Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas is the third largest city in Ecuador. It is located in the humid tropics, 540 feet above sea level, on the way from the Coast to the Andes. This territory is home of to the “Tsachilas,” an ethnic group also known as “Colorados.”
The “Tsachilas” of Santo Domingo
The reason why “Tsáchilas” are also known as “Colorados” (reds) is because indigenous men from this culture have been painting their hair red for centuries! To do so, they extract a vegetable dye from the achiote. Achiote (Bixa orellana) is a shrub or small tree from the tropical region of the Americas.
The history of the Tsáchislas was dramatically marked by the appearance of plagues and diseases brought by the Europeans to America. Their population was almost exterminated by small pox, a sickness for which indigenous peoples had no antibodies. Originally, both men and women used long hair.
After the plague, men cut their hair short with a mineral rock called obsidian and then dyed it red as a symbol of life. This became a tradition, which is held to this day! Tsáchilas also wear a cotton crown over their heads as a symbol of dignity and peace.
Both Tsachila men and women paint black stripes on their bodies. These are believed to protect them from diseases and insects.
Regarding their dress, women wear “tunans”, cloths of colorful stripes around their waists, and ribbons on their hair. All these colors symbolize life. Men use similar cloths but only in black and white or blue and white. Men’s attire is called “manpe tsanpa”.
The Tsáchilas believe in the spiritual powers of their natural surroundings. Their famous shamans (spiritual leaders) “clean” the body and spirit mixing the power of medicinal plants and invoking the spirits of the forest.
Tsachilas have a celebration known as Kasama. In the ancient tsafiqui language “Kasa” means new and “ma” means day. The Kasama celebrates the beginning of a new day or a new year.
Back in time, young Tsachilas chose the Kasama as an opportunity to ask for a girl’s hand in marriage. During this ritual, marimbas cheered the crowd!
Nowadays, there are theatrical, musical and dancing presentations. The Tsachilas also teach you how they hunt and fish. If you’re ever in Santo Domingo, you can arrange a tour to a Tsachila community. Most visitors are interested in witnessing a Shaman while performing a cleansing ritual!