On March 23, Jerrell reported on the privilege the Ross Richer family had when they visited a friend’s family in the Zona Intangible Tagaeri Taromenane (ZITT) area, set aside by the Ecuadorian government to protect un-contacted peoples who still live within the boundaries of Yasuni National Park. Access to the area is tightly controlled by the Department of Justice and is restricted to people who have received invitations. Visitors must travel with native guides. The Ross Richers’ friend, Yolanda, has two brothers; one, Conan, has a license to guide people into the area, and the other, Cahuilla, is a Waorani Christian. This blog combines Jerrell’s report and a cultural geography paper written by oldest daughter, Sierra.
Cahuilla’s family hosted us during our stay. He and his wife, Mina, live in an A-frame house with a palm-leaf roof that reaches to the ground. They live off the land in the same environmentally-friendly way their ancestors have lived for thousands of years. Cahuilla is a strong believer who travels to other communities to share the gospel. He was one of many Waorani children who were relocated by missionaries to the Cururai River area to receive a Western-style education. (He's 50 years old, so this relocation probably happened in the early 1970s). Later, Cahuilla lived with his family in Shell and helped translate the Waorani Bible.
Then, about 15 years ago, they moved back to the region where Cahuilla was born, along the Shiripuno River in the Intangible Zone, to seek refuge from the noise, drinking, and other behaviors they found distasteful in the areas influenced by colonos [colonizers] and global culture. Cahuilla refuses to have dogs or chickens on his property, preferring a life that is as true to Waorani tradition as possible. Cahuilla speaks Spanish, but communication was a challenge nonetheless; the divide between our cultures is so deep.
We learned a lot and were quite inspired by our time with indigenous Christians who are committed to maintaining their Waorani culture and customs. They fear that their home will be destroyed by oil extraction, an activity that we witnessed all along the access road we drove to get to the entry station where we launched the canoe.
Conan and Cahuilla are building a lodge to host people who are interested in Waorani culture and the amazing diversity of animal and plant life that we witnessed (piranhas in the river, monkeys in the trees, birds everywhere). The Waorani people we met want to show the world the natural treasures that they have, hoping that a cloud of witnesses will be enough to convince the government to continue to protect the area from new oil drilling and the contamination it brings. They also realize that they need income to survive.
The choice they have is to work as native guides hosting interested visitors, or work for Petroamazonas [an oil company]. (Cahuilla once worked for an oil company to help pay for his son's education.)
In 2013, a National Geographic story described this area: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/01/125-yasuni-national-park/wallace-text. Cahuilla is featured in this article in the fourth from last photo in the photo gallery, seated in the foreground in the white shirt. Unbelievably, we were in this same house, chewing on smoked puerco (peccary), drinking chukula (mashed banana drink), and listening to stories about hunting, tourism, oil, and the clinic that a mission team built next door.
How interesting to compare the wholesome scene depicted in this photo with the beer-drinking scene depicted in one of the other photos taken in town. I wonder if the National Geographic author had any idea when he visited this home that Cahuilla and his uncle and aunt are Christians who were baptized long ago by missionaries and have now chosen a lifestyle that is true to their Waorani heritage? How intriguing to think that two of the photos in this piece that most depict traditional Waorani ways (Cahuilla's uncle is shown hunting in a second photo) were of Waorani Christians. It reminds me of what Keith Kingsley [who formerly served with Mennonite Mission Network among indigenous people in Argentina] explained at our kick-off dinner at Waterford Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana, last May, that indigenous churches can provide a needed and unique space for native people to preserve their language, music, and cultural distinctiveness.