Ecuador’s mainstream culture is defined by its Hispanic mestizo majority and, like their ancestors, is traditionally Spanish in origin, influenced to varying degrees by Amerindian traditions and in some cases by African elements. The first and most significant wave of modern immigration to Ecuador consisted of Spanish colonists, following the arrival of Europeans in 1499. A smaller number of other Europeans and North Americans migrated to the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and in smaller numbers Poles, Lithuanians, English, Irish and Croats during and after World War II.
Since African slavery was not the order of the day in the Spanish colonies in the Andes, as the subjugation of the indigenous population took place through missionisation and encomiendas, the minority population of African descent is mainly found in the northern coastal province of Esmeraldas. This is mainly due to the shipwreck of a slave-trading galleon off the northern coast of Ecuador in the 17th century. The few black African survivors swam to shore and, under the leadership of Anton, the chief of the group, penetrated into the then dense jungle, where they remained as free men and preserved their original culture, which was not influenced by the typical elements found in other provinces of the coast or in the Andean region. A little later, runaway slaves from Colombia, the so-called cimarrones, joined them. In the small Chota valley of Imbabura province, a small community of Africans exists among the predominantly mestizo population of the province. These blacks are descendants of Africans brought over from Colombia by Jesuits to work as slaves on their colonial sugar plantations. In general, small elements of Zambos and mulattos coexisted among the overwhelming mestizo population of the Ecuadorian coast throughout history as gold miners in Loja, Zaruma and Zamora and as shipbuilders and plantation workers around the city of Guayaquil. Today, a small community of Africans can be found in the Catamayo Valley of the predominantly Mestizo population of Loja.
Ecuador’s indigenous communities are integrated into mainstream culture to varying degrees, but some also practice their own indigenous cultures, particularly the more remote indigenous communities of the Amazon basin. Spanish is spoken as a first language by more than 90% of the population and as a first or second language by more than 98%. Some of the Ecuadorian population may speak Amerindian languages, in some cases as a second language. Two percent of the population speak only Amerindian languages.
The music of Ecuador has a long history. Pasillo is a genre of indigenous Latin American music. In Ecuador, it is the “national genre of music”. Over the years, many cultures have brought their influences together to create new types of music. There are also different types of traditional music such as Albazo, Pasacalle, Fox Incaico, Tonada, Capishca, Bomba (very established in Afro-Ecuadorian societies), and so on. Tecnocumbia and Rockola are clear examples of the influence of foreign cultures. One of the most traditional forms of dance in Ecuador is Sanjuanito. It originates from northern Ecuador (Otavalo-Imbabura). Sanjuanito is a type of dance music played by the mestizo and indigenous communities during festivals. According to Ecuadorian musicologist Segundo Luis Moreno, Sanjuanito was danced by the Amerindians on the birthday of San Juan Bautista. This important date was set by the Spanish on 24 June, coincidentally the same date that the Amerindians celebrated their Inti Raymi rituals.
Ecuadorian cuisine is varied and varies with the altitude and associated agricultural conditions. Most regions in Ecuador follow the traditional three-course meal of soup, a course that includes rice and a protein, and then dessert and coffee to finish. The evening meal is usually lighter and sometimes consists only of coffee or herbal tea with bread.
In the highland region, pork, chicken, beef and cuy (guinea pig) are popular and served with various grains (especially rice and maize) or potatoes.
Seafood is very popular in the coastal region, with fish, shrimp and ceviche being an important part of the diet. Generally, ceviches are served with fried plantains (chifles y patacones), popcorn or tostado. Dishes based on plantains and peanuts are the basis of most meals on the coast. Encocados (dishes containing a coconut sauce) are also very popular. Churrasco is a staple in the coastal region, especially in Guayaquil. Arroz con menestra y carne asada (rice with beans and grilled beef) is one of Guayaquil’s traditional dishes, as is fried plantain, which is often served with it. This region is a leading producer of bananas, cacao beans (used to make chocolate), shrimp, tilapia, mango and passion fruit, among other products.
In the Amazon, a staple food is the yuca, also called cassava. Many fruits are available in this region, including bananas, tree grapes and peach palms.
The best-known art styles from Ecuador belonged to the Escuela Quiteña, which developed from the 16th to 18th centuries, examples of which are on display in various old churches in Quito. Ecuadorian painters include Eduardo Kingman, Oswaldo Guayasamín and Camilo Egas from the Amerindian movement; Manuel Rendon, Jaime Zapata, Enrique Tábara, Aníbal Villacís, Theo Constanté, Luis Molinari, Araceli Gilbert, Judith Gutierrez, Felix Arauz and Estuardo Maldonado from the Informalist movement; and Luis Burgos Flor with his abstract, futuristic style. The indigenous people of Tigua, Ecuador, are also world-renowned for their traditional paintings.