The Amazonian Rainforest, home of close to over 30% of the world’s rarest animals, is a very popular tourist destination for nature seekers and adventurers.
Yes, Hollywood got it right but not in all aspects.
While blockbusters like Anaconda, Medicine Man and even The Emerald Forest attempts to showcase the beauty of the Amazon forest and its river—which flows through a handful of countries, they do not do justice in exhibiting the custodians of the forest; the indigenous groups therein. We never had the opportunity to have a peek into their various cultures.
First-time visitors to the region, however, will experience how these people live, and learn so many wonderful things about their ancient traditions.
For the purpose of this article, we will be looking at some of the major Ecuadorian indigenous groups situated in the Amazon
The Achuar people are an indigenous community situated between Ecuador and Northern Peru. With an estimated population of 12,000 people in over 45 distinct towns, they are scattered along the Morona, Huasaga and Manchari basins.
Each particular Achuar group is made up of less than 15 households living in buildings shaped like massive ovals with high roofs. Bigger buildings usually indicate bigger families or social status.
Living in relative proximity with other groups, they are considered as one of the most resilient natives in the whole of the rainforest. The Achuar people are known to be polygynous where partners, in some cases, may be related.
While the Achuar men engage in hunting down animals and making tools, the women and children are often tasked with preparing the game into local dishes and managing large gardens of indigenous crops.
These gardens, and indeed nature, are of utmost importance to the Achuar people. Childbirth is usually carried out on the gardens where they believe Nunki, a protective spirit is watching over the occasion.
Achuar ceremonies happen almost frequently where they ingest Ayahuasca—a vine they believe can free the soul and allow them to commune with their ancestors and animal spirits.
Currently, they face threats from oil companies attempting to drill oil from their lands which may affect their way of life.
The Shuar people are situated in the upper regions of the rainforest, extending south into Peru and the east into the foothills of the Andes along Macas and Puyo.
With population estimates at over 80,000, the Shuar people do not only reside in the rainforest but in other parts of Ecuador in different groups.
The Shuar people speak Shuar and Spanish, due to bilingual schooling sponsored by the Ecuadorian government in the area.
Like the Achuar people, the people of Shuar engage in hunting and farming for their means of livelihood. While fishing is rarely done, hunting may take up half of the day’s activities with the other half spent on socializing with friends and family members.
The Shuar people are particularly notable for the act of head shrinking. This was done to their slain enemies, a process they long believed would trap their rival’s soul. The practice has long faded from their tradition.
Sporting activities like football and volleyball are rife in many Shuar villages, and on some occasions, extending into inter-village tournaments.
Social hierarchy is almost non-existent in most Shuar villages, as all the heads of various households are considered equal. However, for strictly organizational duties, most Shuar villages elect someone to be President.
While most Shuar people identify as Christians, they have deep traditional roots in Shamanism, mostly in the belief of forest spirits and witchcraft.
The Huaorani people reside close to Rio Napo, one of the many tributaries of the Amazon River. Currently, population estimates place them at 3,000.
Due to oil exploration in the region for over 6 decades, the Huaorani are exposed to the outside world and is currently under threat. Albeit, their cultural values are still upheld till date.
Hunting is still done the traditional way—using spears and blowpipes to capture their game. In recent times, due to oil spillages, jungle life within their settlement has reduced significantly.
Body modifications, like loosed earlobes, according to Huaorani’s standards of beauty is being maintained by the natives as they go through their day barefooted and in a semi-nude state.
If you’re traveling to Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador, there is a high possibility that you’ll happen on an Amazon Kichwas settlement. They are the most populous ethnic group in the region.
Settled in the upper areas of Napo Province, the Kichwas are known to be farmers, planting and harvesting yucca (manioc), banana, beans, corn, cocoa, and coffee. They are also adept in the use of herbal plants for medicinal purposes.
Occasionally, the Kachwas dabble in hunting and purchase food supplements from markets outside their towns.
Due to increased exposure to urban culture, Spanish is becoming a prevalent language amongst the natives, especially the younger generation. Also, traditional dresses are now being ditched for western-styled clothes.
Albeit, the older generation still speak the local Kichwa language alongside basic Spanish skills. Because of rising tourism in the region, traditional customs are still being preserved till date.
The Kichwas still practice Shamanism and the belief in mystic ways of spiritual healing and magic is still dominant across their villages.
An opportunity to visit any Kichwa town will expose visitors to this amazing blend of traditional and urban life.
The Taromenane people live in the remote parts of the Yasuni National Park. They are estimated to be between 200-300 individuals living uncontacted inside the park.
Their quiet lifestyle has been under threat recently from illegal loggers and oil explorers. This particular ethnic group is largely believed to be related to the Huaorani people up in Rio Napo. Little is known about their means of livelihood.
Along with the Taromenane, the Tagaeri people live in the remote parts of the Yasuni National Park.
The population of the people is estimated at 30 living in complete isolation. Like the Taromenane, the Tagaeri people also face threats from illegal loggers, poachers, smugglers and oil companies in the region.
The Awà people, also known as Kwaiker, reside in the Sucumbios and Carchi provinces of Northern Ecuador and in parts of Southern Columbia. The speak the Awapit language indigenous to their ethnic group alone.
Their population is placed at 32,000. Like most of the natives in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest, the Awà people hunt, fish and cultivate corn, sugarcane, hot peppers, tomato, achiote, peach palms and many others as a means of livelihood.
While hunting is regulated on their lands, illegal logging by external bodies persists till date.