WHO ARE THE WAORANI?
"The True People" of the Amazon
The Waorani Tribe of the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador, famed for their independent and “unsullied” life in the jungle, are actively working to protect their native lands in the Amazon from auction to oil companies. Recently, the Waorani won what is today an uncommon victory, in that the Ecuadorian government agreed that their lands could not be auctioned without the agreement of the Waorani people, who consider themselves among the “keepers of the jungle.” The Waorani engaged in protests after news reached them that the Ecuadorian government planned to auction parcels of their land. They pointed to the fact that they had not even had the opportunity to give prior consent to this sale. When a court hearing concerning this issue was held geographically far from the Waorani villages, forcing them to travel days by foot and canoe to attend, as well as without a translator, Waorani women shut down the hearing by singing this traditional song so loudly and consistently that the court was forced to reschedule in accordance with the community’s demands.
“What my grandparents did, we are doing now, not leaving footprints. You westerners must see what we are. We came to ask you to respect our culture. We came to ask you to come to our territory, if you respect us you will come. We do not want war as our ancestors did, we only want to be heard. We want peace, compassion and understand.”
– Excerpt of Waorani women’s song in the courthouse
DISCOVER THE IMPACT
WHY IS THE SOURCE OF THIS PRODUCT IMPORTANT?
Because the materials for this product come from the Amazon rainforest and the product is handmade in tribal villages, every item sold is a “vote” for the preservation of the rainforest. Some might ask, wouldn’t rainforest be cleared in order to plant fields of the chambira plant, just like large corporations have done to plant fields of pineapples and bananas? However, it is not only the chambira plant that is used in the manufacture of this product. Roots like guisador, leaves from the jangua plant, achiote pods, shells of the fruit of the mishquipanga plant, rinds of the huito fruit, and more are used as natural dyes. Taken together, the requirements for this product are an ecosystem of themselves!
HOW ARE THESE PRODUCTS MADE?
The process to create these handicrafts has been passed down among the Waorani from generation to generation. Women hand-harvest the spiked, sheath-like leaves of the chambira plant necessary to make the fibers, along with a plethora of jungle plants needed to make different colored dyes. When they return to their village, they must extract the inner fibers from the chambira leaves and boil them, dry them, and then dye them using the other plants they harvested. The women transform the fibers into twine by furiously rolling them up and down along their thighs. The twine may then be woven into bracelets, bowls, bags, or even hammocks!
WHAT ARE THE WAORANI PEOPLE DOING TO RESIST OIL COMPANIES?
The Waorani people have won a rare yet fragile victory in defense of their land from auction to oil companies. The Ecuadorian government attempted an unauthorized auction of Waorani lands in the Amazon, and in 2019 the Waorani successfully regained autonomy in direction of their own land. However, given economic pressures in Ecuador after the global pandemic, it is essential that the Waorani continue in the fight to retain their ancient tribal lands.
The Waorani typically spend the day earning the money to buy their dinner. This means that court hearings surrounding the fate of their land conflict with their daily work. When they are able to sell artesania, that is, their handicrafts of palm, this pressure is mitigated.