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Kichwa Culture: Amazon Tribal Face Paint

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In Ecuador, about 25% of the population is indigenous. They are beautiful people and we can easily imagine that many could be descendants of the Incas … though some disagree.

At any rate, the largest native group in the country (about 2.5 million people) is the Kichwa tribe, and like many people in the Amazon Basin, they speak Quechua. The Quechua language is spoken by over 7 million people in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. We can even hear it spoken by some of the locals here in Cuenca, when they are speaking among themselves.

Visiting the Kichwa tribe in Ecuador’s Amazon basin

We joined an excursion to Ecuador’s Oriente, the easternmost part of the country that is a part of the Amazon basin. Our itinerary included a Kichwa (Quechua) village visit to learn about their culture.

A few of their adorable little children acted as welcoming committee. They took every chance they could find to pose for our cameras.

Here are some images of the Kichwa we met on our tour, both children and adults.

Portrait of a Kichwa woman
3 Kichwa girls hide behind a boy posing for our camera
Two girls show us a cutout picture that they colored
Portrait of a Kichwa girl

And a few I captured with my video camera ….

Kichwa girl approves of the picture on the camera screen
Smiling Kichwa boy, with red t-shirt
Four children from the Kichwa Amazon tribe. One girl whispers to another friend while another girl stands behind. Young boy tries to act up in the background

How the Kichwa paint faces

Our visit to the village included a demonstration of how the Kichwa traditionally paint their faces. Indigenous cultures paint their faces for different reasons. South American tribal face paint is applied for religious ceremonies, war, hunting, beauty, good fortune, or all of the above.

If you’re wondering how to make Amazonian face paint, the Kichwa use a seed pod from a native tree called achiote. Also known as annatto, it is an essential ingredient in many Central and South American cuisines. It doesn’t add any flavor, just a pretty saffron hue. And yes, you can buy it on Amazon.

The prickly seed pods of the achiote tree.

The seed pods may look prickly, but they are actually pretty soft. Our guide plucked a fresh pod and cracked it open just by squeezing it. He then pulled a palm frond stalk apart and peeled off some of the fiber to create a long stick, which he poked into the seed pod. After swirling it around for a few seconds, he brought it out, covered in the beautiful, bright hue.

“Who would like to be our model?”

You guessed it.

Linda models Amazonian face painting.

It stands to reason that I became the model, because Dan and I were by far the youngest members of our group. Erm, okay, I was the only one who had the courage to volunteer.

Everyone got a big kick out of watching the artist do his work, so he took his time and soaked up the attention. I think he gave me the royal treatment: lips, forehead, cheeks, AND hair. Then he told me it would take a week to wash off.

Yikes.

I was relieved when it all came off with soap and water later that day. He sure had me worried there for a while.

Plan your own Ecuador Amazon adventure

AMAZON TRAVEL PLANNING ESSENTIALS
Travel Guide: Amzon Highlights: Peru · Ecuador · Colombia · Brazil
Flights: The nearest airport to Tena is Coca (OCC). Check availability
Accommodation: We stayed at Cotococha Amazon Lodge on the Napo River.
Travel Visas: Do you need one? Check here
Travel Insurance: World Nomads is available while you’re traveling!
Getting there: Amazonas Cooperativa de Transportes operates a bus from Quito – Terminal Quitumbe to Tena every 4 hours. Tickets cost $5 – $8 and the journey takes 3h 20m.
Organized trips: G Adventures has insanely affordable small-group tours + guaranteed departures.
International SIM card: Drimsim allows for roaming-free travel in 229 countries
Photos: For more sightseeing, see our Ecuador photo albums.
ALSO READ:
Kichwa Amazon Tribe Culture: How to Use a Blowgun

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to around 60 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages inspired her to create As We Saw It with her husband Dan, a professional photographer. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

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6 thoughts on “Kichwa Culture: Amazon Tribal Face Paint”

  1. Wearing that face paint like a warrior Linda! Love it. I dig the pictures of the kids too. Beautiful snaps. My wife visited the Amazon but in Iquitos, Peru, for ayahuasca. Definitely a different experience for her LOL. Thanks for sharing.

    Ryan

    • Hey Ryan! We tried chicha later on … between you and me, the drink was less than impressive That ayahuasca, on the other hand, is supposed to give mind-altering experiences. What did Kelli think of it?

  2. Great shots, the children seem to love having their photo taken. I so want to visit the Amazon one day. I love the painting on your face 🙂

    • Haha, Freya, turnabout is fair play! We want to visit Machu Picchu like you did!

      Thanks for the compliment on the face painting … I haven’t done that since I was a kid.

  3. These children are so cute and really they know how to welcome. Impressive. This village seems a hub of good people. I like the way you draw these painting on your face.

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