Brotherhood and Sister Cities - The Rainbow's Beginning

By Jheri St. James

If an argumentative group of travelers sat down to choose a shared destination, they would be hard put to come up with a place that would best Ecuador. Packed like a knee-cap between Peru and Colombia, Ecuador contains within its borders an improbable variety of landscape and culture. For the mountaineer, it is bisected by an epic stretch of the northern Andes. For the jungle explorer, there is a biological mother lode within the Amazonian Oriente. The sea-minded are rewarded with miles of Pacific coastline, to say nothing of the living wonders of the Galapagos Islands. In a matter of two hundred miles, the traveler can penetrate all of the mainland’s defining regions—the coastal lowlands in the West, the volcanic central highlands, and the rainforests of the East, or Oriente.

Ecuador is an amazing country due to the incredible variety of natural, historical and cultural resources available at its geographical location In the international literature, the end of the rainbow is described as a magical place; when you reach it, unusual and even mythical conditions are achieved that belong to the world of dreams and illusions. In Ecuador, the rainbow symbolizes the wide variety of cultures and geographical richness present there. The Indian people have adopted the colors of the rainbow in the huipala (a kind of scarf) which is part of the traditional costumes, representing multicultural integration.

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The Republic of Ecuador is a country in northwestern South America, bounded by Colombia on the north, by Peru on the east and south, and by the Pacific Ocean on the west. The country also includes the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific about 600 miles west of the mainland. Named after the Spanish word for equator, Ecuador straddles the equator and has an area of 98,985 miles. Its capital city is Quito, and Quito has a turbulent and dramatic history.

It was a lack of brotherhood that brought Ecuador under the rule of the Spanish Conquistadors in 1531. Atahualpa, one of the sons of the Incan Emperor Huayna Capac, was born in Quito. However, he could not receive the crown of the empire since the emperor had another son, Huascar, born in Cusco, then the capital. The empire was divided in two—Atahualpa received the north with his capital in Quito, and Huascar received the south with its capital in Cusco.

Civil wars continued, however, and when Spain’s Francisco Pizarro arrived, Atahualpa wanted to align with the Spanish to defeat Huascar and reign over a reunified Incan empire. The Spanish established themselves in a fort in Cajamarca, captured Atahualpa and held him for ransom. A room was filled with gold with which to secure his release. During his capture, Atahualpa arranged for the murder of his half brother Huascar in Cusco.
And so the stage was set for the Spaniards to take over the Incan empire. Despite being surrounded and vastly outnumbered, the Spanish executed Atahualpa, and began the decimation of the indigenous population, forcing the natives into encomienda, slavery under Spanish landlords, as well as infecting them with their diseases, causing many more deaths.

After nearly 300 years of Spanish colonization, Quito was a city of about 10,000 inhabitants and it was there in 1822 that Ecuador joined Simon Bolivar’s Republic of Gran Colombia, later to become a separate republic in 1830. The 19th century was marked by instability, with a succession of rulers. The territories of the Viceroyalty—New Granada (Colombia), Venezuela, and Quito—were separated when Quito withdrew in that year and changed its name to Republic of the Equator. Between 1904 and 1942 Ecuador lost territories in a series of conflicts with its neighbors. A border war with Peru that flared in 1995 was resolved in 1999. Although Ecuador marked 25 years of civilian governance in 2004, the period has been marred by continuing political instability. Seven presidents have governed Ecuador since 1996.

There has been no conflict about collecting the soil of Ecuador for Common Ground 191, though.

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Jorge Olmedo, Maria Augusta Labanda & Angel Armijos

It was sisterhood that brought the soil of this unique country of Ecuador to the Common Ground 191 project. Gary Simpson, as usual, was racking his brains trying to come up with collection ideas. With over 100 soils collected, one would think the project would get easier, but no. He has used up pretty much all his traveling friends’ gracious participation in Laguna Beach, California, a small beach village. He was been sending letters to foreign embassies in Washington, D.C., but with very poor results, and then sending letters to U.S. Embassies in foreign lands, with better results. Then another brainstorm was the Sister Cities group in Long Beach, California.

“My name is Gary Simpson and I am a member of Sister Cities International. For the last four years I have been working on a global art project called Common Ground 191, which involves collecting soil from every country in the United Nations. Currently, I am midway through the collection process and I am looking for soil volunteers from Ecuador and Cambodia. I have all necessary approvals from the USDA for importing the soil for this art project. . . Thank you for any help you can provide through the Long Beach Sister City group.”

Patricia McMasters, Chair, replied: “Gary, this is my friend, Angel Armijos, who I am asking to volunteer for the project you are working on and collecting the soil from Ecuador. If you need to, you can contact him directly if there are any special requests/requirements regarding the soil. Language is not an issue, Angel lived in the USA for many years and he and his lovely wife are now retired in Ecuador. Glad to be of help. Let me know how the project is working and look forward to seeing it when finished. I love Laguna Beach, maybe I will stop by one day.” Sister Cities of Long Beach, Inc.

And so one more soil collection was completed. Here is what Angel wrote:

“This is presented on behalf of Long Beach-Manta Sister Cities (California) and Mr. Angell Armijos (Ecuador)

”The soil collected comes from the Andean area known as Cacha, in the province of Chimborazo, which has been named “Birth of the Ecuadorian Nation”. According to the history, Cacha was a very important place during the Duchicela Dynasty in Quito, Ecuador. Seven members of the Duchicela dynasty reigned for 233 years, from 1300 to 1533, until the Spanish Conquistador, Francisco Pizarro killed the last ruler, Atahualpa Duchicela. This Indian jurisdiction, Cacha, has its name after Cacha Duchicela, one of the most important rulers of the Quito Empire and Queen Paccha, Atahualpa’s mother was there.

Andes Peaks in the Chimborazo region of Ecuador

“There is an avenue in Riobamba (capital of the Province of Chimborazo) that connects this city with the Cacha region. Along this avenue you can see seven busts of historical Indians, such as: Atahualpa, Queen Paccha, Kinas Cacha, Hualcopo. Autachi and Queen Toa. This avenue is called the Avenue of the Duchicela Kingdom.

“The soil collected has a long history; here our ancestors were born and died. Strong, brave fighters, men and women with traditions and costumes, left us their book and culture. We consider that the essence of the Ecuadorian people is well represented from the land of the ‘Cacha’ in the province of Chimborazo—Birth of the Ecuadorian Nation. - Written in Spanish by Maria Augusta Labanda Ortiz, Ecuador. Translated into English: Patricia McMaster, Sister Cities International, Los Angeles, USA – July 27, 2006

Internet research did not yield up any pictures of this intriguing avenue, but it did provide this:

Message from the Forest

“The money of the most industrialized countries is worthless when the Earth begins to shake. The world leaders are turned into children when faced with the powers of nature, and technology becomes no more than a piece of straw which cannot even be used to build bridges over great rivers.

“Confronted with the fury of nature, nothing and no one can save themselves nor be saved. In order to calm everything down and bring balance to the global nature of the Earth, there is only one path: Stop cutting down trees, don’t take any more oil or minerals from the earth, and stop consuming with excess.

“Let us not forget, change does not come from governments, but from each human being. Each human being is responsible for everything that might occur on Earth.”

Statement of the Amazonian Chiefs of the Shuar Nation, Ecuador

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The indigenous culture of Ecuador includes those in the Waorani culture. Unravelling the secrets of Ecuador’s Waorani culture, Jim Yost in 1976 made some amazing discoveries. He found that the Waorani had maintained the highest levels of homicide ever recorded in the annals of human history. Fully fifty per cent of all deaths in the preceding five generations had been the result of homicide as the Waorani engaged in a continuous and deadly internal vendetta, pursued mostly at night, in spearing raids. No death, it seemed, whatever the cause, went unavenged. Furthermore, the Waorani were even reputed to kill by spearing any, although only a few instances have been proven, of their old people who no longer had the means to support themselves; and they practised infanticide, either strangling unwanted or malformed babies with vines, or burying them alive. Even while Jim was studying the Waorani culture, the killings in feuds and raids continued, although their frequency gradually reduced due to increasing missionary influence. Apart from their extraordinary history of homicide, a further twenty per cent of Waorani deaths were caused by shootings by outsiders; and another five per cent died from snake bites.

Medically, the Waorani turned out to be something of an enigma: they had no trace of cancer; no cardiovascular disease; no high blood pressure; no allergies; and none of the known diseases familiar to us. 'Waorani', in their own language, means 'people'; anyone who is not a Waorani they call 'Cowode'– savages and cannibals. The Waorani lived in secrecy, in the hinterlands on hilltops, well away from major rivers to avoid contact with others. Living under the constant threat of being raided by war parties, the Waorani kept possessions to a minimum; they never knew when they might have to flee in the night and re-establish a home perhaps many days journey away on foot. In case of such an emergency, they maintained a series of gardens scattered over a huge territory to give them alternate living sites with food already available. It was a life of constant fear.


(From: WAORANI, The Saga of Ecuador's Secret People:A Historical Perspective © Adrian Warren, Last Refuge Ltd., March 2002, in association with Dr. James Yost)

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With one foot in the present and the other in the Puyango Petrified Forest, in El Oro and Loja Provinces, near the border with Peru, the possibility exists today to see 100-120 million year old petrified trees, ferns and snails, together with living flora and fauna. Puyango is probably the only petrified forest on earth that shares its habitat with a living forest. Plate tectonics and the dating of petrification seem to indicate that Ecuador was located further south at one time. Finding a petrified tree is equivalent to finding the fossilized bones of a dinosaur, but finding a petrified forest has the same meaning as finding a valley full of fossilized bones of hundreds of dinosaurs. In addition, Puyango is one of the few remaining dry tropical forests where the complete natural vegetation has been preserved and where some million years ago an interior sea was located.

Petrified Dinosaur Bones and Snail Shells at Puyango Petrified Forest in Ecuador

The Galapagos Islands are a mythic archipelago on the surface of Mother Earth made up of 13 main volcanic islands, six smaller islands and 107 rocks and islets. The very first island is thought to have formed between five and 10 million years ago, a result of tectonic activity. The youngest islands, Isabela and Fernandina, are still being formed. The islands are distributed around the equator, are famed for their vast number of endemic species. The archipelago has been known by many different names, including the “Enchanted Islands” because of the way in which the strong and swift currents made navigation difficult. The term “Galapagos” refers to the Spanish name given to the Giant Land Tortoises known to inhabit the islands. It has been said that if the entire world was destroyed, the life forms existing at the Galapagos Islands would be enough to begin life on earth all over again.

It was in these Gallapagos Islands that Charles Darwin conducted the studies that led to his revolutionary theory of evolution by natural selection, theory that is still hotly debated in schools and philosophical forums, even though his work is acknowledged today to be some of the best in the 20th century, predating the discovery of DNA science, which is proving his theories to be accurate.

The famous Charles Darwin, who came to the Galapagos in 1835 and was inspired to develop the theory of natural selection by the variety and the numbers of species in these islands, seen here in satellite view. What would Darwin have thought of that?

These are just a few of Ecuador’s stories, timeless stories of the geography--the land, the waters, the people, ancient and modern. Other stories could be political and economic ones. For instance, Ecuador has substantial petroleum resources, which have accounted for 40% of the country’s export earnings and one-third of central government budget revenues in recent years. In the late 1990s’, Ecuador suffered its worst economic crisis, with natural disasters and sharp declines in world petroleum prices driving Ecuador’s economy into free fall in 1999. Real GDP contracted by more than 6%, with poverty worsening significantly. The banking system also collapsed, and Ecuador defaulted on its external debt later that year. The currency depreciated by some 70% in 1999, and on the brink of hyperinflation, the MAHAUD government announced it would dollarize the economy. A coup, however, ousted MAHAUD from office in January 2000, and after a short-lived junta failed to garner military support, Vice President Gustavo Noboa took over the presidency. In Mach 2000, Congress approved a series of structural reforms that also provided the framework for the adoption of the US dollar as legal tender. Dollarization stabilized the economy, and growth returned to its pre-crisis levels in the years that followed. Under the administration of Lucio Gutierrez, 1/2003-4/2005, Ecuador benefited from higher world petroleum prices. However, the government under Alfredo Palacio has reversed economic reforms that reduced Ecuador’s vulnerability to petroleum price swings and financial crises, allowing the central government greater access to oil windfalls and disbursing surplus retirement funds.

Avenue of Measurers

Taking the measure of Ecuador, the “end of the rainbow” may not be the most accurate term. The beginning of the rainbow may be more like it, with sisterhood the dominant energy in this particular soil collection in Ecuador. The spirit of cooperation in Common Ground 191 continues to be strong, with many kinds of siblings joining in the brotherhood of this amazing art project, and even angels adding their complementary energies to the project to make the soils of the earth into one at last, if only symbolically. In the family of Common Ground 191, we thank you and la paz to you, brothers and sisters.

The Beginning of the Rainbow

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