When it comes to their precious Amazon homelands, the Waorani people will stop at nothing to protect the land that their ancestors fought for. Now, they are taking their battle to court.
You have no business here
The Ecuadorian government faced the indigenous tribe in a courtroom battle when they received backlash for trying to sell land to greedy oil companies who would undoubtedly destroy the land in the process. They were planning on giving these companies access to a gigantic 180,000 hectares. If you can’t visualize it (we don’t blame you) that’s approximately 180,000 football fields.
Fortunately, the government was defeated and all their plans went with them. A new ruling was put in place to ban these companies to explore these lands for commercial gain. It took two weeks for the criminal court in Puyo to reach a decision, but that only made the victory sweeter. The lands are now protected and new laws reiterate the “inalienable, unseizable and indivisible” rights of the Waorani people. This allows them to “maintain possession of their ancestral lands and obtain their free adjudication.”
Although they came out victorious, it was a time of unease in the Waorani community, especially within the little village of Nemompare which lies at the heart of the rainforest. The community leader, Nemonte Nenquimo articulated his concerns, saying, “The government sees oil and money but the Waorani see it is full of life.” For many Waorani, of which there are 4,000 living in the Pastaza province, they are concerned about the future and how this will impact their way of life. Some communities believe their land will be in the firing line in the not-too-distant-future; it’s a pattern that they see emerging across the globe.
A heavy-hearted Nenquimo said, “Humans are changing the planet because big companies, big factories are destroying it. It is the moment now for the people to join and protest, to live well. If we don’t protest, if we don’t carry out actions, it means we are destroying the planet.”
For small, self-contained tribes like Waorani, the effects of capitalism can be truly devastating. They are too small to ingest the impact without coming out with a few scars. Generally a pacifist tribe, Waorani isn’t opposed to resorting to violence to protect their land. “Let it be clear,” Nenquimo said, “We will defend our jungle, our culture and our rights, with our lives.”
A different way of life
With communities only amounting to 50 individuals, the Waos enjoy a lifestyle that’s totally alien to most. No supermarket? No problem. Some individuals in these communities utilise the rich shrubbery around them to weave clothes and when it comes to hunting food, forget guns and intricate traps. The men (quite literally) bring home the bacon using traditional blow-guns. Instead of showers, the people of Nemompare collect rainwater in big tanks, snuggle up in hammocks for the night and use solar panels for power.
Fear for the world’s future runs deep throughout the tribe. Debanca, another leader within the community, spoke to AFP about her concerns. Pointing to the murky Curaray river, she asked, “Do you want oil companies to enter and kill the jungle, do away with clean territory, with clean water?” A healthy environment is crucial to the tribe’s survival.
The court case has put in place lots of new laws that protect the tribe and the precious rainforests. From now on, tribal communities must be prioritized and consulted before any exploration is undertaken. This is especially important considering previous tensions between the tribal community and the state.
In 2012, the Waorani and the state reached a compromise regarding the search for oil resources, but it has left a sour taste in the mouths of the tribe. The leaders claim that they were tricked into the agreement. To avoid this happening again, the court ordered the government to draw up a new contract under the standards of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Lina Maria Espinosa, who represented the tribe in court, said that this
“has created a significant precedent for the Amazon.” She went on to say, “It has been demonstrated that there was no consultation and that the state violated the rights of this people, and therefore of other people.”
The dispute over land has also bred violence within the community itself. The two clans, Taromenane and Tagaeri have locked horns over the issue and over 20 individuals were killed in 2012. Miguel Angel Cabodevilla, who has studied the tribe for thirty years, defended this almost barbaric behavior, saying, “the main violence has been against them, almost always, and been more aggressive. Their lands have been taken from them, they have been persecuted and killed, they have been enslaved, and now the wealth in the subsoil is being taken from them without adequate compensation.”
Hopefully, this case will bring with it an age of relative peace between the Waorani and the state. Should governments ever breach this trust again, there could be serious consequences to pay. In the words of the tribal leader Peke Tokare, “Our land is not for sale,” and it would do the government well to remember that.
Photo credits: phys.org, AAP