Sunday, 17 April 2016

Ecuador Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time to cast my net a little wider. This time Ecuador and a look at some of its largest settlements and most interesting names and starting with the capital.

Quito is the capital but, with a population of 2.67 million, is not the largest city in Ecuador, that title goes to the following entry of Guayaquil. Quito is named for its founders two thousand years ago, the Quitu tribe. This tribe, the dominant force in the region known as the Kingdom of Quito, derived their name from two Tsafiki words: Quitso 'centre' and To 'the world'. Hence their tribal name probably suggested they were 'the centre of the world' - as we all see the world from our own perspective to this day.

Guayaquil is the most populous, although only just, with 2.69 million living here. Officially founded on July 25th 1538 by Spanish conquistador Francisco de Orellana as Muy Noble Y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de Guayaquil or the 'most noble and most loyal city of St James of Guayaquil'. That the existing name is present at the end of this 16th century 'official' name is further proof, adding to archaeological evidence, showing the settlement already existed prior to the arrival of the Spanish and named by the indigenous people. It takes the name of the Guayas river, the name given to the lowest part of the most important network of rivers draining the western slopes of the Andes mountains. Popularly the place name is derived from two people, the Puna Indian chief Guayas and his wife Quill, whom he is said to have killed before he committed suicide by drowning. However etymologists prefer hua meaning 'land' and Illa or 'beautiful prairie'. When added to the Quilca, this one of the many tributaries of the Guayas and also the name of the tribe who inhabited this region, it gives a meaning of 'the land of the beautiful prairie at the land of the Quilcas'.

Bahia is from the Spanish occupation and refers to 'the bay'.

Banos de Agua Santa is another of Spanish derivation. Here describing 'the baths of the holy water', it refers to the hot springs in this region said to have healing powers.

Cuenca took the name of the city in Spain, itself from the Latin for 'river basin'.

Guaranda is after a chief of the indigenous people named Guaranga.

Ibarra was founded in 1606 on the orders of the president of the Royal Audience Club of Quito, whose name was Miguel de Ibarra. The man who gave his name to this city represented an administrative unit of the Spanish Empire.

Latacunga is a Spanish corruption of the earlier name of Llacta cunani, itself traditionally held to be an inn here since the Incas were resident. If this is indeed even remotely accurate, then the name would be a welcoming one offering hospitality in the form of a meal and a bed which, as evidenced by the origins of so many pub names, makes perfect sense.

Loja is named after the home town of Field Marshal Alonso de Mercadillo who founded the Ecuador version in 1548, the name probably first used to refer to this place as a trading post or market. The town of Nueva Loja, a major point of oil extraction for the Texaco company, is named from the Ecuador city because many of the workers hailed from there.

Macas is simply from the indigenous Macas tribe.

Machala takes the name of Lord Dominic Machala.

Manta is an ancient site, named for its importance as a trading post for the Mantas tribe.

Milagro is said to be the result of events in 1784 when a plantation owner named Don Miguel de Salcedo sought the help of many doctors to cure his ailing wife. One day a beggar knocked at his door and, on hearing of the poor woman's illness, produced some leaves. These he was to use to produce a tea which his wife should drink and she would be cured. Desperate to try anything he did as the beggar asked and soon she was healed. Astonishingly Don Miguel believed it had been St Francis of Assisi who had been responsible for the miracle and immediately declared the farmland here should be known as San Francisco de Milagro, milagro meaning 'miracle'.

Portoviejo is simply 'the old port'.

Shell Mera was established in 1937 by the Shell Oil Company as a base for their workers, it is located just four miles from the smaller town of Mera.

Tulcan is a Spanish variation on the earlier Mayan name of Hu-Can meaning 'warrior'.

Santo Domingo de los Colorados is predictably of Spanish origin and, as with so many of the names from the early days of the Spanish Empire, refers to the day it was founded and thanks the church - here the name means 'Holy Sunday'. The addition, also Spanish, refers to the indigenous people, the Tsachila, and the men who dyed their hair with an extract from the achiote plant. This plant gives an orange-red dye from the waxy seed coverings. There is a story which suggests this ornamentation is comparatively recent and, if the story is true, was caused by the arrival of the Spanish. It is well-known how the Spanish brought disease from Europe, the indigenous people having no resistance to even the mildest and the population decimated as a result. With the Tsachila people the disease was the dreaded smallpox, against which they shaved the temporal region of the head, then creating a helmet-like feature with the remaining hair after the dye had taken. It seems a local shaman was drawn to the bush when asking the spirits to protect them from the disease and, having covered themselves with the red juice, discovered mortality rates plummeted within days. The helmet-style design is imitative of the seed pods from which the dye is obtained.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

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