There are many ethnically distinct tribes in the Amazon Rainforest. Of these indigenous groups Ecuador has some of the most interesting that have fascinated anthropologists for decades for of their practice of Shamanism and Shrinking Heads. The three main tribes of the Ecuadorian Amazon are the Kichwa, the Shuar, and the Huarani
The Shuar Tribe of the Amazon
The Shuar are one of the largest tribes in the Amazon inhabitating much of the Ecuadorian Amazon and the north of Peru. They are also one of the most mystical of the Amazonian Tribes and their Shamans are the most feared.
In the past when fighting broke out with other tribes the Shuar would routinely hunt the heads of their enemies and shrink them. These shrunken heads became trophies where it was believed they could control the soul of their victim which gave them power over women.
Now its illegal to kill and shrink heads many Shuar have turned to using the heads of the poor old anthropomorphic Sloth for practice.
In the traditional Shuar tribe the men hunted and wove clothes while the women gardened and forriaged for fruit. The older women of the tribe also made an alcoholic drink called “Chica” made out of fermented maiz that the toothless women chewed, creating a catalyst with their saliver. Sounds delicious doesnt it? If you visited a tribe and refused to drink it that would be considered a great insult.
The Kichwa Tribe of the Amazon
The Kichwa Tribe of the Amazon are ethnically similar to the Quechua of the Andes mountains in Ecuador and Peru. They speak pretty much different dialects of the same language but their traditional dress varies vastly due to the difference in climate between the Andes and Amazon.
The Kichwa are considered the most powerful of the Amazons Shamans and traditionally the Shuar and the Kichwa have been bitter enemies and fought many battles. Times are changing however and Marco who help runs our volunteer program at the Paraiso Eco Lodge is a Kichwa Shaman and his wife is Shuar.
The Kichwa also have been one of the most successful tribes in defending their land from Petrol Companies. Their peaceful protests against the “Petroleros” are often supressed violently with the help of the Ecuadorian government. but that does not mean they were ineffective.
In 2003 the Sarayaku Kichwa community went to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about an human rights abuse when four community leaders were detained by the Ecuadorian Military and Police who tortured the Kichwa at an oil facility.
The Huaorani Tribe of the Amazon
The Huaorani are the warrior tribe of Ecuadors Amazon. Their territory is located in the Yasuni Biosphere but stretches into Peru. Traditionally they believed that the world consisted of a disc with snow capped mountains that smoked on one side with an impenatrable jungle in the middle and never ending rivers at the end.
They do not practice Shamanism in the same form as the other tribes by drinking hallucinogenic plants like Ayahuasca and Malicahua but they do possess what some anthropologists call “Universal Knowledge.”
That is to say a child born in the Huaorani tribe will automatically possess the knowledge of all other Huaorani – including the encyclopedic knowledge of the medicinal plants in the Amazon.
What makes the Huaorani fascinating is that their language is unlike any other language spoken in the entire Amazon basin. The language of the Kichwa, Shuar and the majority of all other languages spoken in the Amazon originate from an ancient root language that travelled up the Paraná and Amazon Rivers tens of thousands of years ago.
Anthropologists say the Huaorani are the exception as their language is completely and fundamentally different from anything else spoken in the world like the Basque language in Europe. Nobody knows where the Huaorani came from.
The Huaorani also have as many as five “uncontacted” groups living in Yasuni area of Ecuadors Amazon that are living in voluntary isolation from the “civilized world.” These people are the most vulnerable of all of the Amazons Tribes especially considering the giant oil deposits that have been discovered on their land.
In the next post I will delve into the plight of these tribes.