Stories from the Amazon

  • Achuar Chief
    Achuar village chief of Ti’inkias shares his communities views about oil production in the Amazon Rainforest.

    Jacobs Visits With the Achuar People, Experiences Their Culture

    The only things competing with the dim candlelight were the fireflies dancing in the darkness of the forest and the occasional flash of lightning on the horizon.

    We were deep in the Amazon Rainforest, far from city lights and city noises. It was far from quiet though. The jungle comes alive at night with its own special chorus that has played since time began.

    "Tonight we will be visited by an Achuar Shaman," said our Ecuadorian guide, Cristina Serrano.

    "You have an invitation to participate in a special ritual, if you wish."

    The silhouette of the Shaman was barely visible in the candlelight as he shook the handful of branches and leaves around my body.

    Over and over he whistled, as if summoning the spirits within the forest to dance.

    "This type of ritual happens only two or three times in the lifetime of the Achuar where they connect to the life force of the world they call Pachamama. They believe it gives them their power and strength for life," Serrano explained. "It is a very sacred moment in their lives."

    The full moon dashed in and out of view from behind the clouds as it moved across the dark sky.

    Determined to understand and appreciate the Amazonian culture of these people, I experienced a sacred evening that offered some insight into the relationship of the Achuar to the world. I am now forever connected to the rainforest in a special way that can only be understood by the heart.

    One small step of walking a mile in another man's shoes.

    The next morning our visit to the Achuar village of Ti'inkias continued. They demonstrated and explained their various daily life routines and customs, such as weaving and fishing.

    Achuar young girl with big brown eyes
    A young Achuar girl looks up in her school room in the Achuar village of Ti’inkias in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador.

    Soon I left the group and wandered off to play volleyball with several young children.

    My limited Spanish wasn't much help here since their first language is Achuar. It didn't matter; laughter and smiles transcend any language barrier.

    The next place to visit was the village school. As I walked through the front doorway, the entire class stood up and welcomed me in unison saying "buenos dias," or good morning in Spanish.

    Once the formal classroom visit was complete, I was free to do what I love to do - teach the students the hokey pokey.

    All the students stood in a circle and, with the help of my trip companions, we engaged in several rounds of the hokey pokey. Lots of giggles and laughter was included.

    "Put your whole self in and shake it all about" was, of course, the most popular part of the song as everyone danced and bounced within the circle.

    This is also my favorite part of the song because for me it is a metaphor for life. When you put your whole self in and shake it all about, magic happens that can only come from being fully engaged in life. Isn't that what it's all about?

    Under the thatched roof of the house with no walls, we gathered to say goodbye to the village people. The village chief sat in his position of authority at the center of the house when we gathered in a semicircle on the perimeter. Once again, we started with the traditional Achuar greeting of a long dialogue of talking about the general state of life.

    Achuar grass hut with children
    A group of children play in their home in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador.

    A few members of the village performed a couple of short songs and dances that are traditionally sung as the men go off to hunt.

    Serrano asked our group if we wanted to return the kindness with a song. After several seconds of silence, I started into a verse of Country Roads by John Denver. The rest of the group joined in for the chorus. This brought some smiles from our hosts.

    The chief concluded our visit with these words: "We know there is oil under our ground. We want it left alone. We have seen the ways the Western culture destroys the nature to get access to the oil and we do not want this on our land or in our lives. We are happy living our way of life."

    I trailed behind as our group walked away for the final time. A young Achuar boy about 10 years old followed closely until I was about to step into the forest.

    He walked towards me, stuck out his hand, looked me straight in my eyes, smiled and said "yatzuro."

    "He just called you his brother in Achuar," Serrano explained.

    At that moment, it became crystal clear to me that we are all in this together - Achuar, Nebraskan, Ecuadorian. It is up to all of us to find a way that works.

    Beautiful Achuar girl
    A young Achuar girl looks with curiosity from her house in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador.

    Fremont Tribune

Copyright © Dean Jacobs 2019. All Rights Reserved.