Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

People and Place Names in Pre-Inka Northern Ecuador

People and Place Names in Pre-Inka Northern Ecuador
Dan Davis

There is an extended ethnohistorical record in South America in general, and Ecuador specifically, which traces the languages spoken before the Inka invasion. In northern Ecuador, the ethnohistorical record is mainly comprised of the writings of authors such as Jacinto Jijón y Caamaño, Horacio Larrain Barros, Chantal Caillavet, Galo Ramón Valarezo, and Frank Salomon. This tradition is contributed to and critiqued in this essay. Between these authors, a sometimes clear, sometimes evasive image emerges of such languages as Pasto, Panzaleo, and Karanki. Ethnohistorical data concerning Karanki, a language of Pre-Inka northern Ecuador which ceased to be spoken around 250 years ago, is cited from the above record and incorporated with findings from other disciplines.

This essay is an effort to clarify the understanding Andean scholars have of the pre-Inka speakers of Karanki, including such groups as the Karanki and Kayambi, by using data from a variety of sources, such as the archaeological and linguistic records, and ethnographic data. The broader ethnohistorical, linguistic, and archaeological picture which has emerged for pre-Inka northern Ecuador is clarified and examined in the light of ethnographic data collected from the town of La Chimba, in northern Pichincha province near the Pichincha-Imbabura border. Anthroponymy and toponymy are employed to analyze some of the surnames and place names from the area. Using interviews and local printed materials, a sample of 42 place names and 131 surnames was collected from La Chimba. These names are then linked to some of the locations and language groups in the area, taking in to account known and potential migration patterns.

An analysis of the place names in the area shows that the majority of toponyms have their origin in the Spanish, Kichwa, and Karanki languages. An analysis of surnames in La Chimba is generally consistent with residents’ claims that they are ethnic Kayambis (exemplified by the presence of the name ending –ango, often cited as belonging to the Karanki language). The analysis also shows evidence of the influx of mitmaes (colonizers moved into areas by the Inka) from the area of Quinche and Pambamarca, north of Quito, an influx which has been documented by ethnohistorians such as Larrain Barros (1980). The analysis also points to another possible migration which may have occurred from the Pasto region, though this is not substantiated by the ethnohistorical record. Potential areas for further inquiry include expanding the research to include the Pasto and Quinche/Pambamarca areas, which may have been the origins of many of the surnames present in La Chimba today, as well in Ankara, where many Karanki and Kayambi warriors were moved as mitmaes after their defeat by the Inka.


April 17, 2009 - Posted by | abstract


  1. Just curious — in Ecuador is Inka the preferred spelling? Anglo usage has historically been Inca.

    Comment by Elizabeth | April 17, 2009 | Reply

    • Many indigenous people in Ecuador prefer “Inka.” The practice has tended toward using “k” in the place of “c” and “q,” as well as “wa” in the place of “hua.” Thus, in the writings of most indigenous people in the area, Caranqui becomes Karanki and Quichua becomes Kichwa, for example. It is in deference to these practices that I chose these spellings; however, as you noted, in anglo usage, as well as in that of mestizos and those of European descent, “Inca” and related spellings are usually retained.

      Comment by Dan Davis | April 18, 2009 | Reply

      • Thanks for your reply.

        Comment by Elizabeth | April 18, 2009

  2. Interesting! I wonder if there are historic maps that might be available to examine how place names might have changed since the early colonial period, and what that might say about potential migrations and other changed in the ethnic composition of the area? Or maybe you have already looked?

    Comment by Elanya | April 20, 2009 | Reply

    • Yes, there are some historic maps, although they are not always readily accessible from overseas. The ethnohistorians I cited in the paper do a decent job of researching these and incorporating them into their findings, so the information is available at times, though not always in the best form. The potential migrations are another story, and are something which I tried to touch on in the paper. Such maps might or might not go a long way in identifying past migration patterns; regardless, they need to be examined in conjunction with all the other available resources including archaeology, anthroponymy, and ethnographic/ethnohistorical data when possible and feasible.

      Comment by Dan Davis | April 28, 2009 | Reply

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