HISTORY
What is now Ecuador was inhabited by advanced indigenous cultures for thousands of years before the Incas conquered the native tribes in 1460. The Incas held sway until the Spanish conquistadors under Francisco Pizarro (c. 1475–1541), defeated the Emperor Atahualpa (c. 1502–33) at the Battle of Cajamarca in 1532.
Within decades of the Spaniards’ arrival the indigenous population had been decimated by disease. Those who lived were forced into the encomienda (“royal land grants”) labor system for Spanish landlords, the new elite. After nearly 300 years of Spanish rule Ecuador gained its independence on May 24, 1822. The “Republic of the Equator” was part of the South American general and patriot Simón Bolívar’s vision of Gran Colombia. When Gran Colombia dissolved in 1830 Ecuador was one of the three countries that emerged (the others being Colombia and Venezuela). Between 1904 and 1942 Ecuador lost several provinces in conflicts with its neighbors. In 1942 the country went to war with Peru. This led to the loss of a large part of Ecuador’s territory, including the entrance to the Amazon River. Having been ruled by dictators and military governments from 1960 to 1980, Ecuador has had a democratically elected government for more than 20 years.

GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Ecuador, which includes the Galapagos Islands, is located in western South America. It borders the Pacific Ocean at the equator and is nestled between Colombia and Peru. The climate is tropical in the Amazonian jungle and in the lowlands along the coast but cooler in the higher inland areas. Ecuador must contend with frequent earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic activity as well as floods and periodic droughts.

ECONOMY
Ecuador has significant oil reserves, which in the early years of the 21st century have accounted for 40 percent of the country’s export earnings. Its dependency on petroleum, however, means that fluctuations in world oil market prices can have a serious effect on the nation’s economic well-being. In 1999 Ecuador faced its worst economic crisis ever and in 2000 changed its currency to the U.S. dollar. In the 21st century Ecuador’s economy is growing, thanks to oil production, economic reforms, and opening its markets to the world.

CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
Farra (parties) and celebrations are held frequently.
Hardly a month passes without a major celebratory event. Most festivals are celebrated with long processions, colorful ceremonies, and sumptuous feasts.
Because more than 90 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, most of the holidays and celebrations follow the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. These holidays are observed most in the highland villages, where celebrations include feasting, drinking, and dancing and continue for several days. Other holidays commemorate significant political or historical events.
Ecuadorian holidays are seldom celebrated on their fixed dates. If a public holiday occurs on a weekend, it may be celebrated on the previous Friday or the following Monday to make a longer weekend. Even a midweek public holiday is sometimes celebrated on the previous Monday or the following Friday for the same reason.

CUISINE
Ecuadorian food is rich in soups and stews. Other specialties include fresh tropical fruits, cornmeal pancakes, rice, beans, eggs, plantains, and vegetables.
Fresh seafood is ubiquitous. Although the everyday diet of rice, potatoes, and meat (beef and chicken everywhere, pork in the Sierra) can be bland, no Ecuadorian table is complete without aji (hot sauce). Each locality has its own specialties; some of the more exotic include caldo de patas (soup made from cattle hooves), cuy (whole roasted guinea pigs), and tronquito (bull penis soup).

BAPTISM
A Catholic priest baptizes a child by making the Sign of the Cross on the child’s forehead and sprinkling holy water. After being baptized the infant is dressed in a loose-fitting gown and blessings are recited.
The family hosts a feast to celebrate the occasion.
Baptism is one of the all-important rituals required by the Catholic Church. It is a ritual cleansing of original sin and a welcoming of the infant into the fold of the church.

MARRIAGE
Ecuadorians believe January, April, and August are the best months for getting married because the blood of young men and women is thought to be very fertile in these months. The role of the godparents and parents of the wedding couple is of great importance in Ecuadorian marriages. The bride and the groom enter the church with their respective parents. After parting from their parents the bride and groom come together at the altar. The wedding ceremony includes passages from the Bible that refer to the creation of life and formation of new relationships.
It is traditional for the bride and groom to thank the guests. After exchanging the vows of marriage they seal them with a kiss.


FUNERAL RITES

When a person dies the body is wrapped in cotton blankets and placed outside the home. The funeral rites last for several days and are accompanied by weeping, feasting, and drinking. During this time, the coffin of the dead person is left open, and family members hold all-night vigils with the body. The mourners are supposed to wash their hands with running water after the burial and before leaving the cemetery. Once the burial rites are completed the family members host a traditional meal with mourners bringing food as gifts.