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Huaorani

Huaorani
For at least a thousand years, the Amazonian rainforest of Ecuador, the Oriente, has been home to the Huaorani (meaning ‘human beings’ or ‘the people’). They consider themselves to be the bravest tribe in the Amazon. Until 1956, they had never had any contact with the outside world.
“As our ancestors live, so will we live; as our ancestors died, so will we die”
Huaorani are outstanding hunters and feared warriors. Threatened by oil exploration and illegal logging practices, their hunter-gatherer society shifted to mostly living in settlements. They have a vast knowledge of animals, plants and trees, which stems from a total reliance on the natural world.
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Tiguino River, Ecuador

October 2011

The animist Huaorani believe the animals of their forest have a spiritual as
well as a physical existence. They believe that a person who dies walks a
trail to the afterlife, which is guarded by a large anaconda snake.

Those among the dead who cannot escape the snake fail to enter the
domain of dead spirits and return to Earth as animals, often termites. 
Spirits are present throughout the entire world, which to the Huaorani,
includes only the forest.
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The jaguar

October 2011

The Huaorani identify deeply with the jaguar, an important and majestic
predator. According to myth, they are the descendants of a mating
between a jaguar and an eagle. They will never hunt a jaguar.
They will also never kill snakes, as they are considered an evil force and a
bad omen, the anaconda in particular.

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Bameno Village, Cononaco River

October 2011

Hunting and fishing supply a large part of the Huaorani diet, as well as
being of cultural significance. Traditionally, the creatures hunted were
limited to monkeys, birds, and peccaries. Neither land-based predators
nor birds of prey are hunted. Bananas, maniocs, peanuts, sweet potatoes,
berries and fruits are on the menu. Fermented manioc is the main
ingredient for their beer, which flows plentifully during festivities.

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Animal spirits

October 2011

The Huaorani have many traditional hunting and eating taboos.
They will not eat deer, as deer eyes look like human eyes. While a
joyful activity, hunting has ethical implications. The Huaorani must
kill animals to live, but they believe that animal spirits live on and
must be placated or else they will take revenge. Therefore, a shaman
shows respect during the ritual preparation of the poison (curare)
on darts. Hunting with such darts is not seen as killing,
but as a kind of harvesting from the trees.
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Huaorani family

October 2011

One of the most important things to the Huaorani is family life. In the long
houses, extended families are very close. Everyone helps out: men,
women and children. The men fell trees to clear fields for the women to
tend. The food that they plant includes bananas, peanuts, sweet potatoes
and maniocs. Once they have used the soil to its full potential, they leave
the area to find another. They do this to allow the ground to heal.
Women take care of the crops, clean the homes, and look after the children.
Huaorani like to sing, dance and drink manioc beer.
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Huaorani, Cononaco River

October 2011

The Huaorani have a vast knowledge of plants and trees, with uses including poisons, medicines, hallucinogens, building materials and many more.? The Huaorani groom one another, making the tradition an important social activity.

They take great care in planning ceremonies.
Many of their ceremonial drinking festivities lead to marriages.


 

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The Oriente

October 2011

For at least a thousand years, the Amazonian rainforest of Ecuador,
the Oriente, has been home to the Huaorani. They currently number
around 2,000 and they are also known as Waorani or Waodani
(meaning ‘human beings’ or ‘the people’).

The Huaorani consider themselves to be the bravest tribe in the
Amazon. They are outstanding hunters and feared warriors
who live in a world that is green, wet, and filled with the sounds
of the forest. Until 1956, they had never had any contact with
the outside world. They have fought hard to protect their land
and culture and have shown no mercy to unwelcome intruders.

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Huaorani blowpipes

October 2011

Usually, the men provide for the family by hunting. Their main hunting
weapon is the blowpipe. These are typically 3 to 4 metres long.
The men make and fashion all weapons. Huaorani spears are most often
made from the wood of the peach-palm tree and have sharpened barbs
on both ends. Blow darts are dipped with poison from the curare plant,
which paralyses its victims. Blow guns enable tribes to hunt prey such
as birds and monkeys from a distance.

Their accuracy is deadly.
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Artprint available

- Jimmy Nelson

Huaorani

October 2011

The Huaorani typically wear their hair long. Face and body painting is
done for a vast number of reasons, from religious ceremonies to scaring
off evil spirits, or simply for aesthetic purposes. The paints come from
trees and plants that grow in the area. Traditional dancing is an important
part of life. Children are included in most dances to make sure that the
dances are passed on to the next generation.
In many situations, these dances involve the entire village.

The polygamous Waodani traditionally marry within the tribe, through
marriages between cousins.
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Bameno Village

October 2011

Life is changing for the Huaorani. Over the last decades, they have - against their will - shifted from a hunter-gatherer society to mostly living in permanent forest settlements. However, in remote villages, hunting is still the way of life and the key to survival. 

They possess an intimate and profound knowledge of animals, which
stems from a total reliance on the natural world.
The Huaorani homelands are threatened by oil exploration and illegal
logging practices. As of 2012, the Huaorani have approximately
6,800km2 of land, about one- third of their original territory.