Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Isolated Tribe Versus the Giants

The Waorani (aka Huaorani) tribe of the Amazon in Ecuador is not related to any other Amerindian Tribes. They were a highly mobile, nomadic, hunter-gatherer, horticulturist group. It was apparent in the studies of them that they had been quite isolated, as their language was unrelated to others and their genetics appear to show isolation. 

"Waorani" means "the true human people." In fact, their isolationism might be a reflection of their attitude about their type being somehow "pure" or "unaltered. 

There were only a few times they had contact with outsiders. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was a rubber boom that sent workers into their area in search of goods. In the 1940s, there was early oil exploration there. In the 1950s the missionaries had a go at converting people in the region. Another oil boom in the 1970s during the oil crisis sent more people into their territory. 

Here's where it gets VERY interesting. It was estimated that before the 1950s when missionaries came, 17% of deaths among the Waorani were caused from disputes with "Cohouri" (or Kowodi) who were considered to be "nonhuman predators and cannibals who surrounded them and preyed upon them."

These warring people were intolerant of outsiders. They killed Shell Oil workers and drove the company out of the area and killed a bunch of missionaries too. The government allowed groups, including an oil company, to relocate the Waorani people in the 1970s. There were only several hundred tribe members relegated to a small area of land, no longer nomadic, sedentary, and then to top it off, a polio outbreak. It was believed almost half the deaths among the people were from homicide within and the missionaries intervention. 

Source: The Waorani identify deeply with the jaguar, an important and majestic predator in the Amazon Rainforest. According to myth, the Huaorani were the descendants of a mating between a jaguar and an eagle. Elders became shamans by metaphorically adopting “jaguar sons” whose spirits communicate medical and spiritual knowledge. In the Huaorani belief system, jaguar shamans are able “to become a jaguar, and so to travel great distances telepathically and communicate with other Huaorani..Plants, especially trees, continue to hold a complex and important interest for the Huaorani. Their store an extensive of botanical knowledge, ranging from materials to poisons, hallucinogens or medicines. They also relate plants to their own experiences, particularly that of growing. Among trees, certain kinds are auspicious. Canopy trees, with their distinctly colored young leaves and striking transformation as they mature to towering giants, are “admired for their solitary character … as well as for their profuse entanglement” with other plants. Other significant trees are the pioneer species of the peach palm (used for making spears and blowguns, as well as for fruit), and fast-growing balsa wood, used for ceremonial purposes. Peach palm trees are associated with past settlements and the ancestors who live there.

It has been popularly assumed that "Cohouri" are any outsiders, as the Waorani believe they were the true people. But, what outsiders surrounded and preyed up and cannibalized their people? That is the most intriguing question. 

More info:
More details about tribe and their enemies

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