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The Huaorani of Ecuador

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The Huaorani of Ecuador are a tribe in Ecuador’s Amazonian region. They are foragers, hunting local animals, gathering fruit and planting crops. The men and women in this tribe, have distinct roles within the family. This tribe was famous for their aggression toward westerners until the 1960’s when Christian missionaries wove their way into the Huaorani hearts and way of life. Their traditions may not survive in this ever changing world as civilization is squeezing in on their simple way of life. The Huaorani are a group of Indians that live off of the land in the Amazonian rain forest. The men hunt for local animals, usually monkeys or birds. They use simple tools of spears or blow guns to bring down their targets. The men also clear the dense, lush forest in preparation for crops. The women plant those crops mainly of plantains, peanuts or sweet potatoes. The women and girls will also forage for fruit and berries.

The Huaorani will plant and harvest their crops in an area until the soil is no longer nutrient rich. Then they will move on, giving the land time to rest and heal. This tribe is a semi-nomadic tribe moving from place to place based on where they can find or plant food. The Huaorani seek their own way of life, clinging to their way of life and traditions even when the world around them is trying to take over. Some of the Huaorani beliefs do control where they choose to live and what they choose to hunt and eat. They believe the forest is a safe haven that protects them from outside enemies. They consider the world outside their village unsafe, choosing to move from place to place only within the forest. They feel as if they are always on the run, always moving away from outside an danger.

They also believe that some animals should not be hunted or eaten. An example of one of those animals is the deer. They consider the deer to have eyes like a human therefore, it is unethical to hunt or eat a deer. They also believe it is unethical to hunt animals to make a living. The Huaorani people believe that the spirits of the dead animals live in spirit in the forest and when these spirits get angry they harm them. Certain plants in the forest are thought to be very important, holding botanical, medicinal and spiritual purposes. Much of their way of life is based on the family spiritual bond. If an Huaorani woman is unmarried she lives with her mother and sisters until the time she marries. If a man is unmarried he will live with his married sister until the time he marries.

When a Huaorani man and woman marry, the “husband becomes a kinsman to his wife and her housegroup” (RIVAL, L. 1998). It is believed that the distance a man has from his birth family helps him to mature. They believe that marriage and sex are for reproducing, not just for pleasure. Children are considered a reward, marriage and adulthood are all about giving birth to children. They believe that “the soul connects non-kin and the body connects kin” (Rival, L. 2005). People living in the same group are considered ‘of one same flesh’ (RIVAL, L. 1998). The belief is that people living together, eating together, feeding each other, sleeping together, become related through common living. This even translates into how and what they eat. If one member of the longhouse is sick, all must eat in a way to help retain that person’s health.

When a mother gives birth the father will, before and after the birth, restrict activity and food intake as the mother does as they and the newborn are ‘of one same flesh’. It was in the late 1950’s that Christian missionaries were speared to death in a Huaorani village. The Huaorani belief was that the outside world and people were dangerous. However, in the 1960’s Christian missionaries finally had a breakthrough, building a relationship with the Huaorani that would prove to be somewhat beneficial to the tribe in the future. With the help of the missionaries the Huaorani were introduced to the Christian faith and local missions. They were introduced to western tools and clothing as well as western medicine. Before the missionaries were welcomed many of the Huaorani population died from simple things like a snake bite or heat exhaustion. However, while much of this was helpful to the newly Christian Huaorani, it often caused dependency on the missionaries.

The Christian Huaorani were dependent on them for education, medical and dental services. In the end, one has to wonder if their interference was helpful or hurtful to the Huaorani tribes that chose to take on the Christian faith. For several years the Huaorani have been fighting for the rights to their own land, the land that historically belongs to them. The local government did give them the title to this land, however, in the fine print it stated that the Huaorani “are not allowed to interfere with mineral and oil exploitation by the national government and authorized companies” (Cayuqueo, N. 1990). The oil company has planned to build a road right through the land that the Huaorani occupy, destroying their forest and squeezing them out of their living area.

The local government claims that the improvements in that area are all dependent on the plan to get to that oil. The government is claiming that the oil companies provide the income necessary for things such as schools and hospitals. They are convincing the population around the Huaorani that this is necessary for their way of life. This leaves tribes like the Huaorani incapable of fighting the government and oil giants. One of the alternatives gaining popularity is tourism. This also comes with its own unique problems. The local tribes live off of hunting local animals and foraging fruits and berries; tourism thrives off of being able to show the public the local foliage and wildlife. This would mean that tribes like the Huaorani would have to stop hunting and foraging, relying on local markets for food.

Some of the tribes in that area keep moving, running, trying to avoid the necessary interaction and agreement with the local government. The Huaorani are a simple people, seeking to live off the land where they live. They are a tribe that believes in family unity and support. The Huaorani tribe moves from one area to another in their desire to protect the land from being over used and the wildlife over hunted. They fear the outside world, with very good reason. Their way of life is threatened by the progression of the civilized world. Their traditions may not survive in this ever changing world as civilization is squeezing in on their simple way of life.

Belaunde, L. (2008). Trekking through history: the Huaorani of Amazonian
Ecuador – By Laura M Rival. Journal Of The Royal Anthropological Institute, 14(2), 460-461. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9655.2008.00511_27.x Cayuqueo, N. (1990). Ecuador `legalizes’ Huaorani lands. Earth Island Journal, 5(3), 6. Ford, Henry. (2011, February 11). Huaorani of Ecuador The Free Library. (2011). Retrieved July 23, 2013 from http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Huaorani of Ecuador-a01074231964 Lu, F., Fariss, B., & Bilsborrow, R. E. (2009). GENDERED TIME ALLOCATION OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN THE ECUADORIAN AMAZON. Ethnology, 48(3), 239-268. McAvoy, E. (2011). Oil or life? Ecuador’s stark choice. New Internationalist, (441), 26-31. Nowak & Laird (2010) Cultural Anthropology. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education Rival, L. (2005). The attachment of the soul to the body among the Huaorani of Amazonian Ecuador. Ethnos: Journal Of Anthropology, 70(3), 285-310. doi:10.1080/00141840500294300 RIVAL, L. (1998). Androgynous Parents and Guest Children: The Huaorani Couvade(*). Journal Of The Royal Anthropological Institute, 4(4), 619. Saint, S. E. (1998). The unfinished mission to the `Aucas.’. Christianity Today, 42(3), 42. Wasserstrom, R. (2009). Response to Maria Fadiman. American Geographical Society’s Focus On Geography, 52(2), 39-40.

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