Waorani people map their rainforest to save it

A historic assembly

Awane recalls a time when her ancestors lived immersed in the forest. They planted yucca, the main ingredient of their favorite drink, chicha. They would wait six to seven months for the harvest — the same span of time that it would take for the palm-thatched roofs of their communal homes to deteriorate in the tropical climate. Once the harvest was over, they would leave their homes and begin a new journey of several hours through the forest, until they found a new place to settle. Awane remains committed to this way of life. “I follow the example of my parents, my ancestors; from [the community of] Damentaro where I am, I leave in the morning and arrive at another community around four in the afternoon,” she says.

But things have changed since the Waorani were consigned by the government to a territory of about 7,000 square kilometers (2,700 square miles) in the early 1990s. At the time, they received collective property titles, and the majority of the community settled down.

The Waorani live in communities spread across the Amazonian provinces of Napo, Orellana and Pastaza. Despite the changes to their way of life ushered in by contact with U.S. missionaries more than 60 years ago, they remain strongly bound to their traditions. This was evident in a recent assembly in the community of Nemompare, organized by the Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador-Pastaza,also known by its Spanish acronym, CONCONAWEP.

Six families, separated by a considerable distance, live in Nemompare today. They have systems to collect and purify rainwater, and in some areas they use solar panels to generate light. The houses are rustic and open, and the families have few material possessions: wooden benches, mattresses with awnings, some clothes, a few old pots, plates and glasses, and a communal coal-fired stove with a metal grill. They do not need more, they say, because the forest gives them everything.

Waorani from 10 of the 12 communities in Block 22 gathered for the assembly, and their discussions revolved around how to reject a possible oil intervention by the government. One group, which recently toured indigenous communities ravaged by the oil industry in Sucumbíos province, recounted their impressions of the pollution there, and shared the stories of settlers and members of the Siekopai, Siona and A’i Kofan groups who accompanied them on the “Toxic Tour.” Other Waorani, who had visited family members in active oil blocks in the province of Orellana, spoke about the poor living conditions there.

“I feel sorry for theleader who comes to an agreement with the oil company and comes back to the community,” said Peke, one of the pikenanis from the community of Damompare. “I will meet them with a spear in hand because other Waorani who live in the oil zone are dying of diseases. The water they drink is dirty.” Peke said he appreciates that his community still has big trees, crystalline rivers, waterfalls and animals, all healthy and free of contamination.

This story first appeared on Mongabay

South Africa Today – Environment

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