Cotopaxi Quichua - Orientation

Identification. Under the generic name "Cotopaxi Quichua" are subsumed the two parishes of Zumbagua and Guangaje, located at the heart of this large, ethnically distinct indigenous area of the Ecuadorian highlands. The indigenous peoples who live in the Cotopaxi area do not have a distinctive ethnic name for themselves beyond that of "Naturales" (natives, autochthonous people) or speakers of "Inga shimi" (Quichua), although they clearly differentiate themselves from other Ecuadoran indigenous peoples such as the Salasaca or Otavaleños.

The inhabitants of these high, cold grasslands probably moved here from the hot lowland ( yunga ) areas to the west; they still retain contacts with shamans from the Colorado (Tschatchela), one of the last surviving indigenous groups in the western Ecuadoran lowlands. Today, however, the ethnic characteristics of Zumbagua/Tigua life, in social organization, ritual, and language, are typically highland.

Location. The geographical area occupied by this group stretches approximately from above the town of Pujilí to the east, Pilalo to the west, Sigchos and Isinlivi to the north, and Angamarca to the south. The elevations are uniformly high, 3,400 to 4,000 meters or above; ethnic boundaries are roughly coincident with the limits for maize cultivation. Those who live on the páramo differente themselves from their maize-growing kin who inhabit lower elevations. The páramo can be characterized as alpine tundra; the predominant natural vegetation is the abundant ichu grass, which is crucial to the local economy as both fodder and fuel. Although the southern limits of the area are at 1° south of the equator, the high elevation creates a cold climate, with temperatures of between 6° and 12° C, frequent hailstorms in some seasons, and strong winds in others.

Demography. The exact population is difficult to determine; in 1985 the figure of 20,000 people for the parish of Zumbagua was frequently mentioned; the entire region might have twice that number of indigenous inhabitants.

Linguistic Affiliation. The people of the area speak a regional dialect of Ecuadoran Quichua; however, their speech also contains words not found in published vocabularies of Quichua, suggesting the remnants of a now-vanished indigenous language. Although the native language is still unquestionably the dominant language of the region, Spanish is important.

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