The three men depicted in the painting are identified in the painting itself as Don Francisco (de) Arobe and (according to one source) his two sons. They wear abundant gold jewelry, much of which is typical of the Indians of the region. Their clothing is obviously European, and they carry spears. Each man is given the honorific title Don, a sign of respect in the Latin-Hispanic world. The title of the painting further identifies the men as “mulatto,” though they may in fact have been zambos, or Afro-Indian men.
It is a portrait of three men who are, we know from historical documents at the time, of mixed ancestry. They are part indigenous or Indian and part African American.
They also appear before us wearing some European-style clothing as well as some indigenous-style clothing. We see them with fancy ruff collars of lace, imports clearly from Europe, as well as cloaks of fine silk and damask. They have lace at their wrists from their shirts, and two men hold European-style hats—don Francisco at the center and don Domingo over at the side. Underneath their cloaks and above their ruffled collars, we see the men wearing indigenous-style ponchos that have been cut in a style that would have been traditional in the Americas prior to the Spanish Conquest. The material of these robes, however, these ponchos, was all imported, probably into Quito from Asia. So there’s a connection here between trade with Asia as well as Europe and the Americas.
World Map Of Ecuador
“Regional blackness as a force of self-liberation in Ecuador begins in Esmeraldas, and its origin occurs during a violent tropical storm and a movement of African rebellion. The documented history of Ecuador establishes the beginnings of Afro-Hispanic culture in what is now Esmeraldas, Ecuador, where a Spanish slaving ship ran aground in 1553. There a group of twenty-three Africans from the coast of Guinea, led by a black warrior named Antón, attacked the slavers and liberated themselves. Not long after, this group, together with other blacks entering the region, led by a ladino (Hispanicized black person) named Alonso de Illescas, came to dominate the region from northern Manabí north to what is now Barbacoas, Colombia. At this time (late sixteenth century) intermixture with indigenous peoples, to whom black people fled to establish their palenques (villages of self-liberated people – some fortified, some not), was such that their features were described as zambo (black-indigenous admixture), synonyms of which were negro (black) and mulato (mixed or hybrid black-white). …
… By 1599 black people were clearly in charge of what was called “La República de Zambos” or “Zambo Republic”. Zambo refers to people of colour who are descendants of Native Americans and African-Americans. In that year a group of Zambo chieftains, said to represent 100,000 or more Zambo people of Esmeraldas, trekked to Quito to declare loyalty to Spain. An oil painting of these chiefs from the emerald land of the Zambo Republic is portrayed by the “Indian artist” Adrián Sánchez Galgue [sic]; it is reportedly the earliest signed and dated painting from South America.”
Source: No Longer Invisible: Afro-Latin Americans Today. Minority Rights Group, ed. Minority Rights Publications, 1995, pp. 291-292.