The Unique Tsáchila Tribe of Ecuador

The Tsáchila are a tribe living in the canton of Santo Domingo in the Pichincha province of Ecuador. The name Tsáchila means “true people”, but the Spanish referred to them as “Colorado” which means “red”, a name chosen because the men of the tribe shave their hair off at the sides with the remaining hair sculpted with the use of a mixture of grease and red achiote seeds into a pointed peak cap-like shape. The official name of the main city in the area is Santo Domingo de los Colorados, apparently as a tribute to the Tsáchila tribe.

Interestingly, the Tsáchila only started the practice of painting their hair red after the Spanish occupation of the area. Legend has it that a Tsáchila leader asked the gods to provide a remedy to ward off the death-dealing European illnesses brought to the area by the Spanish invaders. When the leader awoke, the sun was shining on the achiote plant and to this day the Tsáchila men continue to paint their hair red in this unusual way. Traditionally both men and women of the Tsáchila tribe wear distinctive striped skirts. The Tsáchila are well known throughout Ecuador as herbalists and shamans.

It is believed that the Tsáchila numbered around 20,000 as late as the 18th century and were spread over a large area. Due to disease and the influx of foreign settlers, the Tsáchila population has been drastically reduced, with only an estimated 2,000 Tsáchila remaining in eight small reservations. The Tsáchila, who are primarily an agricultural community, continue to make every effort to retain their unique culture and heritage in a fast changing world.

One of the Tsáchila communities situated in Bua near Santo Domingo has around 700 members scattered on small plots of farm land in previously rain-forested area. The small remaining portion of original rain forest has been turned into a visitor centre with a museum featuring the culture, history and traditions of the Tsáchila tribe. There are also interesting walking trails through the forest. It is anticipated that this initiative will boost the income of the community, which relies heavily on the sale of their agricultural produce for their livelihood.

Visitors to the fascinating country of Ecuador should consider taking a trip to Santa Domingo and get to know the members of enigmatic Tsáchila tribe. It is sure to be an unforgettable experience.