Despite the fact that the human occupation of the Saraguro region dates from as early as 10,000 years ago, the Saraguro did not exist as a distinct settlement or society until the region was incorporated into the Inca Empire during the second half of the fifteenth century A . D . During the period of Incan domination, Saraguro town was founded as a way station ( tambo ) along the road between Cuenca and Loja. The ancestors of the present Saraguro population are thought to have been forced migrants ( mitimaes ) from Bolivia who married into local Canari or Palta families. Although European colonial rule began as early as the 1530s, Saraguro town remained largely under Indian ownership and control until 1900. During colonial and republican rule, as in Incan times, Saraguro's primary function was as a way station; consequently, the Saraguro Indians escaped the enslavement and loss of lands associated with the imposition of haciendas and encomiendas elsewhere in Ecuador. Since the construction of the Pan-American Highway in the 1940s, the Saraguro town center has come to be owned and politically dominated by non-Indians. Today most Indians live in dispersed neighborhoods or barrios surrounding the town center, but the Saraguro maintain claims to the site of the old tambo and several small plots of town land.
Since its founding 500 years ago, Saraguro has never existed as a fully autonomous, pristine society. Daily contacts with a dominant, organized state have forged a resilient Saraguro personality, emphasizing individualism and the ready exploitation of new economic opportunities combined with a strong sense of ethnic identity and family autonomy. Although interactions between the Saraguro and non-Indian townspeople are frequent and polite, a fundamental distrust pervades most interethnic relations.