ECUADOR’S FORGOTTEN PEOPLE
Afro-Ecuadorians have often been a marginalized population and culture within Ecuador since their forced induction into Ecuadorian culture during the era of Spanish conquest. It is only in Ecuador’s recent history that people with African heritage are beginning to receive further awareness not only from their own country but from the world. For too long, Afro-Ecuadorians were a forgotten people amongst Ecuadorians.
For a marginalized people, Afro-Ecuadorians have a considerable population—approximately 1.2 million people out of the Ecuador’s total 13.5. Perhaps even more surprising is how concentrated this population is, as around 70% of Afro-Ecuadorians reside in the coastal province of Esmeraldas in northwestern Ecuador. Other prominent populations reside in the Valle de Chota, Guayaquil, and Quito. The centralization of the Afro-Ecuadorian population has helped foster and sustain their cultural heritage and customs.
However, by nature the high concentration of Afro-Ecuadorians in Esmeraldas contributed to their social, political, and economic marginalization. The Ecuadorian government has, in the past, invested less in the province’s education, public works, and commercial success. This situation is beginning to change, and Esmeraldas is gaining more attention from the country and tourists alike. Moreover, with Afro-Ecuadorians making up a large percentage of the country’s national soccer team, the ethnic group is gaining more recognition and appreciation than they have in the past.
In addition to Afro-Ecuadorians' domination of Ecuadorian sports, their musical talents have significantly impacted the Ecuadorian culture. In particular, Ecuador’s arrullos and marimba reveal the important role the Africans and their descendants played in creating this rhythmic music. The Esmeraldas have produced a branch off of the marimba genre: the marimba salsera. The marimba salsera combines the contemporary influences of the prevalent salsa culture with their more traditional music. In doing so, Afro-Ecuadorians have made a step in embracing Ecuador’s rich, hybridized cultural heritage and confronting continuing racial marginalization.