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Before the arrival of Europeans, the region now known as Azuay had gone through several shifts of power among ancient cultures.
Before the rise of the Inca Empire in the early 15th century, Azuay was home to several different cultures. In the valleys around modern-day Cuenca lived the Canari people, arguably the dominant tribe in the region. They lived the agricultural way of life, and after a time the influence of the Canari spread into the Amazon basin, and toward the coast and modern day Guayaquil.
As more tribes cooperated, more villages and towns began to spread across the region, and animal domestication became widespread. Little is known about this period, though it is clear that the whole region of Azuay, including more lands to the north and east, were under Canari control, likely through marriage and conquest.