Kichwa Culture: Face Painting in the Amazon

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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 … even though some say not. 

At any rate, the largest native group in the country (about 2.5 million people) is the Kichwa Amazon tribe, and they speak Quechua. Quechua 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.

Visit the Kichwa in Ecuador's Amazon basin

One of the local expat groups arranged 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. It could be for religious ceremonies, war, hunting, beauty, good fortune, or all of the above. Our guide was so immersed in explaining how it was done, he never explained why the Kichwa paint their faces. So if you have the answer, please let us know.

To create the beautiful, orange color in Amazonian face paint, they 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.

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 experience

Here is some more information to help you plan your own trip. If this article was useful, you can thank us without paying a dime by using these links to make your plans. (Some of these companies will pay us a referral fee, at no extra cost to you.)

For more sightseeing, see our Ecuador photo albums here.

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Where to stay in the Amazon

We stayed at Cotococha Amazon Lodge on the Napo River. It's also known as Selina Amazon Lodge. CHECK PRICES HERE.

How to get there

This website shows how to get anywhere by plane, train, bus, ferry and car.

Book a tour

If you prefer to let someone else make all the arrangements, check out Get Your Guide Amazon tours page for some unique options.

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages has 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: Face Painting in the Amazon”

  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

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
  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 🙂

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply

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