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The Huaorani people are found in Ecuador along the headwaters of the Amazon. With a population estimated at one thousand five hundred people, they live in around twenty four temporary settlements spread over twenty thousand square kilometers deep in the rainforest. Their neighbors are alien tribal communities numbering over one hundred and fifty thousand. The Huaorani are perennially defending themselves against their hostile neighbors as well as against foreign companies prospecting for gold and rubber. There have also been pacification efforts between the Huaorani and their neighbors conducted by the missionaries.
The Huaorani have a rich and unique culture. Their language and pottery designs are unrelated to any of their neighbors. This uniqueness can be traced to their history as narrated in folklore. They claim to have migrated from “down river long ago while fleeing from cannibalistic tribes.” They hold the jaguar in high esteem and take pride in having its spirit. The name Huaorani translates to humans or ‘the people’ which is what they consider themselves to be while the other tribes are referred to as cowode which means ‘non-humans.’
They are hunters and gatherers living a semi nomadic life in small settlements. They also practice a semblance of agriculture by planting crops like maize, manioc, peanuts, and sweet potatoes around their settlements. This is done in small scale levels as the abundant Amazon biodiversity provides all their needs. Theirs is a sustainable economy that relies in natural resources which are never over-exerted. They live in one settlement for a period of ten years before moving on to another part of the forest.
Much has changed since the 1950s with the coming of the missionaries and the rise in global demand for oil which has led to incursion of foreigners in Huaorani settlements. The Huaorani settlements are situated right on top of one of Ecuador’s biggest oil deposits which has placed them in a conflicting relationship with oil companies. This has led to a situation where the tribe has had to devise ways of ensuring their continued survival in the face of the changing realities. For example, one of the clans, the Tagaeri, has had to move deeper into the forest to avoid interacting with the outside world while the rest of the community embraces ecotourism to maintain control of their land and natural resources (Finley, 1991).
Secluded in the rain forest of Ecuador, the Huaorani practice a sustainable economic system that solely depends on the provisions of the forests. They are hunters and foragers although this independent way of life is being negatively affected by the present day depletion of the Amazon rainforests. In a typical settlement, the men provide for their families by hunting for monkeys and other animal they can catch. Hunting is done using tools like spears and blowguns. They also clear patches of forests to create small gardens for their wives to cultivate crops. These crops are mostly used for regular consumption and in making food for ceremonies. The men protect their territories and even engage in warfare to keep off invaders from other tribes (Lu, 2001). Women also hunt though rarely. They instead cultivate crops and take care of their homes and children. There is division of labor their matrilocal households which ensure every member contributes to the well being of the community.
The abundance of resources means that they usually have more than they need. They live off the land and have the freedom to hunt, fish, and forage within their territories without restrictions. The land is not owned by anyone and can thus place their simple abodes wherever they please. Social boundaries are among the Huaorani groups are only put in place for hunting and gathering purposes.
There is little sharing among different groups of the Huaorani. There is no apparent reason for this lack of sharing which makes it imperative for one group to avoid infringing on another groups territory. Hostilities on territorial matters are never as fierce between different Huaorani groups as with other tribes. Population growth and introduction of Christianity has led to more interaction though the social boundaries still exist. Lu (2001) gives examples of such boundaries in the form of waterways named after people who discovered them. When a Huaorani comes across a stream in an uncharted part of the forest, he or she goes back and tells his people about it. The stream is then named after that person who discovered it. The land around the stream thus becomes their territory and any outsider who ventures there is speared to death.
The Huaorani live in low density populations. Besides hunting and fishery, they also practice horticulture. However, the rainforests are being cut down for wood and their land invaded by oil companies. This formal invasion has led to confrontations between the Huaorani and both loggers and oil workers. According to the Huaorani, these invaders are destroying rainforests which are their main source of livelihood. Their secluded way of life is being interfered with by oil companies like Conoco (Finley, 1991).
The Huaorani are animists who believe that the spiritual and physical worlds are one and completely inseparable. This belief is mainly founded on the notion that the spirits are ever present in all aspects of life. In their world view, the whole world was once covered in one expansive forest. The rainforests continue to be the basis for their physical and cultural sustenance. They consider the forest to be their home and anywhere outside this forest world is unsafe and uninhabitable. In their forest homes they are safe from witchcraft and attacks by other tribes. They are thus well versed with all the geography and ecology of the forest as it is woven into the fabric of their lives.
Plant and animal life are of great importance to the Huaorani. They are quite knowledgeable in botanical aspects of the forests from useful and edible materials to poisons and hallucinogens. Canopied and towering giant trees are greatly admired for their solitary character and entanglement with other plants (Rival, 2002). There are many other plants that have a significant attachment to the Huaorani way of life including species of peach palm used for crafting spears and blowguns and for fruits. Balsa wood is also held in high esteem as it is used during ceremonies. They believe Peach Palm trees to be the abode of past ancestors.
In Huaorani beliefs, all animals in the forests have a physical as well as spiritual existence too. This belief is based on the notion that all humans who die and fail to enter the dead spirits domain reincarnate back on earth as animals or insects like termites. There are other practices that ensure there is protection of animals from harm except for use as food.
Hunting as an economic activity is of great cultural significance. There is however a limit to the kind of animals that can be hunted as food which excludes .............
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