The Onzole River Project has an intern! Carlos Vieira, a recent grad in Journalism and Political Science from Ottawa’s Carleton University, will be here for 6 months working in the communities along the Onzole River, following God’s call and seeing where He leads. This story was originally published on his blog‚ earlier this month.


The air in the room is thick and heavy. Despite the open windows and the dark night sky there is no reprieve from the unrelenting humidity. But the sweat glistening on the brows and soaking the clothes of those gathered could never dampen their mood. As the last of the expected enters the small open room everyone takes their place, standing at the ready.

The frontman taps his foot on the ground, his body swaying to the imaginary beat as he raises his clarinet to his mouth. He signals the rest and all at once the beat jumps to life, overflowing from within the four concrete walls into the streets beyond.

The beat of the percussion is loud and frantic, keeping a seemingly unsustainable rhythm. The frontman’s clarinet pierces through, laying down the flowing melody for the voices to follow. There’s the old man on the bass, his experienced fingers sliding over the strings and the sweet sound of the bamboo marimba, holding everything together.

As the beautiful music fills my ears and my own feet start to trace the beat, my eyes are transfixed, unable to turn away from the dancers before me. Their quick feet move in perfect unison, every rapid step timed perfectly to the beat of the drums, leading their hips through motions so fluid most could only dream of keeping up. Their long skirts filled with vibrant colors sway back and forth, opening up like a flower in bloom then quickly closing up as the dancer takes another step. The colors hang from their hips like a tapestry, making each dancer a mesmerizing moving piece of beautiful art.

This is Marimba, the cultural heart and soul of Ecuador’s Afro community, and if tonight’s practice reveals anything it’s that the heartbeat remains strong.

A cultural inheritance from their African ancestors, Marimba has been a hallmark of Afro-Ecuadorian communities for centuries, keeping the bonds of community tight during the days of slavery and the difficult days of isolation in the country’s dense jungles. As the Afro-Ecuadorian community has slowly migrated into Ecuador’s towns and cities, Marimba remains an important way for them to engage and celebrate their African heritage with their distinct Latin flair.

Groups like the one practicing this night are common, especially in the predominantly Afro city of Esmeraldas, located along the Pacific on Ecuador’s North-West coast. As they gather and the intensity of the song and dance begins to grow the smiles on the faces grow as well. Songs about picking cocoa and making delicious chocolate black as their skin celebrate the very trait that many have said is what makes them inferior. There is no sense of that here tonight, though. There is only pride. Pride in their art-form, pride in their ancestors and most importantly pride in themselves.

With every beat of the drum and shuffle of the feet there is a connection made, between the individuals in the room, yes, but it runs deeper than that. The connection is with a collective history that has come before. As the sweat glistens over the bodies of the drummers, the dancers and the other musicians, there is a knowledge and understanding of those who have come before and whose sweat glistened, just as it does now, as a similar beat played. It’s a glimpse into the beauty of shared experiences and their uncanny ability to bridge gaps, both of time and place.

And this is what Marimba, as with any art, is all about: Generations teaching generations the traditions of a shared culture, passing down not only the swivel of the hips and rhythmic beating of the percussion but of the pride and joy that comes with it. That when a girl in today’s Esmeraldas dons her flowing skirt and takes the first choreographed steps, she knows she is not alone, she is part of a deep and wondrous collective that will continue on, singing and dancing long into the night.


photo (1) - Copy

Voice of the Community

Pictor Quiñonez was born and raised in Santo Domingo de Onzole. He is the proud father of three teenagers and husband to Laysi. Pictor is the principal of the elementary school as well as a teacher to Year 10 students. He is also a farmer, local veterinarian and politician. Pictor remembers being a young boy when the elementary school was first built in his community; it was a novel concept at the time to take education into such rural areas of the country. Now he stands proud administrating and teaching in the very same school he had graduated from many years ago. He is passionate about mentoring teenagers through hard-work and skill training on the farm. Pictor’s unsung efforts have played key roles in the development of not only his community, but other communities along the river. Over the years Pictor has taken the lead in advocating for electricity, running water and government subsidized education. Below are some of his thoughts regarding his community:
Santo Domingo de Onzole is a community of African decedents. It is located in the northern province of Esmeraldas in the region of Eloy Alfaro. Our community has experienced and suffered through many hardships; social problems like our school being closed for more then a decade, health issues, discrimination and lack of basic services like electricity and running water. Thanks to God and some committed people, we have fought for the development of this African corner in the world. Thank you to all the willing men and women who have invested in our community with servant hearts. There are so many names running through my head of people I would like to thank that it would be impossible to list them all. However, it is through all of this collective support that our community has changed for the better. We now have electricity, ten school classrooms, a sewing and carpentry workshop, a computer lab and library for our kids and adults. We are currently working on building a water system that will give people access to running water right in their homes.
Even through these problems, we the people of Santo Domingo de Onzole remain happy. We are grateful to have been born in this corner of the world from descendants of Africa. We are proud to work the land producing rich cocoa pods, plantain and tagua nut while raising our herds of cattle. Though we are not big competitors on the economic market due to the remoteness of where we live, we continue forward. We delight in what God has blessed us with so far and we believe we will eventually live in a country where we will all enjoy the same basic human rights regardless of colour, wealth, social class or accomplishments. Please keep us in your prayers.