The Culture of the Huaorani of Ecuador

1 January 2017

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. ). 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.

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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 spirits as they have killed a prophet of the forest able to communicate both medical and spiritual knowledge with the elders. Additionally, some elder warriors are believed to have special powers to transform themselves into the jaguar. Gender relations of the Huaorani may vary but ensure equal distribution of responsibilities.

Generally, the males support the family by means of hunting. They typically hunt using spears or blowguns. The Huaorani men cut small areas of trees so the women can harvest necessary crops for rituals and consumption. The men are the defenders of their land, and will participate in combat if necessary against intruders (Lu, F. E. , 2001). While it is very uncommon to find, women can hunt to support their family as well. However, their primary jobs within their groups are to care for the children, plant and harvests crops, as well as maintain their homes.

Everyone has their own chores to do within the home, so that the chores are equal (Lu, F. E. , 2001). Within the nanicabo chores are jointly undertaken, and all food and material goods are shared. There is sexual division of labor, on which men take the priority responsibility for hunting while the women take primary responsibility for gardening, gathering from the forest, cooking, and child care; however, among the Huaorani all of these lines are fluid and flexible (Robarchek and Robarchek, 1998, p. 104-6: Yost, 1981, p. 691).

The social organization of the Huaorani people denotes an amazing continuous adaptation to their environment. They are highly skilled and have vast experience in hunting and warring. In this case, despite the various differences in gender roles among the members of this community, there is equality in most of the activities performed. Men and women are more or less considered as equal irrespective of their differences in roles. This means no one is considered as superior to the other especially, when it comes to looking for food. In the past, the Huaorani community was known as a hunter and gatherer community where men were mostly the hunters of large animals and hence the main bread winner in this community” (Rival, 2002, p. 54). “In this case, the main bread winners usually provided the large part of the meals in this community and hence men were considered as superior to women” (Ziegler-Otero, 2004, p. 152).

Women, on the other hand, were known as gatherers of fruits and hunters of small animals. These gender roles influenced the hunting and gathering mode of subsistence of the Huaorani people as each gender has a role to play in provision of food” (Ziegler-Otero, 2004, p. 152). “Despite the fact there is a sense of equality in this community, men are mostly considered as the head of families and the entire community and hence their decisions in how the hunted food should be gathered is considered as the final” (Rival, 2002, p. 51). Additionally, the men also take on the more labor-intensive work within the community.

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