Identification. The name "Runa" dates from the post-Inca Conquest, whereas the names "Otavaleño" and "Indígena" date from the post-Spanish Conquest. The main tribes in the area when the Incas arrived in the late-fifteenth century were the Caranqui and Cayambi.
Location. Aboriginally, these groups occupied the Andean cordilleras and the valleys of what are now Imbabura and Pichincha provinces from the contemporary border of Colombia to Carapugno (modern Calderón) at the northern edge of Quito. Most Otavalo still live in the Otavalo Valley in Imbabura Province, but there are large numbers in Quito and smaller colonies in every Ecuadoran population center; in Bogotá, Popayán, and Pasto, Colombia; and in Venezuela, Brazil, and Spain. The Otavalo wear a distinct costume combining pre-Hispanic, Spanish colonial, and modern elements. This dress has changed over the centuries, but serves to identify wearers as members of the Otavalo ethnic group. It is possible for Indians to hide their ethnic identity by adopting White-style dress, but this is rare.
Demography. In 1990 the indigenous population of the Otavalo Valley was estimated at 45,000 to 50,000, including 3,000 in the town of Otavalo, with another 5,000 to 8,000 Otavalo living in expatriate communities in Ecuador and abroad.
Linguistic Affiliation. The pre-Inca aboriginal language has been lost except for a few place-names, patronyms, and loom terms. It was affiliated with the Barbacoa Group of the Chibchan Language Family, as is the language spoken by the contemporary Cayapa in the western lowlands. Quichua was introduced into Ecuador in the fifteenth century by the Incas and was spread by Spanish missionaries as a lingua franca. According to the 1974 Torero classification, the Otavalo speak the Quichua B dialect of the Quechua II Language Group. (Linguists disagree whether Quichua B is a dialect or a separate language.) The Otavalo call Quichua runa shimi (the people's tongue). Most Otavalo are bilingual in Quichua and Spanish ( castellano ) and a few also speak Portuguese, English, French, or German.