Archaeology, Ethnohistory and Exchange along the Coast of Ecuador

By Currie, Elizabeth J. | Antiquity, September 1995 | Go to article overview

Archaeology, Ethnohistory and Exchange along the Coast of Ecuador


Currie, Elizabeth J., Antiquity


Sea-faring along the coast of Ecuador [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

In 1525, Francisco Pizarro's pilot, Bartolomeo Ruiz, led the second exploratory expedition along the west coast of northern South America, and what is now Ecuador. According to the Relacion of this voyage, probably written by Pizarro's secretary Francisco de Xerez (Pizarro [1844a]), he encountered and captured an indigenous vessel or balsa of around 25 modern tons. It was laden with a rich cargo which included many items of adornment, articles fashioned from gold and silver, embroidered textiles and also quantities of sea shells, apparently all carried for the purposes of trade at long distance.

This account provides readers with a tantalizing glimpse of the early maritime communities of pre-Columbian coastal Ecuador at the point of European contact, and of the society of merchant traders who lived there (Pizarro [1844a]: 196-200; my translation):

they took a ship in which came up to twenty men, of which eleven of them threw themselves into the water, and taking three of those left the pilot [Bartolomeo Ruiz] put the others ashore so that they might go; and these three that were kept for interpreters, he treated very well and kept them with him.

This ship which I say he took, seemed to have the capacity of up to thirty toneles; it was made deck and keel of canes as big as posts, bound with ropes of what they call sisal, which. is like hemp, and the upper [deck] of lighter canes tied with the same ropes, where the people and their cargo travel together dry because the lower part is awash. Her masts and lateen yards were of very fine wood and sails of cotton of the same appearance as our ships, and very good rigging of the said sisal, which I say is like hemp, and some pierced stone weights [potales] for anchors in the manner of barbers' grinding stones.

And they were carrying many items of silver and of gold personal ornament to exchange with those with whom they were going to trade, including crowns and diadems and belts and gauntlets [ponietes] and leg armour [greaves?] and breast-plates and tweezers and jingling bells and strings and bunches of beads and rosecleres [other beads of a clear, rosy colour - Mester (1990)] and mirrors mounted with the said silver, and cups and other drinking vessels; they carried many mantles of wool and of cotton, and shirts and aljubas [tunics?] and alaremes and many other garments, most of them embroidered and richly worked in colours of scarlet and crimson, and blue and yellow, and of all other colours in different kinds of work and figures of birds and animals and fish and trees; and they brought some tiny weights to weigh gold, like Roman workmanship, and many other things. On some strings of beads there were some small stones of emerald and chalcedony, and other stones and pieces of crystal and anime. All this they brought to exchange for some shells from which they make coral red and white beads, and they had the vessel almost laden with them....

Those three indians which I said were seized on the ship and brought to the captains acquired our language very well. It seems that they were from a land and town called Calangane: the people in that land are of the most superior quality and manner of indians for they are of better appearance and colour and very skilled, and have a dialect like Arabic, and it seems that they had subjection over the indians I spoke of Tacamez and of the bay of San Mateo, and of Nancabez and of Tovirisimi and Conilope and Papagayos, and Tolona and Quisimos and Coaque and Tonconjes and Arampajaos, and Pintagua and Caraslobez and Amarejos, Cames, Amotopse, Docoa, all towns of the said plain that are found along the coast; and of all the rest of the coast in that land of Calangone where they are [come from], there are four towns together, under one lord, which are the said Calangome, and Tusco and Seracapez and Calango. There are many sheep [camelids] and pigs [wild peccary] and cats [ocelots? …

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