In a world that seeks to thrive on natural abundance alone, the Huaorani have occupied the Brazilian and Ecuadorian rain forest for an undetermined amount of time. They depend on the forest and its animals to provide the food to sustain them in one of the last pristine and virtually uncharted areas on the planet. Huaorani take pride in living off the land and is embedded in their spirituality to take care and give back to Mother Nature. The Huaorani respect the natural landscape in a form of reciprocity where the land gives them sustenance that has allowed to them flourish. Deforestation and modern globalization has pushed the Huaorani to the brink of their very own existence as they are a simple people who try to maintain and seek natural abundance.
The Huaorani are a people who would prefer to live without the modern conveniences of man and feel threatened when outsiders seek information about their way of life. They are so worried from such outside threats that they basically started to live on a diet of foraging while they believe that it is too dangerous to stay in one place and grow vegetables. They have not only kept to themselves fiercely, refusing all contact and killing those who have attempted to contact them, but have also gave up gardening(Rival, 2002). Most of their lives they are concentrating on foraging and use a high degree of natural born knowledge. This nomadic lifestyle has evolved in the last hundred years that has shifted the way of life culturally for the Huaorani, forcing them to flee the deeper into the Amazon in hopes of escaping what will eventually destroy their race. Many have tried to gain an understanding of how the Huaorani operate but have been unsuccessful or came close to death in the process. The Amazon boasts many sub-ecosystems, testing the Huaorani on a daily basis that would seem almost impossible for modern man to sustain life.
Kinship is what ties the Huaorani collectively in the vast Amazonian wilderness. In an ancient history that is virtually lost, the Huaorani once battled other indigenous cannibals and lived dangerously close. After years of fighting and death, the Huaorani were brought closer together from fleeing or just the nomadic lifestyle which created stronger kinship among its people. The Huaorani are one of the few indigenous peoples who consider animals part of the family.Women offer breast milk to monkeys just as if it were her own child (Cormier, Loretta A. 2003) their animist views go hand in hand with their religion and by respecting nature and its animals they believe that might have good fortune.The Huaorani live under the principle of Endogamy and in some instances allow the men to have more than one wife.
In Huaorani culture, sexuality is the reproductive activity by which heterosexual pairs (men and women who are not siblings belong to the same generation and are approximately the same chronological age) are ‘two making’ (min pa) or ‘sleep as one’ and ‘to be ‘married and to consequently, multiply through copulation (Rival, 1998). Ancient legends and myths of the Huaorani suggest that women once had sexual relations with anacondas and tapirs. There is a one myth where man practiced bestiality and preferred a dolphin’s genitalia rather than a woman. He derives so much pleasure from copulating over and over again with the she-dolphin that he ends up wasting all his blood and semen, drowns, and dies in his animal lover’s dwelling at the bottom of the river (Rival, 1998).
The political organization of the Huaorani is not based on longhouse or property. Marriage is the basic fundamental in regards to the Huaorani political system. Family members associate not in production, but rather in order to share the fruits of their labor; thus, the long-house is a unit of consumption rather than of production. Leadership is based on the right person for the job at the time. There is not much political movement from within the Huaorani but more happens outside the tribe. Appointed leaders learn to speak Spanish to hold office in the Organización de Naciones Huaroni de la Amazonía Ecuatoriana or (Organization of the Waorani Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon) to deal with outside problems that can be a threat. The ONHEA battles oil companies and deforestation fiercely in an effort to protect their environment (Hitchcock, Robert, 2006).
The gender relationships of the Huaorani are considered to be egalitarian with usually no division of labor however the men usually take charge of the hunt, while the women cultivate and oversee gardening.The pre-contacted Huaorani men distinguish themselves with feathers of the macaw and other vividly colored birds during special ceremonies. The women were usually bare-breasted and the children completely naked. Today most of the Huaorani wear western clothing and the elders still wear traditional attire in less populated settlements.Another distinguishing feature of both men and women of the pre-contacted Huaorani are elongated earlobes that are pierced with over sized plugs, this is not practiced much as many of the women wear modern earrings and jewelry that are adored. Statues found on Easter Island and other places in South America have depictions of elongated earlopes s well. Women and men are equally valued and they have learned most of the daily activities from the elders ,who are revered and respected .Males learned from fathers and grandfathers (biological and classificatory) how to hunt and fish, to raid and kill, to clear jungle for gardens, and to make household goods such as blowguns and darts, the curare poison used on hunting-dart points, hunting and killing spears, fishing nets, and stone axes and knives.(Erickson ,2003) Females learned from mothers and grandmothers (biological and classificatory) how to garden, fish, cook, and make tepæ, and how to make household goods such as hammocks, shigras (woven bags), baskets, clothing, and ceramic cooking pots.(Erickson,2003).
Males are not dominant over women as in most societies, with zero discrimination over gender, the Huaorani are pressured from the outside world and by missionaries where women are dominated by men.The children are usually never disciplined in anyway and are taught duties depending on gender. In today’s Huaorani community children attend schools ,however it should be noted that those who choose to attend receive less knowledge from the elders and this is changing the their accustomed way of life. The modern necessity for schooling and literacy is eroding the traditional way of life by limiting the time Wao children spend with their elders learning traditional subsistence activities (Rival, 1996).
There are no religious roots of the Huaorani other than that of the Christian ministries who have influenced them. Today many of the Huaorani practice Christianity and those who denounce worry about the shamanic heritage and the dangers of losing their traditions.The Huaorani who do not accept Christianity believe that in their world there is nothing that is dangerous or hostile and they are not constrained by supernatural forces. The understanding of Christianity to the Huaorani is that they live their life no longer worrying about spearing nearby tribes and that they can live in peace among themselves.While Christianity might end some of the internal conflicts surrounding the Huaorani the real worry is that their youth will eventually forget what the elder shamans have taught in the past. Both women and men can become healers but to be a shaman is a position exclusively held by the men.
The Huaorani are most likely the tribe with the most knowledge of the forest and its surroundings. They are able to hunt animals that hide 150 feet up in tree canopies with poison tipped darts that can be projected through a blow gun. They are immersed in a green world that could easily kill an outsider. One difference between their view and ours is that the shaman and his community share a set of beliefs that form a collective world view As we separate the physical and the spiritual world, they do not. In their minds there is no barrier between dream and reality, and they move easily between one and the other. (Rival, Laura M. 2002) The shaman act as a physician and as priests who are sought for help from fevers and sickness or attacks from animals.
Hunting makes up nearly all of the consumed food of the Huaorani and they have no problem getting it. It is rare when a group comes back to the community without an animal. Monkeys, tapir, birds and fish are the normal animals being hunted. If hunting is not experienced as the risky and unreliable business depicted by maximization theorist for whom hunting is largely a matter of luck (game animals being few and far between), it is the location of the game and other useful resources is well known and broadly predictable (Rival, 2002). By using blow darts in the blow pipe gun, the Huaorani do not install fear into the animals in which they hunt. This makes the animals almost naive and easily hunted for a quick meal.
When it comes to their resources there is abundance because they do not need or want much. They live off the land and are free to do whatever they want. If they want to fish,they fish and it is the same with hunting. Plants that suffocate the fish are used to catch a good meal. The land is also free. There is no land ownership, so they gather where they please and place their houses where they want. Yet, there are social boundaries between different Huaorani groups. As for their kinship groups, the Huaorani used to live in small populations where everyone did everything together. In modern times limited amount of people share the important daily obligation throughout the community because of western influences.
The ecology of the Huaorani is deeply embedded in their way of life through plants and trees. They believe in a system that revolves on balance of animals and plants. Plants are grown with specific knowledge of what they do and if they cure ailments. Huaorani women often venture away to find different plants, these plants fascinates them leaving them to wonder if they are natural or were used in previous settlements.( Rival 2002). When a new plant is found they name the plant after the person who found it. The Huaorani also name natural newly discovered places like a new river spot for fishing after the discoverer.
There is also little sharing or reciprocity between the different groups of Huaorani. The reason why is unknown, but since sharing is scarce one Huaorani group must be careful not to deliberately offend another. Yet, if reciprocity would take place between different groups of Huaorani hostilities probably would not be as fierce. Needless to say, there are social boundaries between the groups and are definitely leery of attack. So they tend to stay away from each other. Since Christianity is a big part of their culture now they live in their own villages because the population growth, but the social boundaries still exist as each community is roughly thirty minutes to an hour’s walk from one another.
Missionaries have tried to spread their Christian based beliefs on the Huaorani in an effort to convert them. In 1956 Missionaries started to make contact with the Huaorani and little by little they thought they were making headway when the Huaorani killed four men with spears. This caused many to see just how remote their lifestyle was and how they had been away from contact for such a long time. This made it even more difficult for anthropologist and archaeologist to study the Huaorani as the dangers were made clear that the Huaorani did not like outsiders. Oil companies like Shell have often sought to take land from the Huaorani and they know that outsiders value the land for such business (Rival, 1993).
Gardening techniques are very basic , with no burning or cutting and a minimum number of trees felled, gardening ‘doing something tiresome in the forest’, is said to require a lot of work and as much effort and pain as carrying heavy loads back to camp like the men practice.The gardens usually consist of manioc which is a starchy root that gives the Huaorani their carbohydrates. Manioc is bitter and has to be detoxified to be consumed. The Huaorani first boil the manioc and then they can eat it or use it for an alcoholic beverage. The Huaorani also have knowledge of other species of manioc which is not bitter and can be eaten raw straight from the garden.This is considered a type of food that could be best compared to the convenience of fast food that is widely consumed in the States.Huaorani can go for months without manioc, and when they decide to cultivate it, it is, with the explicit objective of organizing a large drinking ceremony in which, in contrast to peach palm drinking parties to which only ‘we- people’ are invited, distant relatives and allies participate (Rival, 2003). Plants and trees are given a immense feeling of respect among the Huaorani and these feelings of natural reciprocity should be utilized worldwide.
One of the biggest problems the Huaorani face is the transformation of their culture. Indigenous groups have undergone such profound social transformations that they now lack many of the traditional practices and institutions that were so crucial to their well-being in the past, including mobility, reciprocity, and regional alliance and fictive kinship system (Hitchcock, 2007). These transformations have left the Huaorani with the choice of being pushed to the brink of extinction or faced with conforming and being fully engaged in a market economy. Being part of the market economy has been seen as one of the best effective survival strategies for indigenous groups like the Huaorani. By selling natural healing herbs and being guides for tour groups. The Huaorani have protested against the actions of oil companies in their lands, and they have not only spoken out in the capital of Ecuador but pleaded their case in the United States as well (Rival, this volume). The Huaorani have also been working closely on an international level with indigenous groups all around the world who seek to protect their native habitats.
In this ever-changing world, the Huaorani have learned to adapt to the conditions that they have been presented by a world dominated by globalization that ultimately seeks to make a profit while forgetting about the consequences. In their world there is a mutual respect between animals, nature and genders unlike the modern world full of lattes and malls. The Huaorani began living in the Amazon basins by choice, and they can say honestly that they enjoy their carefree lifestyles that allow them to live in their private sphere that is becoming jeopardized in just the last 60 years. In our world we are concerned with the prices of gas while in the sphere of the Huaorani, they are only seeking natural abundance.
Rival, Laura M. (2002) Trekking Through History: The Huaorani of Amazonian Ecuador Columbia University Press New York, NY, USA
Hitchcock, Robert. (2006) II.III.4 Indigenous peoples’ rights and the struggle for survival. (2006). In The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers. Retrieved from http://www.credoreference.com/entry/cuphg
Rival, Laura M. (1993). The Growth of Family Trees: Understanding Huaorani Perceptions of the Forest Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
Rival, Laura M.(1998) Androgynous Parents http://www.jstor.org/stable/i352177http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublication?journalCode=jroyaanthinst
Cormier, Loretta A. (2003). Kinship with Monkeys: The Guaj? Foragers of Eastern Amazonia Columbia University Press New York, NY, USA