Ecuador is famous for its indigenous Indian cultures, but it actually also has a sizeable Black minority. The most remarkable segment of this population has lived far off the beaten path, hidden in the Chota Valley in the north of the country. The Valley’s residents are descended from African slaves. According to their tradition, they came from a slave ship which was on its way from Panama to Peru in the 16th century. The ship sank off the coast of Ecuador, and dozens of castaways, led by a Jesuit priest, fled into the mountains. They settled there, creating several Black enclaves in the middle of the Quechua Indian population.
Ecuador has over a million Blacks, who make up about 8% of its population. Most of them live in the coastal province of Esmeraldas. The enclaves in the Chota Valley, hidden in the mountains and ignored by the government for centuries, never even appeared on maps of the country. People have only learned of their existence in recent years, thanks to several top soccer players who have come from the region. The most famous of them is Ulises de la Cruz. He comes from the village of Piquiucho and is now an international soccer star and top player for Ecuador’s national team. He channels part of the money he earns as a sports star into funding community projects in his native village.
This story is part of Via Panam, Kadir van Lohuizen’s project about migration in the Americas.