The Tsachilas are a nomadic group of about 4000 indigenous people from Colombia. They are famous for the men dying their hair red to protect against yellow fever, the white and black skirt men wear, the colorful skirt women wear, and their body tattoos. The word Tsachila means “real people” and that’s a very appropriate name for a people who exemplify living off the land.
The Tsachilas were kicked out of Colombia and headed south until they got to Santo Domingo, Ecuador. Sadly, this rapidly growing city also eventually kicked them out of the city and out into the outskirts.
All that remains of the Tsachilas in the city is the name of the city – Santo Domingo de las Tsachilas, numerous businesses that have Tsachilas or Colorado, and a few public statues as you can see below.
When I arrived, Budy, my awesome guide to the Tsachilas, performed a little ceremony to purify me given all the contamination I brought with me from the city. He dug around in my hair a little bit, grabbed a clump, and then pulled really hard.
It thought he pulled the clump of hair right out of my head. But he hadn’t. I reached up and my hair was still there.
The Tsachila men paint their hair red and their bodies black with natural, plant-based dyes. On my first night they painted my body. The natural ink lasts about 8 days. You can see the ceremony below.
Shockingly, to paint your hair for the first time takes 3 hours and also lasts 8 days. And general maintenance, which needs to be done every couple days, takes about 1.5 hours. It’s a lot of work to maintain this look!
All the food they eat is grown by themselves organically. The only exception to this was rice, which they buy. But otherwise, it was a vegetarian feast full of vegetables and goodness.
Not pictured below is the amazing cinnamon tea I’d have daily from their freshly grown cinnamon. Below some pictures of the dishes I had.
Relationship To The Modern World
This is a bit tougher to write about since it’s hard to get a full sense of the whole community.
The older generation was very much withdrawn from modern society. They don’t speak Spanish and otherwise kept to themselves. The younger generation now learns Spanish in school and is able to function both in modern society and the Tsachila community.
I did meet some Tsachilas who were living in the city, who don’t dye their hair or body, and who have “normal” jobs. I don’t think this is representative of the whole community, but I did see it.
Instead, it seems like many Tsachilas live the way I intend to live in the future – with one foot in the “modern world” I call The Matrix, and the other foot in their world.
They do go to the city, many of them study at the university, but it’s kind of a tough existence. The people of Santo Domingo don’t really like the Tsachilas. While walking in the street, many had off color remarks for the Tsachilas I was with for no reason. And they are stared at constantly.
For a city filled with companies using the Tsachila/Colorados name, and a city that derives all of its tourism from these indigenous people, they certainly treat them badly.
Maybe it’s because I’m American and there is a lot of baggage with the word “colored”, but that’s how the Tsachilas are referred to. The first day I was there, within an hour a guy at a restaurant asked me if I was there visiting “the colored.”
Granted, Spanish is quite bad with these things. It’s normal to address someone by their physical attribute – so this could mean calling someone “black” or “fat” or “monkey” (in Colombia monkey is used to describe someone who is blond.. don’t ask me why). Imagine saying “Hey, fatty, another coffee please.” It’s something I really dislike, but it’s the way it is..
Still, this didn’t stop us from going out. Here is a picture of us out at night at a night club.
I really loved where I stayed. It was only a couple miles outside the city, but it felt a million miles away.
They have no running water, so a well is used and water is boiled. Similarly, bathing is done in a clean river. The water is a bit cold, but cold showers are the norm in many places.
They grow all kinds of fruits, vegetables, traditional medicines, and flowers on the farm. Below are some pictures and videos showing the farm. Although the dog video isn’t exactly related to the farm, I did record it on the farm and it was too adorable not to include!
Like many indigenous cultures, the Tsachilas love their music. Below is a video showing Budy playing the Marimba.
In upcoming posts, you’ll see how I did extreme sports with the Tsachilas and tried my first hallucinogenic plant. But for now, let me just say that the whole weekend was amazing. I stayed in the Peripa Tsachila community and you can contact Budy to have a similar experience at +593-81444-066 or within Ecuador 08-144-4066.
Thanks again to Budy, his brother Maro, and the whole Tsachila community for an amazing weekend!
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About Adam Pervez
In mid-2011 I left my cushy corporate job and took the plunge into a life incorporating my passions of traveling, writing, volunteering, learning, educating, and telling stories. I study what happiness means to others, offer what I can from my engineering/MBA background as a volunteer, and try to leave each place better than how I found it. Read more.