Ecuador history

Early Tribes

The history of pre-Inca Ecuador is lost in a tangle of time and legend. Generally speaking, the main populations lived on the coast and in the highlands. The earliest historical details we have date to the 11th century AD, when there were two dominant tribes: the expansionist Caras, who resided in the coastal areas, and the peaceful Quitus, who lived in the highlands. The Caras, led by Shyri, conquered the Quitus, which seems to have been accomplished by peaceful expansion rather than by bloody warfare. The Cara-Quitu peoples became collectively known as the Shyri nation and were the dominant force in the Ecuadorian highlands until about 1300, by which time the Puruhá, of the southern highlands, had also risen to power under the Duchicela lineage. Conflict was avoided by the marriage of a Shyri princess, the only child of a king Caran of the Shyris, to Duchicela, the eldest son of the king of the Puruhás. This Duchicela-Shyri alliance proved successful, and the Duchicela line ruled more or less peacefully for about 150 years.

The Inca Empire

Ecuador history, Atahualpa

When the Inca expansion began, Duchicela's descendants still dominated the north, and the south was in the hands of the Cañari people. The Cañari defended themselves bitterly against the Inca invaders, and it was some years before the Inca Tupac-Yupanqui was able to subdue them and turn his attention to the north. During this time he fathered a son, Huayna Capac, by a Cañari princess. The subjugation of the north took many years, and Huayna Capac grew up in Ecuador. He succeeded his father to the Inca throne and spent years traveling throughout his empire, from Bolivia to Ecuador, constantly putting down uprisings from all sides. Wherever possible, he strengthened his position by marriage; his union with Paccha, the daughter of the defeated Cacha Duchicela, produced a son, Atahualpa.

The year 1526 is major in Ecuadorian history. Huayna Capac died and left his empire not to one son, as was traditional, but to two: Huáscar of Cuzco and Atahualpa of Quito. Thus the Inca Empire was divided for the first time. In the same year, on September 21, the first Spaniards landed in northern Ecuador near what is now Esmeraldas. They were led south by the pilot Bartolomé Ruiz de Andrade on an exploratory mission for Francisco Pizarro, who remained further north. Meanwhile, the rivalry between Huayna Capac's two sons worsened. The Inca of Cuzco, Huáscar, went to war against the Inca of Quito, Atahualpa. After several years of fighting, Atahualpa finally defeated Huáscar near Ambato and was thus the sole ruler of the weakened and still-divided Inca Empire when Pizarro arrived in 1532 with plans to conquer the Incas.

The Spanish Conquest

Pizarro's advance was rapid and dramatic. His horse-riding, armour-wearing, cannon-firing conquistadors were believed to be godlike, and although they were few in number, they spread terror among the Indians. In late 1532, a summit meeting was arranged between Pizarro and Atahualpa. Although Atahualpa was prepared to negotiate with the Spaniards, Pizarro had other ideas. When the Inca arrived at the pre-arranged meeting place (Cajamarca, in Peru) on November 16, the conquistadors captured him and massacred most of his poorly armed guards. Atahualpa was held for ransom, and in-calculable quantities of gold, silver and other valuables poured into Cajamarca. Instead of being released when the ransom was paid, the Inca was put through a sham trial and sentenced to death. Atahualpa was charged with incest (marrying one's sister was traditional in the Inca culture), polygamy, worship of false gods and crimes against the king, and he was executed on August 29, 1533. His death effectively brought the Inca Empire to an end.

Despite the death of Atahualpa, his general Rumiñahui continued to fight against the Spaniards for two more years. Pizarro's lieutenant Sebastián de Benalcázar finally battled his way to Quito in late 1534, only to find the city razed to the ground by Rumiñahui, who preferred to destroy the city rather than leave it in the hands of the conquistadors.
Quito was refounded on December 6, 1534. and Rumiñahui was captured, tortured and executed in January 1535. The most important Inca site in Ecuador, which remains partially intact today and can be visited, is at Ingapirca, to the north of Cuenca.


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