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The imaginery borderThe  peace settlement signed between Peru and Ecuador , after the conflict a few years ago, brought international attention to two cultures which, in reality, are one. Is this merely a momentary hiatus, or will the common bonds form an ever-lasting peace?

Victor Andrés Belaunde once said that if all Latin American countries are brothers, then Peru and Bolivia must be twins. Because of long misunderstandings, this once left Ecuador on the side lines. However, not only does the extensive Cordillera of the Andes unite us with the same variety of micro climates and the same socio-cultural subdivisions, but historical events are intimately linked; indeed they are almost the same. Not only is there a shared language, but human settlements proceeded the creation of definitive boundaries. Firstly those of the Quechua empire of Tahuantinsuyo in Cusco, then by the subsequent Spanish invasion.

This has generated the same human spirit, one unifying disposition varying only slightly with inevitable regionalisms. A short review of our history, our artistic creation, and our flora and fauna allows us to recognize these similarities.

The winged immaculate, oil on canvas, Quiteñan School.

Female face made of gold and turquoise, the classic Tolita.

Main altar in the church of la Compañía: Peruvian influence from Cajamarca is felt in Quito, Ecuador.

A native of the Shuars or Aguarana village.

On the glapagos Islands, the famous flamingos wear the colors of the Peruvian flag.

Golden rays on the bay of Tortuga Negro (One of the Islands of Santa Cruz)

The harassing of native inhabitatns is a common problem.


Preserving the ecosystem is a job for both Peru and Ecuador.


Houses in a jungle that has no frontiers.


Since the founding of the first viceroyalty in Peru -which included almost all of Spanish South America- the constantly changing border delineation’s between the viceroyalty of Gran Colombia and that of Peru gradually made this process so redundant as to disappear from view. The arrival of independence initiated, against all prediction, a definitive split: separate histories began to be narrated, and a people was divided in two. Nevertheless, higher culture had grown for centuries along the coastal fringe of Peru and in the heights of the Peruvian Andes in the same way it had in Ecuador. Moreover, commerce in Andean areas had found in a conch shell of reddish lips from the south of Ecuador, the same lust for wealth that a yellow stone would wake in European invaders centuries later.

The great Incan expansion, originated from Cusco by the Quechua people, created by force of arms and persuasion, the largest empire in the Americas. They conquered the Chancas, Chimus, Tallanes and many others within Peru, as well as the Caras and Cañaris, among others in Ecuadorian territory, much as they had conquered the Aymaras of Bolivia.

The people of Cusco found the new lands conquered by Huayna Cápac to their liking, for the beauty of the country, the importance of the conquest, and the relation of the Inca with the daughter of Paccha, last king of Quito. The splendid Tumibamba gives testimony to this. It can be supposed that possession of the territory where precious spondylus shells flowered was, in itself, a weighty argument for this predilection. Even today, it is surprising to compare the great similarity between Quechua spoken in the mountains of Ecuador and that spoken in Cusco.

It was, nonetheless, a barely constructed empire that allowed a handful of adventurers to divide and reign it. The "contest" of Tahuantinsuyo between Huascar from Cusco and Atahualpa from Quito was another factor adding to the great resentments felt by the Tallanes, Huancas, Chancas and other cultures that had been humiliated by the Cusco invasion. But the same kings and chieftains of this extensive territory played poorly at politics, and ultimately became prisoners of their presumed liberators, the Spanish. The unity of Tahuantinsuyo was replaced by a forced unity, imposed by bearded invaders who deftly added the Amazon region to their extensive territories.

An immense viceroyalty was obliged to have its one and only port of entry and departure at Callao. The Hapsburgs, who held power in the ‘Españas,’ as Spain was then known, created ostentation and splendor in a Lima that became famous for housing an abundance of riches, palaces, nobility, temples and saints. A Lima that impregnated its influence in all of the territories it governed, including lands crossed by the Equator. This, however, did not impede the development of artistic expression or commerce in other centers.

The styles of painting, wood sculpture, relief work and handicrafts born under mestizaje (cultural blending) found in the Cusco and Quito schools of art, are two important and different sources of comparison.

The Bourbons, now on the Iberian throne, were forced to dismantle the great viceroyalty in the middle of the eighteenth century. At this point the backbone of Andean unity was broken. A part of modern-day Ecuadorian territory looked towards New Granada for governance, while the rest went back and forth between the Santa Fe de Bogotá and Lima Dependencies.

The later independence, work of the Spanish descendants, finished with the old Andean unity in a definitive manner and forgot the inhabitants of the Amazon. The governors succeeding titans such as Bolívar, Sucre, San Martín or Santa Cruz took care of the rest. New countries appeared, along with family quarrels over virtual realities called frontiers. From a historical perspective it allows us to open our eyes and redesign the future.


The continuity of Andean territory has created the same or similar diet all along the coast, mountains, and jungles of what was previously Tahuantinsuyo. The same fauna, irrigation and cultivation systems exist in these three regions. Even today, Peru’s borders are a clear example of this continuity. The communities close to the frontier of Peru and Ecuador are bonded by blood and family ties, with the same last names repeating themselves. There is also a "bonding" of sorts in domesticated plants such as corn, potato, olluco and coca. Likewise the breeding of cameloids, to cite a few examples, are patrimony of the entire Andean area, especially concentrated in territories that are today part of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

The El Niño current, whose influence is most marked in Ecuador, gives its territory and that of the northern coast of Peru a warm climate extending to the first reaches of the northern Peruvian coastal desert, but the influence of the Humboldt current gives the Peruvian seas a gray tint and fills them with fish, despite their being in the tropics.

The different zones that occur as the soils of the Peruvian and Ecuadorian coast climb into the Andean Cordillera and descend to the verdant Amazon generate a variety of micro climates. These produce diverse processes of adaptation and, as a consequence, such distinct products as the almost one hundred and twenty officially recognized varieties of potato or the diversity of hair quality in cameloids of the same species.

The forgotten people

Felt, even if not seen, the similarities of life in Ecuador to that in Peru are so extraordinary that perhaps the differences of so many years will vanish faster than expected. History, nature, and necessity makes obligatory the coexistence of two countries made up of the same people. The peaceful and seductive beauty of Quito should soon become part of the same circuit that includes the majestic presence of Cusco, with Lima or Guayaquil in between and La Paz at the other end.

Now that the evil spell is broken, eternity is working its magic, reuniting the Andes and the Amazon. Further than the thoughts of malign fanciers on all sides, who have definitely lost the war, surges the profound desire of a people who rises to impose its desire for peace. The page turned, it is another future that is appearing.

By David Roca Basadre
Volume /Issue 14, Page 24
Updated, Lola Salas 2003

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