The Shuar

Who are they and where do they live?

The Shuar Nationality is one of the largest ethnic groups of the Amazonian Region.  “Shuar” means people. This group lived in Ecuador before the Inca of Peru ascendancy. However, the Shuars, with their courageous and brave character did not accept the Inca domination. Along with other tribes, they dominated the inter-Andean region, beyond the eastern mountain range of the Andes, the Zamora river, Bomboisa, Santiago, Morona and Paute.

Currently, they inhabit the jungles of Ecuador and Peru. Their population is approximately 110,000 people (Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion of Ecuador, 2010). Their traditional language is Shuar and their second language, with which they interact outside their communities, is Spanish.

Social Organization

The Shuar people organize themselves politically and territorially into units called “community centres”, presided over by a “sindico” and organized around a communal area where there are basic services such as schools, soccer fields and a central place for social gatherings. In turn, community centres are grouped into federations that have an assembly, a board of directors, and a president (Mora, 2013).

Economic Activities

Traditionally, all the Shuar had access to the land and their way of subsistence was based on hunting, fishing, fruit gathering and itinerant agriculture (permanently changing the location of the garden). Currently, only 20% of the population has land (MIES, 2010), and their economy is mainly based on root vegetables such as cassava, plantain, sweet potato, papachina, corn, peanuts, papaya, and chonta palm (there is an annual festival around this plant). As a secondary economic activity they harvest fruits from the forest.


The culinary traditions of the Shuar people include shuar soup (which contains Chinese potato, cassava, greens, squash, plantain, pelma, butter or oil and onion), duck broth with yucca (based on palm hearts and onions) and the ayampacos (fish, bush meat, beef, chicken, duck or giblets, wrapped in aromatic leaves and cooked on the grill) (MIES, 2010).

The “chicha” is the most important drink on a social level. The Shuars take it when they start their workdays, to celebrate special occasions and when there are mingas or other communal jobs. It is a “food-drink and it works as a means of social cohesion, since it is provided as an act of reciprocity” (MIES, 2010). It is mainly made from cassava or chonta, and secondarily it can be made from corn, papaya, plantain or palma.

Transfer of Ancestral Knowledge

The Shuar people believe in the healing power of plants. Their special link with nature is expressed in the medicinal use of products obtained from the earth and ancestral knowledge that has been transferred from generation to generation, mainly through shamans, or “uwishin” in the Shuar language. The shaman not only transfers ancestral knowledge, but also leads and presides over the rites and festivals that mark the annual calendar (El Universo, 2018).

Traditional Dress

Shuar women wear a traditional dress called “karachi”, and Shuar men a skirt rather like a kilt called “itip”. In ancient times, their clothing was made from crushed and woven tree bark.

The Shuar wear as accessories a great variety of feather crowns of toucans and other birds, and they paint their faces with animal designs that are believed to imprint on them strength and power. For the Tzantza and Culebra festivities, their bodies are painted with designs that represent their sacred animals.

Today, they commonly wear western clothing and, only on some festive occasions, wear their traditional clothing (Pesantez, 2019).