The Journey to Marriage – from a married woman

On Thursday, we began a 5 hour journey to get from the Iyarani Lodge outside of Tena, to the Waorani group in the Amazon. We started with a two hour bus ride heading further and further away from large community groups. The further we got, the steeper the hills were and the harder it was to spot people. When we got to the end of the road, we waited far a little bit for our canoes to arrive. When they did, we saw that we would be sitting in the belly of the canoe without benches. Even though it was raining it was honestly pretty comfortable. It was so comfortable that I was able to sleep for a good chunk of the three hour ride.

When we finally hit land, we were helped off the boat by a couple members of the Waorani community. This group was previously an uncontacted, purposely isolated group. They all were wearing feathery head gear with face paint. When we got up to the top of the beach, they put the paint from a fruit on our cheeks and noses. There were about twenty five members of the community that we could see that seemed to span four generations. Each one of them greeted us with huge smiling faces and gentle pats on the arm.

We walked around for a bit to get the lay of the land. We ended up teaching some of the local kids how to play peek-a-boo. We all gathered by the front of the property and the grandpa taught us how to shoot their blow gun. It was about 8 feet long and a hollowed out tree branch. They sharpened sticks and put cotton on the ends of them to guide them. It was really difficult and heavy. We all got the chance to try it and struggled to get the arrows to go more than a couple of feet, let alone be on target. Watching the hunters from the group shoot so quickly was incredibly impressive.

After dinner the community members wanted to give us all native names. I was the first to be named. The grandma approached me immediately and said, “Dowon”. The translator told us that they were giving us names based off of our energy. Dowon is the term they have for a small black bird with a red throat. I’m not quite sure what to make of that, but I’m taking it as a compliment. Most of us got names that represented birds while others had names with warrior origins.

I started the next morning by playing with and feeding the trumpeter that the community has as a pet. It never ate anything I gave it, but it always came back. At breakfast, it was explained to us that the locals wanted to take us to see some cultural sites and where the natural cocoa grows. It ended up being a little over five miles with most of it being uphill. It was super steep and a mud slide, but in the best way. At times it felt like I was able to climb up only because I was holding on to tree roots. It felt like the part in the comics when someone was slipping and just running in place. We were all laughing so hard an having a blast as the community members helped us. The locals of course were running up and down the hills like goats on cliffs.

At the very top of the hill we found the natural cocoa plants. The grandma taught me how to weave a basket with the leaves. I used it to carry a sprouting cocoa plant through the rest of the hike. A little over halfway through we got to a waterfall with a natural pool. We played with the kids in there while taking a very much needed break. The hike got a lot easier after that so I was walking holding hands with a little girl in front of me and with one behind me. We got to slide on our butts a lot on the way back.

After the hike, I ended up holding the baby spider monkey for a little bit and petting it with some of the girls. We had lunch before getting ready for our next adventure. We went for another quick hike to plant more cocoa. On our way there, some of the local guys were cutting down skinny trees with about three whacks of a machete. They used the trees to quickly make a bridge over a steep creek. The bridge was one log across the gap, one standing up on either side, and another one connecting those two as a hand rail. They tied it all together with some leaves and it was up and ready to go in under ten minutes.

Once we got over to the clearing, we could see where they had started planting a bunch of cocoa plants. We were all sitting on a log eating sugar cane while they were explaining to us the business they had started by selling cocoa beans. We all got to eat one after cutting a pod open. We just ate the fleshy white stuff from the outside which was super sour but pretty good. Each of us got to plant a cocoa sprouting while the locals helped us out.

Planting cocoa with the native girls

A group of us swam around in the creek for a while before showering. It was the perfect temperature and very relaxing. It felt so cool because it was a sandy creek but all the rocks were clay. We sat there talking and breaking open the rocks for a while while we reflected on how much this trip has impacted us already. I sat on the deck of the dorms by myself for a little bit to watch the turtles in the lake.

At dinner, we were told that the community members had a surprise for us. They were all dressed up in traditional outfits with face paint while our group was sitting on benches in a U shape. Their surprise was a dance performance for us. It went on for over an hour. They sang four different songs that talked about how they got to the land, the hunt, the marriage ceremony, and then about how they made peace with those from the mainlands. We got to participate in the dance with them.

We marched around to different beats chanting with them in the dark while getting our feet beyond muddy. I was holding hands with the grandma and one of her granddaughters. About halfway through it, the granddaughter who was about 25, pulled me to the bench while still holding my hand. Next thing I knew, I was the girl in the marriage ceremony. Everyone was in a circle singing and dancing around me and one of the local kids who was our age. They put my arm around him and then held it there while they chanted at us. It was so so funny. This went on for a little while and I was laughing so hard.

For my role in the marriage ceremony, I then scooped a beverage made from a native root into a bowl for everyone to drink one at a time while they cheered each other on. The natives loved it but I thought it smelled like spoiled milk. They didn’t want the festivities to stop. They just kept dancing around while all of us cheered and clapped.

They truly were such a warm community. I felt really attached to them very quickly because they had gone through so much and were still so welcoming of us. Even though I was exhausted, it took me forever to fall asleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about the people and their lifestyle. I admire them in so many ways and truly had the best time there. I was outside of my comfort zone in so many ways but it was so rewarding at the end of the day.

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