The Culture of the Huaorani of Ecuador
“In the Eastern part of Ecuador stretches el Oriente, the jungle. Between the Napo and Curaray Rivers are 600,000 hectares of land that is the home of the Huaorani, feared warriors of the Amazon Rainforest. This territory includes Yasuni National Park, one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet. Unfortunate for the Huaorani, it also includes hundreds of kilometers of oil pipes and several oil company stations that are having a devastating effect on this fragile tropical ecosystem” (Cuna, 2007, para. 1). Due to encroachment on their territory by outsiders, there are fewer than 2,000 Huaoranis left today. In this paper, I will provide an overview, as well as analyze and evaluate how the foraging mode of substance impacts the Huaorani through the following aspects of culture: Beliefs and values, Gender relations, and kinship. “The Huaorani were contacted only 50 years ago. Before that time, these hunter-gatherers were roaming in small groups on an area three times bigger than their present day territory. Recently, the Ecuadorian government granted the Huaorani communal rights over their current territory. However, the government maintains ownership of the minerals and oil that lie beneath; thus the Huaoranis do not fully own their land” (Cuna, 2007, para 2). The Huaorani are a semi-nomadic horticultural society and are considered foragers as they hunt for animals and gather fruits and berries. They move from area to area based on availability of food sources and plant crops no matter where they go. “They are a secluded group of people within the rainforest of Ecuador and are not familiar with normal Ecuadorian culture” (Lu, F. E., 2001). Although the rainforests are slowly disappearing, the Huaorani continue to embrace most their own distinct culture and way of life. The beliefs and values of the Huaorani are distinctive and based on their environment. According to the book, Nature & Social Theory, “the belief systems of the Huaorani people, the whole world was once a forest and hence they consider the forest as their home while the outside world is considered as very unsafe. As result of this, this community has isolated itself from other communities that live outside the forest. According to them, the aspect of living in the forest offered protection from witchcraft and other attacks from their enemies. Just like many of the hunters and gatherers, the forest and rivers are considered as the most significant aspect in life among the Huaorani“ (Franklin, 2001, p.215). According to Franklin, Rival and other anthropologists who have studied the culture, the Huaorani believe animals and plants have a spiritual, as well as a physical existence. Although animals are hunted in the Huaorani community, there is respect given to animals, as they believe when people die they return to earth as animals and even more specifically as termites. The Huaorani hunt animals as their primary means of survival, but still believe the spirits of the dead animals have to be appeased otherwise they will cause harm to the humans. In hunting practices, they place considerable amounts of emphasis on snakes and jaguar. The snake, or more specifically the anaconda, is considered to be the most evil force in this community’s belief system, while the jaguar is considered as the most significant revered and majestic animal. The Huaorani people believe when someone dies, the soul starts a journey towards heaven. On the way, in the middle of the path, a giant anaconda obstructs the way. Only the brave soul can jump the snake and reach heaven. Whoever fails, returns to earth as a termite, and leads a miserable existence. Additionally, the Huaorani people do not hunt jaguar and therefore are restricted from eating its meat. The history of the Huaorani community states that the people originated from the mating between a jaguar and an eagle. Anyone who kills a jaguar would anger the...
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