Saraguro collares de cuentas: bead necklaces of Loja Ecuador

Saraguro woman. Loja Ecuador
Saraguro woman by Isis Patino (1) in a traditional de colores necklace
An art form unique to the indigenous of Saraguro in Loja province is the traditional beaded necklace. Primarily composed of glass seed beads in various colors, the patterns and color choices continually evolve as the artists adapt new designs based upon the availability of colored beads and the desires of the marketplace where fashions are also continuously changing.

The history of the Saraguro people and their beadwork is a surprise to many. It is believed that they were originally Inca warriors from the Lake Titicaca or Cuzco regions and resettled to this area of Ecuador by the Inca in the mid 1400's. The Canton of Saraguro celebrates 198 years of independence from Spain in March of this year (2020). Yet despite the community's antiquity, the beadwork is relatively new.

The Saraguros began creating beaded necklaces and collars only in the mid 1900's. It is said they learned the craft from the Shuar of the region but quickly created their own designs and unique patterns.

The use of multiple colors was one adaptation since it was difficult to obtain a large quantity of any one single color. The oldest pattern, called de colores, is made of alternating rows of different colors. It is considered the most traditional, and many who set out to learn the crafting technique begin with this pattern. An example is worn by the woman in the photo above.

Beyond their pleasing appearance, some patterns are meant to signify a woman's status or to tell a story. Patterns may be geometric, or floral, or depict animals or insects. Some of the more striking ones are beautiful for their simplicity by using only a few colors and may appear almost solid instead of lacey. In fact, purchasers should consider what color blouse they might be wearing underneath as some necklaces look better on black or white depending on how much of the underlying material will show through.

The beading is primarily done by the women of a household and the sale of necklaces can sometimes bring in more money for the family than the farm goods raised by the men. To increase profits and markets, some cooperatives of 15-20 women have been formed which require a minimum participation of the members in both fees and time commitment. In exchange, the coops arrange to participate in international craft events which can yield higher prices than the same items sold locally. 

A few shops in the city of Loja regularly carry this artform, and the many fairs set up in the parks will often have artisans displaying their wares. However, to see the greatest variety and get the best prices one must travel to Saraguro where there are many stalls set up just off of the town square. It is not uncommon to be able to see women at these booths working on projects while waiting for customers.

Three of the tables at the Saraguro market. Note earrings and other items available in addition to necklaces. Loja Ecuador
Three of the tables at the Saraguro market. Note earrings and other items available in addition to necklaces. 

If you are interested in this adornment then the team at Life in Loja is available to help you navigate through the market in Saraguro, offering Spanish to English interpretation.

This blog post is an example of how the team at Life in Loja helps tourists and visitors, expats and immigrants, to better appreciate the many aspects of living in Loja, Ecuador. If you would like to know more about our custom tours and relocation services then contact us by email or phone/WhatsApp at 593-098-674-5994 to begin a conversation.

Footnote:  (1) photo licensed by Urkumanta / CC BY-SA ( 


Popular Posts