and other natural elements, anyway….. As we all listen in awe at Alfredo’s explanations, Charly and Juan busily film every angle to come up with great footage of leaf-cutter ants’ close-ups and crushed seeds potions.  The sun is merciless in spite of the high trees providing shade and sparing direct impact of the sun rays… Noisy parakeets fly by in flocks and we can catch glimpses and a few good shots in video of a colorful woodpecker and two brightly red, tan and black tucanets.  It is close to midday and the temperature must be in the upper 80’s (Fahrenheit), together with high humidity.  Sweating along, we fully enjoy the tour which finally leads us to a sparkling cascade of white water tumbling from a cliff.  This is one of their venues for Shamanic ceremonies, Alfredo tells us and describes how these are conducted at dawn or right after sunset…. Magic and traditional, mysterious and unique, they are elements of ancestral cultures and represent Ecuador’s multi-ethnic composition and extremely diverse cultural roots and practices.

Back at the house, Alfredo, his wife and children treat us to a refreshing platter of pineapple and watermelon from their own garden, freshly made tangerine juice and a delicious “maito” of fresh-water fish braised outdoors and wrapped in aromatic smelling plantain and “achira” leaves, along with thin slices of fried manioc.  As a great final touch to the meal, we are offered a pot of hot lemon grass tea, equally made from the garden plants, which puts us to sweat yet filling our spirits with the happiness of having shared some hours with a small ethnic group, yet amazing, extremely friendly and hospitable brothers of country, living in the tropical forests, less than two hours away from Ecuador’s capital city…….

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