ETHNONYMS: Tatchila, Tsáchela, Tsatchela, Zatchila

The 1,025 to 1,800 Colorado Indians live in the western lowlands of Ecuador, chiefly in Pichincha Province and especially in Santo Domingo de los Colorados. They speak a language belonging to the Chibchan Family. The Colorado call themselves the "Tsatchela," a name originating from their practice of dyeing their hair red with an extract of achiote (Bixa orellana). In 1900 the Colorado numbered 3,000, but their population has since declined. Pichincha Province has been heavily settled by Whites, and the Colorado often work for the newcomers as laborers on their plantations.

The Colorado traditionally made their living through subsistence horticulture, although many now raise cattle, and others are wage laborers in towns and cities. The Ecuadoran government has created reservations for the Colorado, on which mestizos are forbidden to settle.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Colorado had adopted the plantain and made it their staple crop, each family owning thousands of trees. They planted yams, peppers, and cacao near their houses, whereas maize, rice, manioc, sugarcane, pineapples, citrus fruits, and medicinal and fish-poison plants are grown in more distant fields. The Colorado use traps, nets, hooks, and especially the poison barbasco to kill fish. They traditionally hunted with blowguns, using clay pellets rather than darts, but by the mid-twentieth century shotguns had replaced blowguns. Deer, monkeys, and agoutis are the most commonly sought game. In addition, the Colorado raise pigs, chickens, guinea pigs, and dogs. Men and women share the labor involved in the cultivation, harvest, and transportation of products to market. Men clear fields, hunt, fish, and weave nets; women cook, care for the children and domestic animals, and weave cotton goods.

Colorado families live in houses surrounded by their fields and often by forest; each house is thus separated by some distance from others and there is no village. Households have a high degree of economic self-sufficiency. Colorado houses, whick lack walls, consist of palm-leaf thatched roofs held up by posts.

Colorado children are greatly indulged. When a boy reaches 10 to 12 years of age, his nose is pierced in a ritual by a shaman, and he then begins to paint his body in an adult fashion. Boys marry sometime after puberty, but girls marry almost immediately thereafter. A deceased Colorado individual is dressed in his or her best clothing and is waked for a day by relatives, who weep, drink, and play special games in order to remain awake and to repel spirits that cause disease. The corpse is buried underneath the floor of the house, with a string around its neck connected to the roof to aid the soul in leaving. After the burial, the house is abandoned.

Colorado religion has undergone three major influences: traditional, Highland Quechua, and Catholic. Catholicism has become the most visible influence (the Colorado observe Catholic ritual and ceremony), but traditional beliefs concerning the supernatural and the creation myth endure. Shamans cure by removing the effects of witchcraft.


Elliot, Elisabeth (1975). These Strange Ashes. New York: Harper & Row.

Karsten, Rafael (1924). "The Colorado Indians of Western Ecuador." Ymer (Stockholm) 44(2): 137-152.

Moore, Bruce R. (1979). El cambio cultural entre los colorado de Santo Domingo. Quito: Instituto Lingüístico de Verano.

Santiana, Antonio (1951). The Colorado Indians (Tsatchila). Quito: Imprenta de la Universidad.

Von Hagen, Victor W. (1939). "The Tsátchela Indians of Western Ecuador." Indian Notes and Monographs (Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation). Miscellaneous Series, no. 51. 79 pp.

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