Kichwa Indigenous Culture

indigenous woman painting the face of a visitor


near La Selva

Embark on an exploration of cultural and traditional sorts inside the Amazon when you engage with the Kichwa community on a trip to La Selva Jungle Lodge.

indigenous woman painting the face of a visitor

The Kichwa indigenous community is the most populous ethnic group in the Ecuadorian Amazon region and the primary ethnicity of the locals in the area around La Selva, though nearby there are significant populations of Huaorani and Shuar indigenous tribes as well.

The Kichwa people in the Amazon tend to be farmers and supplement their diet with traditional hunting practices and food purchased from outside markets. They are quite adept with the use of medicinal plants and fruit trees along with the planting and harvesting of yucca (manioc), banana, coffee and cocoa.


Preserving Kichwa Traditions

Due to increased exposure to urban Ecuadorian culture over the last several decades, diminishing numbers of Kichwa use traditional dress in favor of western-style clothes. Most working age men and youth speak Spanish fluently in addition to Kichwa, whereas elders and women frequently have only basic Spanish skills and communicate primarily in Kichwa.

A gradual erosion of traditional Kichwa culture has occured over generations. Much of this has been caused by the expansion of the petroleum industry, forces of modernization and globalization in addition to the Kichwa’s position on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder in Ecuador.

Though sometimes tourism is stated as a source of cultural erosion, most people with intimate exposure to the population claim that the growth of tourism in the region instead has rekindled interest in preserving traditional ways in life. Demonstrating the ways of their elders and ancestors to foreign travelers tends to generate tremendous self pride and motivation to the younger generations to preserve their way of life.


Shamans, Beyond Medicine Men

Shamans, elders who are healers and frequently leaders in communities, still practice their mystic ways of magic and spiritual healing.

Many young Kichwa are eager to learn about medicinal plants, the names of birds and other wildlife, Kichwa folklore and respect the environment because being an indigenous guide for tourists is simply the best job and lifestyle available to them.

Guides hold a respected position in the local population, so their views on preserving the delicate ecology by using traditional methods such as organic farming and hunting with a blow gun instead of a shot gun (only in areas where hunting is permitted) tend to be respected as well.


Visit a Traditional Kichwa Family

At La Selva, we give you the chance to engage with a neighboring Amazonian Kichwa family that will receive you in their home and show you their customs and daily routine when it comes to food, crafts and beliefs. Here’s a sample of some of the experiences you may have during your visit:

  • Experience first-hand how the women make use of their pottery skills and implement these in creating a number of eating utensils.
  • Should you wish to try your steady hand (and mouth!) with the blowgun, the family will gladly offer you the chance to take a shot with one of their primary hunting tools.
  • Purchase traditional hand-made crafts made from local plant products such as jewelry made from seeds or hammocks made from palm fiber.
  • Try the local food prepared by the matriarch. Cooked plantains, yucca, or even still – crawling palm grubs may make up the plate of the day.
  • For the brave, try traditional hard liquor “aguardiente” or “chicha” brew, a beer – like, fermented beverage made from chewed yucca that makes up significant part of the Kichwa diet.

Last, but not least, always be respectful of your guests and try to treat them like friends instead of museum displays or creatures in a zoo. Shake their hands, play with the children, get to know them, and a memorable, enriching experience will be had by all.

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