Saraguro - Orientation

Identification. The name "Saraguro" is Quichua for "Land of Corn," reflecting both its traditional role as a food-exporting region of the Inca Empire and the present close bond between the land, the people, and their agriculturai livelihood. The Saraguro Indians generally call themselves "Saraguro," indígenas, or occasionally runas (people). Local non-Indian townspeople ( blancos ) often use the pejoratives indio and chinita when referring to the indigenous population.

Location. The Saraguro Indians occupy the Andean intermontane valleys surrounding Saraguro town (3.7° S, 79.3° W, elevation 640 to 910 meters), Loja Province, Ecuador. Originally covered mostly by tropical mountain forest, Saraguro territory is now dominated by croplands, managed pasture, woodlots, houses, and Saraguro town itself. To escape the intense competition for land, some Saraguro have recently settled in the moist tropical forest of the Yacuambi Valley on the eastern slopes of the Andes, in territory traditionally belonging to other indigenous groups.

Demography. Although available census data are unreliable, the approximate indigenous population of the canton of Saraguro is 10,000, with an additional 6,000 Saraguro spread throughout the other southern provinces of Ecuador. Complaints of intensifying land pressure suggest that the Saraguro population is growing rapidly.

Linguistic Affiliation. Most Saraguro are bilingual in Spanish and Quichua, a distinctive southern Ecuadoran highlands dialect of the Quechuan language. Among Saraguro and non-Indians, local Spanish pronunciation and inflection retain both Quichua and colonial Castillian features. Although assimilation pressures have threatened the extinction of the Quichua language, a national campaign for Quichua literacy and radio programs in Quichua have revitalized the native tongue.

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