Sápara people

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Total population
approx. 350
250 in Ecuador
100 in Peru
Regions with significant populations
Quechua, Spanish, Záparo

The Sápara (formerly Zápara or Záparo) are a South American ethnic group indigenous to the Amazon rainforest, along the border of Ecuador and Peru. They once occupied some 12,000 mi² between the Napo River and the Pastaza. Early in the 20th century, there were some 200,000 Zapara. From the year 2009 on the Ecuadorian Zápara call themselves Sápara. The official name is Nación Sápara del Ecuador (NASE). It means Sápara Nation of Ecuador. The president of this nation is Basilio Mucushigua. The Sápara Nation was officially registered by CONDENPE – the Council of Development of the nationalities and peoples of Ecuador – on September 16, 2009. The current name of the organisation is the result of a unification process of upriver and downriver communities. There was a conflict between these different groups about their authentic ethnic identity in the last years of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. With this unification this conflict seems to be solved. CONDENPE confirms as well officially the legal status of autonomy or self-government of the Sápara Nation of Ecuador N.A.S.E. and confirms their territory between the rivers Pindoyacu, Conambo and Alto Corrientes (Upper River) in the province of Pastaza. It is confirmed as well that the head office of NASE is the city of Shell, Pastaza.

The name Sápara is also a result of the fact that the alphabetic character Z does not exist in the alphabet of the Sáparas. This is information of Bartolo Ushigua Santi from December 10, 2009. He wrote that this fact is a result of investigations about the grammar of the Sápara language made by the Sápara Board of Education Bilingual – Dirección de Educación Bilingüe Sápara (DIENASE). They found out that the alphabet of the Sáparas ended with the character W.


They ate palm hearts as their main vegetable and they fished the many rivers of their jungle home. Using blowguns and bamboo darts, they hunted tapirs, peccaries, wood-quail, and curassows. They did not hunt spider monkeys because they believed them to be their ancestors. The 20th century demand for rubber led to the destruction of much of their jungle (and the animals who lived in it) and the enslavement of the people. The men were forced as slaves to cultivate rubber. The women and girls were raped and forced into sexual slavery.

The rio Curaray


Their numbers dwindled precipitously to the point where there are only a few who speak their native language. The oldest surviving Zaparo-speaker is a man, about 80 years old, Pedro Ernesto Santi. He and his family live in a hamlet on the river, home to some forty people.

Today, only four Sápara people, all aged over 70, still speak the Záparo language with some degree of fluency.

The UNESCO declared the Záparo language as an "Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" in 2001[1]




"Talking with Fish and Birds – The Záparo Indians in the Ecuadorian Jungle", documentary, a film by Rainer Simon (1985 Golden Bear at the International Berlin Film Festival and GDR critics' award for the feature film "THE WOMAN AND THE STRANGER"), Director of Photography: Frank Sputh, Germany 1999, 43 minutes, A Simon/Sputh-Production, www.franksputh.agdok.de


A Message of Bartolo Alejandro Ushigua Santi – a former president of the Sápara Nation of Ecuador – in Spanish with the title “Becario Zapara ONU 2007 – Ecuador” you can find in YouTube, June 2007, 2 minutes

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