Intro to Cultural Anthropology

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  • Topic: Huaorani, Petroleum, Huaorani language
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Huaorani Culture of Ecuador
William Swaney
ANT 101: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
Instructor: Ruff
August 15, 2011

As isolated indigenous groups the world over continue to be assimilated into surrounding cultures, governments, non-governmental organizations and aid agencies alike can learn, and hopefully avoid repeating, many lessons from the experiences of the Huaorani. The Huaorani were first classified as foragers until the oil industry began to initiate exploratory drilling in the late 1940’s. This was interrupted by fierce attacks from the culture and changed their views of outsiders as being Auca, translated to English means “savage”. Before then most had remained on their ancestral lands, un-contacted, and living the same hunting/gathering lifestyle that hadn't changed in millennia. What is known about this lifestyle is that the Huaorani cultivated almost no crops or plants and relied on hunting for their meat and fish. They were experts in, and had a symbiotic relationship with, the rainforest. That relationship transcended into the spiritual. Shamanism was practiced, which included the use of naturally occurring hallucinogens. Animistic ritual and polygamy also characterized traditional Huaorani beliefs. This further led to an evolving agricultural society that continues to emerge as a result of displacement from outsiders. In the last 40 years, they have shifted from a hunting and gathering society to live mostly in permanent forest settlements. The Huaorani are an emerging agriculturalist society with a culture that is diverse in aspects of beliefs and values, health, and social change. The Huaorani, Waorani or Waodani, also known as the Waos, are native Amerindians from the Amazonian Region of Ecuador who have marked differences from other ethnic groups. (The alternate name Auca is a pejorative exonym used by the neighboring Quechua Indians, and commonly adopted by Spanish-speakers as well. Auca – awqa in Quechua – means "enemy".) They comprise almost 4,000 inhabitants and speak the Huaorani language, a linguistic isolate, i.e. unrelated to any other language. Their ancestral lands are located between the Curare and Napo rivers, about 50 miles south of El Coca. These homelands – approximately 120 miles wide and 75 to 100 miles from north to south – are threatened by oil exploration and illegal logging practices. In the past, Huaorani were able to aggressively protect their culture and lands from both indigenous enemies and settlers. In order to understand a horticultural society a person must understand what horticulture means. It is planting crops without modern day agricultural methods such as fertilizers and plows (Laird, P., & Nowak, B., 2010). The men clear the trees in an area and then the women plant the crops. It is the way it has been done for many years. Once they have used the soil to its full potential they leave that particular area in order to find another. They do this in order to allow the ground to heal. This will enable them to plant there again whenever they return to that area. One of the most important things to the Huaorani, however, is family life. A family unit consists of groups of kin and eventually grows when people from other villages want to join the group. If others want to join the group they must their own houses because they are not allowed to live in the same house as the original land owners. Within kinship you will find mother and father, children, spouses, and grandchildren. This allows for a wide variety of help when it comes to daily responsibility. The extra help is also the reason why the Huaorani have many children. The more they have the bigger the helping hand. Everyone helps out whether they are women, children, or men. As for their children, they used to practice infanticide, but there have been missionaries of the Christian faith that have been allowed into the Huaorani lands. The missionaries have taught them how precious life can be. Therefore,...
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