These past two days in Ecuador have been the most unique of my life. We traveled by bus and canoe to the Waorani Nation. The Waorani are a civilization that lives on the Nushino river in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest. This community was the last community in Ecuador to be contacted by the outside world. They were contacted by missionaries in 1958 and after a rocky start to their relationships with outsiders, have since started welcoming and hoping students and outsiders come visit and learn their culture. During our trip we experienced many unique cultural components of the Waorani. We were taught how to use massive blow dart guns, we saw how to make a traditional weave baskets made of plants in the Amazon, and were treated to a traditional Waorani dance of thanks that depicted several songs. We also met and talked to various members of their community like the President of the Wao nation: Humberto, Humberto’s mother and father, the patriarch and matriarch of the community, and his brother Gonzalez amongst many. We were treated to a rather intense rainforest hike, a day in their Cacao garden, and a day of fun with the children of the community.
On our first night in the community we had to take around a 2 hour bus ride and a 3 hour canoe ride to the village of Gomaton. Once there, we were shown to our house for the next two days, a nice dorm that housed around 17 of us and held the capacity to house much more. Once settled, we talked to the people of Gomaton, they introduced themselves and then shortly later taught us how to use their blowgun. They use their blow gun to hunt and kill monkeys, toucans and other birds (they use guns for bigger predators). After the short tutorial, they even let us try and blow dart. Unfortunately, in my single attempt I did not hit the banana they used as a target. After our blow-darting adventure we were cooked a wonderful dinner followed by a short history of the tribe and a naming ceremony. I was given the name TD (the pronunciation of the name) this was the name of an old Waorani warrior so I was very honored when given the name. From here on out they would only refer to us by this name. Because the community did not have electricity except for in their main building, we went to bed once the sunset.
On day 2 in the Waorani culture we were treated to an extravagant rainforest hike, glimpses into their culture, and a walk of their Cacao farm. We awoke at 7:30 for an 8 o’clock breakfast. We then changed and started our rainforest hike. We were led by Ore the matriarch of the community and accompanied by various other people, both adults and kids. Ore made his own path through the jungle with his machete. For the most part the terrain was rather treacherous but every once in a while we were treated to some nice and safe flat ground. When going up nearly vertical slopes we were told to dig in with our toes to create steps as well as grab trees and strong roots to pull ourselves up. At the top of one hill we were treated to a beautiful basketmaking demonstration. Some of us were even given the chance to weave a basket using nothing but plants found in the forest. After our quick demonstration we started our decent down towards a beautiful swimming hold and waterfall. Similar to our climb up the climb down was just as treacherous. The thick and slippery mud combined with unfamiliar terrain did not prove to be too much. Using our heels to make steps down and large trees we were able to slowly, but surely climb down to our destination. At the waterfall we enjoyed a much deserved break and beautiful sites. We were told that we were the first Americans to ever be shown this site. After our break we resumed our hike back through the rainforest and to their village. On the hike back we encountered an extremely venomous snake, however it was swiftly spotted and killed. After our hike we were given lunch and then went back out to their Cacao farm. At their farm we helped the community plant brand new Cacao trees. We also made a friend in a tree frog I found. Following this we were able to have a break in the day and decide between having a swim, fishing, and playing with the tribe. I chose to go fishing and play a game with the Waorani children. We played a game pronounced Gáme. This game was played by two teams. An offensive team that had to knock over a tower of bananas and rebuild it before the defensive team hit all the players with a ball.
Following free time, we had dinner and were treated to a beautiful dance of thanks. We were treated to 5 songs and dances. These songs symbolized anything from marriage to battle scenes. After the first two songs we were asked to join in. We joined the Waorani people and danced for over an hour. We danced through a marriage ceremony between Melina and a Wao boy named Kevin. After the marriage a baby from the village was passed around the elders of the Wao as well as Ben (the baby’s god father in the dance). Each person would wipe the baby all over their bodies symbolizing the passing of knowledge and spirts from one generation to the next. This ceremony is held for the newest born child in the Wao nation. This ceremony was capped by the passing of a traditional Wao beverage and everyone had to drink it. After this we went to bed. The next morning we arose for breakfast and then unfortunately had to leave this beautiful village.
This visit to the Wao nation was a humbling experience. Seeing people live such simplistic yet sufficient and full lives is amazing. The sense of family, togetherness, and culture was simply amazing. There is nothing in American culture that even begins to capture the humble nature of these people. Although, it was a giant struggle to communicate with these people (Wao is the 1st language and Spanish is their 2nd) we formed some great friendships and created great memories. We were the first non-Ecuadorians to be welcomed into their culture and stay in their lodge and hopefully will not be the last. These people are hoping to bring many more students, schools, and tourists interested in connected with their culture back to their humble and beautiful village.