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Yumbo Civilization - History


The Yumbo civilization, (800 AD until the Spanish Conquest around 1660) predates that of the Incas. The Yumbo were a peace-loving, autonomous, independent, mature people, open to external relations.

The Incas attempted to conquer the Yumbo between 1520 and 1534, but judging this ‘naked people’ (‘gente desnuda’) to be poor, retreated to Quito. The Yumbo eventually accepted Spanish domination.

The Yumbo civilization was eventually more-or-less wiped out by epidemics introduced by European invaders (15,000 died between 1560 and 1570), local wars and the eruption of Pichincha, particularly that of 1660 which covered Tulipe in 20-25 cms (8-10 inches) of volcanic ash.

The Yumbo today
"Piscinas"(Paths & Petroglyphs)
Tulipe Museum












They Yumbo people left behind a rich legacy in the form of archaeological remains, first excavated in the 1980s. These include:


"Piscinas" (Paths & Petroglyphs)
Agriculture and trading:
The Yumbo were primarily an agricultural and trading people, who also hunted and made handicrafts. The Yumbo cultivated bananas, avocados, pineapples, eggfruit, honey, palm hearts, citrus fruits, guavas, and raised animals such as peccary, turkeys, agouti, fish. Ornamental, ritual or medicinal plants, such as orchids and coca, were cultivated on terraces.

The Yumbo dealt in maize, yucca, chillis, coca, sweet potato, fruit, groundnuts, coconuts, salt, rubber, cotton, incense and curative plants, in exchange for obsidian, animal skins and sacred shells such as spondylus princeps (a bivalve mollusc) and mother of pearl. Studies mention both salt and gold as Yumbo resources, though it’s uncertain whether the latter was extracted from local sources or a result of trading.

The Spanish collected from the Yumbo quantities of cotton blankets of distinctive and sumptuous designs, shirts, shawls, scarves and large balls of thread. This was the stimulus for Quito later becoming a centre of the South American textile industry.

The Yumbo trading network stretched from the Sierra to the coast. Their trade routes consisted of paths (‘culuncos’) hidden in the dense vegetation of the mountainsides. Many later became Inca trails and used subsequently by the Spanish conquistadors, republicans, loggers, dealers in contraband liquor and today’s agricultural workers.

Culture and beliefs:

The Yumbo were conversant with astronomy, geometry and architecture. Yumbo beliefs centred round 3 worlds:

  • that of the celestial deities
  • the earthly world
  • the world below

During solstices and equinoxes Tulipe became a ceremonial, ritualistic and religious centre for the local people to perform rituals of initiation, purification, fertility and thanks to Mother Earth. The Yumbo celebrated nature in the form of waterfalls, rivers and valleys, considering them sacred.

The Yumbo walked with two long wooden walking poles, not unlike today’s aluminium trekking poles. They carried a large basket (‘chalo’) on their back, loosely woven from natural fibres and supported by a band round their forehead. Yumbo houses were made from bamboo.


Further Reading:

Chávez, Holguer Jara. Tulipe y la Cultura Yumbo: Arqueología Comprensiva del Subtrópico Quiteño. Quito: FONSAL, 2007. (ISBN: 9789978924532) (in Spanish)

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