As many of you know this spring I set off on a little adventure to spend a few weeks in the remote region of Pastaza in the Ecuadorian Amazon. During those weeks I shared day to day life with one of the indigenous Shiwiar communities.
There are 7 nations the Pastaza region- Shiwiar, Shuar, Waorani, Kichwa, Andoa, Achuar, Sapara.
Shiwiar nation, one of the more remote regions, consists of 13 communities spread along these Amazon River tributaries. The village of Juyuintza has 7 families and 40 members along the banks of Rio Conambo. Despite our cultural, gastronomical, and language differences I strangely found surreal tranquility in this remote part of the world. I ate with the locals, fished, hunted and began to understand why anyone would consider this hot, humid, insect infested environment their home. Rain comes and goes daily, leaving behind treacherous trails and waste deep, muddy river banks. Dengue and Malaria mosquitos are unavoidable, as many other insects that like to feast on the human blood. I didn’t think that tree grubs were as delicious as the locals made it sound, but I enjoyed lime tasting ants, wild pigs, fish, yucca, potato and heart of palm. The diet is simple… but always fresh! In these parts, it would be impossible, as well as, impolite not to participate in drinking chicha, a mildly alcoholic drink usually made from mashed yucca and human saliva. Traditionally only women prepare the chicha drink. And yes, it’s the spit that promotes the fermentation. Not nearly as bad as the raw grubs, it seems to get more tolerable with every sip. For us Westerners, it surely is best not to analyze the process, just enjoy this vinegary drink while letting your teeth sift out the chunks:)
Life is simple here- no power, no internet. The cacophony of sounds coming from the thick wall of the rain forest is your stereo; and no Bose system can beat this hi-fi output.
Everyone is equal. Community support is the vehicle for survival; no one goes hungry or unattended when sick. Self sustainability and social equality ensure that no self interest is tolerated and certainly doesn’t seem instinctual.
LA MINGA is a word for work party. We work hard and play hard, but here work is a party. It starts with hours of drinking chicha and discussing the work strategies or simply making fun of each other and jokes… followed by a few hours of work or till the project is completed… and back to dining and chicha. No bosses, no bureaucracy, no stress!
Everything comes from the forest- food, building materials, medicine. For the Shiwiars, the word IKIAM means “rain forest”, but it also means “everything”, because here, the rain forest simply encompasses everything. It is the source of life. We don’t seem to have this type of respect and attachment to the natural world, living in the era of garbage, processed food, religious and political conflict, filled with insecurities and stress, in our wall divided and racism reinforced privacy.
Sadly, this well balanced way of life may not be preserved for very long. The 11th round of oil negotiations may give the US and European oil companies green light this year, forcing many communities from their homes, to live in the streets of already poor, rural towns. When the peaceful negotiations with the government fail, many of the Shiwiars, Kichwas, Waoranis and others will continue the battle to protect their rivers from pollution by reaching for their spears. Unlikely, that this bloodshed will make it to our newsstands; it never does. Unbelievable amount of rain forest along with millions of species of flora and fauna will be destroyed, year after year. Every new road, every piece of petroleum equipment contributes to the massive devastation of this vast virgin forest… but we all know that.
As long as we realize that if we continue on this path of destruction there will be nothing real left, only synthetics, so creatively put together in our so sophisticated labs by our so intelligent big brains. Maybe a little balance is the solution…
These are some of the genuine moments I was able to capture. No REI gear no fancy cell phones, no stress! Ah, yes.. fancy cameras and a portable solar panel:)