Huaorani | The Ghosts of the Yasuní

Deep in the impenetrable jungle of the Ecuadorian Amazon live Huaorani (Waorani) people. The Huaorani are Ecuador’s most recently contacted Indigenous group. They were first approached in the late 1950s by US missionaries and oil workers, ultimately leading to ongoing oil exploitation, territorial displacement, and cultural colonization. Today, about 2,000 Huaorani live in the Amazonian rainforest, including four “uncontacted” communities.

The Huarani traditionally lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers in small clan settlements. Nowadays, Huarani live in a more permanent setting, continuing their hunter-gatherer life as their ancestors once did – hunting monkeys and peccaries with heavy four-meter-long blowguns and curare-dipped arrows, fishing, and cultivating fields. 

Anaconda and Jaguar

The tribe elders take on the crucial responsibility of safeguarding the tribe and its ancestral environment against external threats, including oil exploitation and cultural colonization. With unwavering dedication, they tirelessly work towards keeping these dangers at bay, ensuring that the tribe and its rich traditions will flourish for many years.  

The tribe elders are the figures of authority, sources of wisdom and knowledge, and guardians against external threats, protecting the tribe and their ancestral environment from external threads. As time passes, the older warriors transition from the path of anaconda to that of a jaguar. And when the time comes, the Jaguar returns to the jungle, joining his ancestors and becoming the ghost of the Yasuni. 

The Yasuní Biosphere Reserve is located in the upper Amazon basin. The Yasuni Biosphere Reserve is one of the areas with the most extraordinary biodiversity per square meter on the planet. 99.73% of the biosphere reserve consists of original natural vegetation (1). For many years, Yasuní National Park has been undergoing radical change. Exploration of the region’s oil reserves has threatened many native species and habitats, as well as the lifestyle of the Indigenous Huaorani people (2). On August 20th, the Ecuadorians voted in a historic referendum to halt the development of all new oil wells in the Yasuní National Park in the Amazon, bringing hope to preserving the unique culture of Huaorani and their ancestral home- Yasuní.

Publications and Awards

TPOTY – Travel Photographer of the Year 2023 | Finalist – TBD 2024

Lens Magazine | Issue 107

Link to Publications and Exhibitions.

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Special gratitude is extended to Livio and Bill for their guidance and support. It has been an honor and privilege to work with the tribe, especially with the Chief- Penty, Kominta, Namo, Apparra, Ehua, Paty, Yehua, Maria (and her wooly monkey), Mariulno, Davoto and Minihua- the Jaguar. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your community.

Sources

1) https://en.unesco.org/biosphere/lac/yasuni

(2) https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/yasuni-national-park

(3) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/aug/21/ecuador-votes-to-halt-oil-drilling-in-amazonian-biodiversity-hotspot