Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Posted by Bejat

Whew! I must say the last several weeks have been unbelievable. Shawn was able to finish surveying the plots upon his return from Surinam to TBS. I returned about a week later from Quito assisting one of Shawn’s assistants as he left TBS unexpectedly to return home. Made it back to TBS just in time to pack and inventory everything, which is an amazing amount of gear (about 500 lbs plus), so that we could move to our next destination. After two days of packing, storing and completing our inventory, we moved to the Catolica Research Station within the park boundaries along the Via Maxxus road.

Our trip was beautiful along the Tiputini River in the small canoe called the Capibarra; however, when the rain hit, it hit hard. This was a bit stressful with all our gear in the driving rain. Luckily, it all survived and we made it to the Catolica Research Station wet and cold. The facilities are amazing and the staff is phenomenal. They are all so kind and caring, always ready to assist with anything and everything. The food is hearty Ecuadorian dishes. We absolutely love the food.

The pet Tapir, Omaka,
reminds us of our Basset, Daucshoud, and German Shepard mix, Abby. Omaka is sweet and docile, loves fruit and responds to consistent whistles. The mapadores, who work in the 50-hectare plot, adore her and she adores them right back. They hand feed her and pick the gorged ticks off her, three of which were as big as my thumbnail (see below left photo). She follows them into the plot nearly every day to keep them company, as she is seen in the photographs above and to the right on the side of the road directly outside the entrance to the plot. What an amazing Tapir. Who would have thought a Tapir would be so docile?

Surveying the road is a hot and tiring task. We are returning to camp exhausted and just eat dinner and fall into bed. Our feet hurt and our bodies are sore. It is quite different to walk the road rather than on the soft forest floor. To be standing in the middle of the road looking into the forest has become part of our daily routine, yet it constantly seems strange, making me wonder how this change effects the Waorani consciously and subconsciously. Are they seeing the forest through different eyes from the road? Has it become normal to them? Would they prefer the road and the oil companies who supply them with work, transportation, boat motors, generators, gas, food, housing, electricity, doctors and so much more? How must it feel? All I can imagine is that it must be the most extreme form of culture sock to have lived through the era of the construction of the Via Maxxus and even more so the Via Auca.

The first contact with the outside world was devastating to their culture, yet there is no turning back now. I find this to be quite unfortunate since it not only brought disease that wiped out many of their ancestors, but also the loss of culture and the destruction of habitat. The Waorani are most interesting to me and I have found them to be quite intriguing, making friends with many of them, like Yura and some of her 10 children. My first encounters with Giro were about 10 years ago with her yelling in the road as we passed on the TBS ranchera. Recently I was on the TBS boat waiting for the barrels of gas to arrive. I spoke with her in Spanish as her daughter Norma translated in Waorani. Giro only speaks Waorani. We were speaking of our families and lifestyles and she asked if I had children. I said no, but I have a dog that is like my child. I mentioned how she sleeps with me in bed. Giro was shocked and laughed. Their dog, Dido, was on the boat and she dragged the dog over to me. I pet Dido and this also shocked her. She began to pet the dog too. She then asked me if I could remove some bot flies from the dog’s leg. I did not understand, but after a while I did and I just continued to not understand since I thought this to be a back idea in case the dog decided to bite me in the process. She thought my nails were great tools for this purpose. I think they are too, but some random jungle dog is very questionable indeed.

The Via Maxxus road has only been in existence for close to 25 years and the Waorani were contacted some time in the 70’s. There are still clan members that have survived the impact of oil and missionaries. They seem to find themselves confused and lost in their own territory. It would be as if you were lost in your own home that you had known all your life. It should be made clear that the Waorani are nomadic indigenous people who lived sustainable in the forest for thousands of years. Their populations were of low numbers and they would periodically raid other tribes for revenge killings. Anyone that would enter their territory was typically killed and they were thought of as Savages, hence this name Auca. The Via Auca, another oil road that we will be working along in a few months, was named after the Waorani in a derogatory manner.

We shall only see what the dawn of a new day brings. I look forward to meeting more Waorani and those I have met like Giro and her children, Norma and Moses, are very curious. Giro appears to be in her 70’s, yet it is difficult to determine their age. Giro and Moses are pictured to the left.

Giro is one of the few Wao that exhibits the elongated earlobes due to piercings that become widened over time by inserting wooden plugs. This makes a drastic hole that is recognizable from afar. Since Giro only speaks Waorani, Norma or Moses are typically with her to translate for her in Spanish. Most indigenous know several languages. Many Waorani can speak Waorani, Quitchua and Spanish. They are remarkable people.

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