Guardian of the Amazon
Ms. Nemonte Nenquimo, Photo Credit: Resistencia Waorani
Ira Pastor, ideaXme exponential health ambassador and founder of Bioquark, interviews Ms. Nemonte Nenquimo, President of the Waorani Pastaza Organization (CONCONAWEP — Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador).
Ira Pastor Comments:
Today we have a fascinating guest joining us on the ideaXme show from a rather remote location, and we are going to be discussing several themes that we have individually discussed on the show previously including ethnomedicine, environmental conservation and protection, entheogens (the topic of bio-active plant substances for spiritual and religious practices), as well as the themes of bravery and perseverance.
Who Are the Waorani?
The Waorani (Huaorani) People are a group of native Amerindians from the Amazonian Region of Ecuador. They comprise of almost 4,000 inhabitants and primarily speak the Waorani language, a linguistic isolate that is not known to be related to any other language.
Their ancestral lands are located between the Curaray and Napo rivers, about 50 miles (80 km) south of the city of El Coca. These homelands — approximately 120 miles wide by 100 miles (from north to south) — are extensively threatened by oil exploration and illegal logging practices.
Over the last 40 years, the Waorani have shifted from a hunting and gathering society to live mostly in permanent forest settlements. However, an estimated five communities have rejected all contact with the outside world and continue to move into more isolated areas.
The first “outsider” encounter of the Waorani was with American missionaries back in the 1950s.
Waorani Traditional Animist Worldview
Culturally, the Waorani take a traditional “animist” worldview, where there is no distinction between the physical and spiritual worlds, and spirits are present throughout the world. As the Waorani once believed that the entire world was the forest (and used the same word for both), the rainforest remains the essential basis of their physical and cultural survival, and they have remarkably detailed knowledge of its geography and ecology.
Hunting supplies a major part of the Waorani diet and is of cultural significance. Before a hunting or fishing party ensues, the community shaman will often pray for a day to ensure its success. While a joyful activity, hunting (even permitted animals) has ethical ramifications to the Waorani. To counterbalance the offense of hunting, they use the muscle relaxant poison, curare, in blow darts. Hunting with such darts is not considered killing, but “retrieving,” similar to a process of say harvesting fruits from the trees.
Waorani’s Important Botanical Knowledge
Plants, especially trees, continue to hold an important interest for the Waorani. Their store of botanical knowledge is extensive, ranging from knowledge of building and crafting materials, to poisons to hallucinogens to medicines.
Significant trees for the Waorani include the peach palm (used for making spears and blowguns, as well as for its fruit), as well as fast-growing balsa wood, used for ceremonial purposes.
The Waorani incorporate shamanic ethno-medicine using both the plant based hallucinogenic beverage Ayahuasca (discussed in detail on a previous episode with Dr. Dennis McKenna), as well as various forms of medicinal mushrooms with psilocybin type compounds.
Ms. Nemonte Nenquimo
Ms. Nemonte Nenquimo is President of the Waorani Pastaza Organization(CONCONAWEP — Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador) whose focus is on coordinating 12 different Waorani communities with a single voice to defend their territories. The Waorani view themselves as the true ancestral guardians of the jungle.
Ms. Nenquimo attended Colegio Nacional Mixto Waorani.
Ms. Nenquimo and CONCONAWEP were at the centre of a recent landmark legal victory against the Ecuadorian government leading to half-million acres of Amazon rainforest protected from oil drilling and timber companies.
Ms. Nenquimo does not speak English, so we have created an English voice over of her translated answers to my questions. To listen to her interview in Spanish, please click the following link: https://soundcloud.com/ideaxme/the-guardian-of-the-amazon
On This Show We Will Hear from Ms. Nenquimo:
About Ms. Nenquimo’s background and how she became a leader of the Waorani people. We’ll hear about the Waorani people and the various tribal groups that are currently part of it. She’ll detail the importance of the Amazon rainforest to meet the food needs of the Waorani, as well as the importance of the Amazon rainforest to meet the natural medicine needs of the Waorani people. The importance of the Amazon rainforest in spiritual ceremonies for the Waorani people. Finally, we’ll learn about the recent struggles and legal victories against the Ecuadorian government in protecting Waorani territories from oil and timber companies.
Below, Ms. Nenquimo’s full text interview.
Ms. Nenquimo’s Background and How She Became Leader of the Waorani People:
“Well, first of all, before I was a tribal leader, I learned from both my father and my grandparents, who had always been defenders of the jungle. I have lived in the jungle since childhood, and I learnt a lot from them about fighting for the jungle, about language, about culture, about the territory. I also had the opportunity to learn beyond the jungle, at school, going out, exploring city life, all which taught me about the struggle and helped develop my ideas of resistance. As a woman Waorani leader, it has been very important to identify as such and also preserve the language, the Waorani language.
I have also seen other indigenous peoples who live elsewhere, in other provinces, where oil exploration has impacted their communities. The oil generated in those towns creates pollution: air pollution, water pollution and it reduces the size of livable territory. I had the opportunity to live among other ethnic populations such as Cofán, Siona, Secoya, and learnt a lot about their struggles. They at one time had larger territories like the Waorani, but by companies entering for oil exploration, mostly everything was destroyed. They lost their language; their water has been contaminated. This is why the big mobilization of the ethnic peoples was so important. We gathered together, men and women, youth and children who could go to see areas where oil exploration was allowed (For example, in the north of Ecuador, in Cofán and Siona,) who now live with oil contamination and disease.
And from that impact and environmental damage we started to take action. We started to talk with the elders, women and children and decided to start working together to take better care of our jungle. Working with our elders and grandparents, we started to build a map, around four years ago, and designed the union of the Waorani community around which we live together, and plan to show the world and make sure the government respects us fairly.
Waorani’s dispute over Block 22 with the Ecuadorian government to protect their land.”
“The government created “Block 22”, an oil concession for oil companies to drill in our territory, that we are the owners of, without consulting us. In 2012, the Ecuadorian government visited by plane for only an hour. They never consulted us, and we do not believe there was a prior, free and informed consultation. That’s why we made a demand for action and we won our recent legal victory. As it is a story, the first time in Ecuador, where the judges recognized that the Ecuadorian government meant to deceive us and manipulate our territory; and that was the reason we have won.
This struggle was not only a victory for the Waorani people, but for all the ethnic minorities that live in Ecuador. In 2012, the Ecuadorian government tried to deceive us and wanted to sell our territory and that is why we had that victory, not just for the Waorani, but for all ethnic peoples. We were favoured and we must live with respect that it’s our territory.”
Other Amazonian Tribes
“We live in our territory as different communities, between 4–7 hours apart. We do not live in one place in our community, or only in Pastaza, but there are many clans/families in places like Kerim, Quimo, Paire and Pastaza, where CONCONWEP is organized. Each family live in their own territory, but when it is time to protect our territories, we always get together and have a large meeting for 4–5 days, which involves both men and women, young and old. With the consultation of grandparents and elders we decided to keep our territories healthy, thinking about our future generations, that our children can live healthy and live free in our territories without pollution.”
Importance of the Rainforest for Food
“The jungle is very important for the Waorani. There is no life without the jungle. We have life because we live and consume in the jungle. We go for walks, we fish and hunt animals to consume and feed our children, and we also grow vegetable gardens. We take care of our jungle because our territory, the jungle, is like a market, like a pharmacy, because within the jungle we have plants that help heal our children, for our daughters we have plants that can cure disease and the jungle gives us clean water. The jungle also gives us clean air. That is why it is very important to have a clean forest and to take care of it.
If we allow people into our forest to extract oil, dig mines or do something else, it is destroyed. We will end nature. It will be polluted. And then humans will be affected, and we will never recover. This is the disease that oil and government capitalism bring to our territory. It causes disease and death with no solution.
That’s why we don’t want them to come; the jungle without pollution gives life to all the beings that live in Waorani territory as well as for the whole world.”
Importance of the Rainforest for Medicine
“The jungle is very important because it is like a pharmacy. You see in the city, when you get sick, you run to the pharmacy and buy something to cure. Our jungle is the same. We have plants to cure, plants to bathe our children with. We use plant vines, leaves, roots.
We cook and we drink to cure our system when we get sick and that was what our grandparents did years ago. They had that knowledge and so far, we still have this knowledge and we don’t want to lose that knowledge. We want to continue transmitting that knowledge to our children in future generations, to all the Waorani people.
The jungle is our pharmacy. The jungle gives all of us life.”
Importance of the Rainforest for Spiritual Practices
“We have various ceremonies. Male hunters teach children how to go hunting, how to take care of themselves too. It’s not that we Amazonians kill everything; no, we know very well which animals to keep, and how to eat. And also, the grandmothers take women in the jungle and teach the plants to us.
There is a ceremony that transmits power to us and also spiritually in the Waorani peoples. We have a connection with nature, with the “spirit of the jaguar”. That is very important. The spirit of Jaguar guides us, makes us understand to go in the jungle, and protect it.
Through that spirit of the jaguar, our ancestors were guided and lived many years. They’ve protected this until today, from back when our jungle was just a virgin. We still have that spiritual connection with the jaguar and with nature. But if we allow oil exploration, road building, digging mines, and capitalism among the jungle, it will die, and the spiritual connection with jaguar will die. That is why it is very important for us, to protect the virgin forest, to conserve and care and have a spiritual connection with nature, with the spirit of the jaguar. And we practice it; that is very important. If there is still practice in our territory, our spiritual knowledge will not disappear. We still have it alive and present and that is why we are fighting and protecting for the future of the people.”
Victory Versus the Ecuadorian Government
“The Waorani resistance has demonstrated to the Ecuadorian government that they wanted to sell our territory without free and informed consultation with us, without us giving permission, but the Ecuadorian government, the judges have recognized this. That was our victory.
That means that the Waorani people must live respected before the State, before the world. That is not only the Waoraní people, but for all of the Amazon’s indigenous people that live in the territory. We must be respected and heard in the world, and that is very important in the victory that the Waorani people, not only for the Waorani people, but to the whole world that we live, indigenously, as guardians of the jungle. Thus we must live protected and cared for, because everyone understands that we live on the planet.
If we let the government or capitalism enter our territory, that means we are ending it for the future generations of the world. They will not keep the people in mind and will destroy everything, and we will end as humanity and nature.”
Credits: Ira Pastor interview video, text, and audio.
Follow Ira Pastor on Twitter: @IraSamuelPastor
If you liked this interview, be sure to check out our interview with Dr. Renard Siew about the importance of future-proofing our planet against climate change!
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