The men and women of the Huaorani tribe live isolated in the jungle of the Amazon faithful to their traditions. They hunt with spears, eat monkeys, and dress with what nature offers them.
The Huaorani are a people of only 1,500 members. But their importance and notoriety have, for at least a century, been much greater than their mere numbers.
The majority of the Huaorani now live in the jungle of the Yasuni National Park, a reserve in eastern Ecuador, in the provinces of Napo and Pastaza, which covers 1 million hectares of tropical Amazon rainforest.
Yasuni forms part of the so-called Napo enclave, dating from the Pleistocene. It is one of the ten places in the world with the greatest biological diversity.
The largest tributary of the Amazon is the Napo, which traditionally has marked the natural limits of the territories of the Huaorani. Until 50 years ago, they were lords and masters of these forests and waters.
For centuries the Huaorani lived here, isolated and forgotten, scattered in small groups or families. There have never been any roads or paths here, and the only way to get from one settlement to another is along the small rivers that flow into the Napo.
The majority of young men of huaorani tribe hunt with rifles and shotguns, and have given up the blowpipes, now used only by the oldest members of the tribe.
The find the animals thanks to their tracks, the smell they leave on the ground, the plants and the trunks, the noise they make as they move across the ground or in the trees, and from the fruits they leave behind, half-eaten.
While the hunters continue to try to shoot down a monkey, the women remain in the village, looking after the children and doing the domestic chores.
When the hunters arrive back at the village, they throw the animals onto the ground, and they now belong to their wives. The Huaorani don’t know how to preserve meat.
Though the river has traditionally played little part in the lives of the Huaorani, they have been forced to fish, especially at times when hunting is scarce. They don’t fish in the rivers, but rather in the shallow streams and pools – only the younger members of the tribe know how to swim.
The technique they use is simple, but very effective: they temporarily poison the river. For this they need Barbasco, a wild, and relatively scarce liana, containing toxic substances which eliminates all the oxygen in the water, but without harming the environment.
The destruction of the Huaorani people began in 1967, when the American company, Texaco, drilled the first oil well. Since then, 22 production plants have been built, 399 wells, and over 500 kilometres of pipeline, and the impact on the environment has been disastrous.
Many young Indian women have no other alternative but to work in the many brothels on the outskirts of Coca, the town closest to the Huaorani territory.
Coca is also the distribution centre for the raw materials the drugs dealers need to make cocaine, and the off–duty meeting place of the FARC, the Colombian guerilla, whose headquarters is just across the border.
But even before the arrival of the oil companies, the Huaorani had already come into contact with the white men. At the start of the fifties, the ILV, a North American evangelical mission, began to fly over the jungle, trying to find and establish contacts with the indigenous tribes, in an ambitious evangelisation project. They showed their intentions were friendly by throwing gifts down from the air.
The Huaorani were brought into protectorates, where they underwent a brutal process of westernisation. This was the start of cultural genocide, but also the birth of a myth which continues to this day.
A group of around fifty Huaorani decided to remain free, and moved even deeper into the jungle. They made a blood pact among themselves – never again to have contact with anyone. Their leader was called Taga, and in his honour they named themselves the Tagaeri. The Tagaeri occupied an area of the jungle extremely rich in oil, and soon they had to fight against the oil companies.
In order to avoid a bloodbath, Alejandro Labaka, a Spanish Capuchin missionary, decided to risk his life, and contact the Tagaeri in order to seek a solution to the conflict.
On the 21st of July, 1987, the missionary and the nun Inés Arango were killed by the spears of the Tagaeri.
If only they would let us live as we always have done, we will continue to be the pillars between the earth and the sky.