The Most Complete Guide of Ecuador

An intro to the Cañaris

Pre Inca cultures such as the Cañaris had interesting worldviews that attributed aspects of their race and culture to nature and mysticism.  Fantastic events were attributed to tell the story of how they came to be, and even events of daily life that couldn’t be easily explained. These stories were told from generation to generation, their culture depending on word to word. And nowadays, we study them and we tell their story.

Who were they?

The term Cañari comes from “Kan” meaning snake and “Ara” meaning macaw.

The Cañaris, or Kañar ethnic group (in Kichwa), used to live in the territory of Azuay and Cañar in Ecuador during 800 AD. However, evidence was found of their presence in other provinces such as Chimborazo, Morona Santiago, and El Oro.

For some linguists, it translates to “descendants of the snake and the macaw”. These animals, in fact, were considered sacred, and there are many legends and artifacts that have been made to represent them.

Their Origin Story

The Cañaris believed that heavy rainfall was the origin of their race. Legend says that in ancient times the whole community died during a terrible flood, and only two brothers survived by climbing to the top of Huacay ñan, “the trail of tears” hill where they hid in a cave. After the flood had passed, they left the cave in search of food only to come back and find delicious treats waiting for them. This happened for 3 whole days until the older brother decided to hide in the cave and discover who was behind the delicious meals. To his surprise, two macaws with the face of a woman entered the cave to leave the food.

Wanting to take a hold of them, the brother jumped to trap them, without success. The same thing happened the two next days until they changed the strategy and the younger brother stayed in the cave. When the two macaws entered, he was able to get a hold of the youngest macaw, whom he married, and had 6 children (3 girls, 3 boys) with. Their daughters and sons were the parents of the Cañari population. These macaws, with the same traits of Cañari women, were the ones who gave the brothers seeds for them to cultivate in their land. As part of their religious beliefs, the Cañaris worshiped the Huacay nan hill, where their progenitors had begun their line.

Painting by the Ecuadorian artist Pablo Tapia that represents the origin of the Cañari people with the macaws

The importance of telling a story

Sometimes we forget the importance of telling stories. But storytelling has been practiced from the beginning of civilization. Sometimes in an attempt to transmit culture and values, to explain events, to pass on history. And even if we know that a man and a macaw weren’t the fathers of this ethnic group, it gives us an idea of how the Cañaris viewed the world and their relationship to nature. Remember to value and respect every story even if its not coherent in your current worldview!


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