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Trekking Through History



Laura M. Rival
T rek k in g T h ro u g h H isto ry


W illiam B alée an d C aro le L. C ru m ley, E d ito rs

T his series explores the complex links between people and landscapes. Indi­
viduals and societies impact and change their environments, and they are in
turn changed b y their surroundings. D ra w in g on scientific and hum anistic
scholarship, books in the series focus on environm ental understanding and on
temporal and spatial change. T h e series explores issues and develops concepts
that help to preserve ecological experiences and hopes to derive lessons for today
from other places and times.

T h e Historical E co lo gy Series

W illiam Balée, Editor,

Advances in H isto rical Ecology

D avid L. Lentz, Editor,

Im perfect B alan ce: Landscape Transform ations in the P re-C olum bian A m ericas

Roderick J. M cIn to sh , Joseph A- Tainter, and Susan Keech M cIntosh , Editors,

The Way the W in d Blow s: Clim ate, H istory, a n d H um an Action
Laura M . Rival

T rekkin g T h r o u g h H is to r y

f l a c s o - b ib l io t e c a

C O L U M B IA U N IV E R S IT Y P R E S S Mfci N ew Y o rk
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Copyright © 2002 Columbia University Press
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Library o f Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Rival, Laura M .
Trekking through history : the Huaorani o f Amazonian Ecuador / Laura M.
p. cm. — (The historical ecology series)
Induces bibliographical references and index. > .
IS B N 0—231—118 4 4 -9 (cloth) -— IS B N 0 -2 3 1-118 4 5 -7 (pbk.)
1. Huao Indians— Migrations. 2. Huao Indians-History. 3. Huao Indians—
Social life and customs. 4. Nomads— Ecuador— History. I. Title. II. Series.
F3722.1.H83 R58 2002
986.6’00498-dc2i 2001042394

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T o fe/i, m y little d a u g h te r
O n connaît m ieu x la pen sée des sociétés q u e le u r corps.
----- A N D R É L E R O I - G O U R H A N
C on ten ts

Illustrations a n d Tables x i
Preface x iii
Acknowledgm ents x x i
Note on O rthography x x iii

1 Trekking in A m azonia I
Cross-Cultural Generalizations A bout A m azonian Societies 3
Amazon Trekkers 15

2 The U pper A m azon from O m agua Expansion to Zaparo Collapse 20

H istoriography and Isolationist People 21
The Presence o f Tupian People in the U p p er Amazon 23
The N ap o -C u raray Geopolitical Landscape at the Tim e o f Correrías 30
The Fate o f Z ap aroan Peoples D urin g the R ubber Era 33
Recorded H uaorani History 37
Historical Isolation, Adaptation, and C o n tin u ity 39

3 The T im e and Space o f Huaorani N o m ad ic Isolationism 46

Knowing, Rem em bering, and Representing the Past 46
Primeval Predation and Survival 49
Anger and H om icid e 55
Warfare, H istory, and Kinship 59
From the V ictim ’s Point o f View 64

4 Harvesting the Forests Natural A bundance 68

An E con o m y o f Procurement 68
Chonta Palm G roves, Fructification, and Forest Bounty 84
The G iv in g Environm ent 88

5 C om ing B ack to the Longhouse 94

The Longhouse: To Belong and to R eside 95
The Sharing E con o m y 99
Affinal Pairing and Maternal M ultiplicity 112
The D ialectics o f Incorporation and Separation 119
A G ap in the C a n o p y 126
x Contents

6 ¿»Mi-'Festivals: C erem onial Increase and M arriage Alliance 129

Ahuene: T h e T ree-C o u p le 130

T h e Human B ird s 133
Birds and W ild B oars 135
Tying the K n ot 138
Ceremonial D rin k in g , “ W ild ” M arriages, and Social Distance
T h e A sym m etry Between"! losts and G uests 144
Alliance and R esidence: A Com parative Perspective 147

7 Schools in the R a in Forest 152 _

Schooling, Identity, and Cultural Politics 154
Legacy o f the S u m m er Institute o f Linguistics 156
We Want Schools to Becom e Civilized 16 1
Civilized B odies in the M aking 163
Schools as Public C enters o f Wealth 166
Trekking A w ay fro m School Villages 17 2
T h e N aturalization o f Impersonal D onors 175

8 Prey at the C e n te r 17 7

Notes iSp
References 2 1$
Index 239
Illu stration s a n d Tables

pre f . i Huaorani territory in Ecuador xv
pre f . 2. Huaorani settlements in the old Protectorate in 1990 xvii
pre f . 3 Settlements in Huaorani territory in 1996 xviii
2 .1 Location o f m ajor ethnic groups in the U p p er N ap o region after the
conquest and during the sixteenth cen tu ry 24
2.2 Post-Conquest location o f major ethnic grou p s in thé Upper N ap o
region 25
2.3 Location o f indigenous groups in the U p p e r N ap o region during the
rubber boom 26
2.4 Pre-Colum bian Tupi migrations in the U p p er N ap o region 28
3.1 Endogamous nexi in 1956 61

5.1 Location and com position o f the two fo u n d in g nanicaboiri, Q uehueire
Ono (Decem ber 1989) 96
5.2 Dravidian nom enclature 113
5.3 Huaorani nom enclature 113
5.4 Huaorani kin terms 114
5.5 Huaorani nom enclature with kin term s 114
5.6 Huaorani pronom inal system 117

1 Children o n a forest trek
2 Husband and w ife hunting with a b low pipe
3 Huaorani m an w ith chonta
4 Tree-walking through the forest
5 Food sharing in the longhouse
6 Huaponi quehuem oni (We live well)
7 Father and son
8 Mothering, singing, and weaving
9 Tonampari, the largest school village (1990)
10 School drills in Q uihuaro
11 Pipeline along the via Auca
12 O il fields in the heart o f Huaorani land
x ii Illustrations and Tables

13 Young girls w alkin g through a deserted oil cam p

14 D ayum a and M o ip a at a general meeting o f the H uaorani nation
15 Q uehueire O n o in Ju ly 1989
16 T h e author in the field (July >997 )

4 .1 Extractive activities carried in Quehueire O no
in N ovem ber—D ecem ber 1989 72
4.2. Com parison o f com m on names, scientific nam es, and Huaorani names
as m entioned in Table 4.1 74
5.1 Com parison o f m arriage alliances in five com m unities 120
P r e fa ce

his m onographic study on the Huaorani intends to situate them ethno-

T graphically within A m azonian anthropology. It focuses on the descrip­

tion and interpretation o f their trekking w ay o f life, approached from
the perspective o f concepts about the person, death, predation, incorporation, and
growth. Concerned with the fact that Amazonian anth ropology has been split be­
tween studies o f human adaptation to their natural environm ents and studies o f the
ways in w hich nature is used sym bolically and ritually to signify society or tran­
scend hum an finittrde or both, I have tried to grasp the H u ao ran i’s contemporary
ethnographic reality and historical agency by articulating h istory and cosmology,
ritual and ethnicity, and sym bolic and political econom y analysis.
T h is book is an attempt to present ethnographic data on a small-scale society
characterized by a high degree o f m obility and disengagem ent from horticulture
and to offer generalizations valid for other highly m obile societies o f the Northwest
A m azon. T h e theme o f natural abundance, a cultural category in terms o f which
the H uaorani organize their own experience o f the on goin g relationship they sus­
tain w ith the forest in the course o f provisioning their society, is central to under­
standing their mode o f trekking. M o b ility is not prim arily determ ined by econom ­
ic or ecological factors but represents the historical developm ent o f a distinct mode
o f life that the notions o f archaism and agricultural regression cannot explain
W h ile a num ber o f anthropologists influenced by postm odern thinking consid­
er the m onograph an entirely obsolete form o f scholarship linked to early twenti­
eth-century colonialism and w ays o f thinking, I can see no better way o f conveying
a nonindustrial culture in all its difference, integrity, and unique aesthetic, moral,
and political response to the hum an condition. This is especially true for the H uao­
rani w h o, from their tragic encounter with North A m erican missionaries in 1956 to
this day, have held a special place in sensationalistic journalism and popular im agi­
nation as “ Ecuador’s last savages.” I will never forget that the first talk I was asked
to give in Ecuador as part o f m y research cooperation com m itm ents with the M in ­
istry o f C ulture and Education did not concern their culture or social organization
(of w h ich they were assumed to be lacking, either because o f their extreme savagery
or because o f their advanced state o f acculturation by Q u ich u a neighbors) but the
various m edia discourses about th e m .1
N orm an W hitten wrote in 19 78 2 that “more than any other native people o f the
O riente [Ecuador’s Amazon region], the contemporary H uaorani exist not only as
a people facing new cataclysm ic changes in their territory, but also as a people
x iv Preface

know n prim arily by false and distorted myths w h ich present their culture through
the eyes o f those seeking to convert it and subvert it.” I hope this study w ill con ­
vince the reader that despite the “civilizing” efforts o f missionaries and sch o ol­
teachers, the Huaorani have largely retained their distinctive way o f apprehendin g
the world.
Approxim ately fourteen hundred, today, with 55 percent o f the population under
sixteen (compared to a population o f under six hundred when first sur­
veyed in the early 1960s), H uaorani people have lived as forest trekkers in the
heart o f the Ecuadorian A m azon for hundreds o f years (see maps pref.i and pref.2).
M ore foragers than gardeners, they traditionally cultivate garden crops rud im entally
and sporadically for the preparation o f cerem onial drinks, while securing th eir d aily
subsistence through hu ntin g and gathering. Fo rm erly called Aucas’, the H u ao ran i
have been confused w ith the Zaparo and Aushiri In dian s, and very little is know n
about their past. T h e core o f their ancestral territory was the Tiputini R iver, from
w here they expanded, in the aftermath o f the ru b ber boom , east, west, and sou th ­
w ard, until they occupied m ost o f the hinterlands between the N apo and the
C uraray rivers, from the A ndean foothills to the Peruvian border (see m ap p re f.i).3
Like much ofW estern A m azonian rain forest, H uaorani land has no m arked sea­
sons. Annual precipitation, averaging 3 ,5 0 0 m m ( 1 2 0 in.), is evenly distributed
throughout the year. A tm ospheric hum idity ( 8 0 to 9 0 percent) is constant, and
soils, renowned as the least fertile in Ecuador, p erm anently damp. D u rin g field­
w ork, I found the contrast between June—Ju ly — supposedly the wettest m onths o f
the year— and N ovem ber—D ecem ber— supposedly the driest— hardly noticeable,
and, given the relatively high rainfall averages, seasons almost nonexistent. W h at
was striking, however, was the sharp fall in tem perature after heavy rains, w hen it
felt as cold as during the coldest nights (around I 3 ° C ) . A nd so was the d ram atic
transformation, after a heavy downpour, o f the riverine landscape into a vast, deso­
late marshland. O n the western side o f H u aoran i land, numerous stream s and
creeks cut across rugged terrain featuring sizable hills to form the C uraray’s head­
water. O n the eastern side, rivers meander th rou gh m arshy lowlands. G a m e is
abundant and biodiversity exceptionally high. B o th the density o f palms and bam ­
boo groves and the frequency o f potsherds and stone axes suggest that large tracks
o f forest are anthropogenic, that is, transformed b y past human activities.
In 1969, a decade after h aving “pacified” the H u ao ran i, the Sum m er In stitute o f
Linguistics (SIL) was authorized to create a 6 6 ,570-hectare [169,088-acreJ protec­
tion zone (the ‘Protectorate’) around its m ission. B y the early 1980s, five-sixths o f
the population was liv in g in the Protectorate, w h ich represented one-tenth o f the
traditional territory. Sin ce the creation o f p rim ary schools, which has accelerated
the process o f sedentarization and riverine adaptation , the population has gathered
xvi Preface

into twenty com m unities, almost all located within the boundaries o f the form er
Protectorate (see m ap pref.2.). In April 1990 the H uaorani were granted the largest
indigenous territory in E cu ad o r (679,130 hectares, o r 1,098,000 acres). It includes
the form er Protectorate and adjoins Yasuni N ational Park (982,300 hectares, or
2,495,000 acres).
D espite predictions that the national society w ould quickly absorb this reduced,
egalitarian, and foragin g group, Huaorani people are, thirty-five years later, flour­
ishing. T h e population has expanded dem ographically and spatially, recuperating
lost territories. O f course, their reality and identity has become fragm ented and
com plex, but they can n o t be said to have sim ply becom e Ecuadorian citizens,
generic Indians, or civilized Christians.
Com pared to oth er A m azonian Indians, they have retained a substantial land
base; their native language was never suppressed, nor was Spanish ever forced upon
them . T h ey never experienced religious boarding schools or the alienation o f ha­
cienda life. Surrounded b y m igrant farmers whose unskilled labor is always on offer
for the short periods w h en the oil industry requires m anpower, they have largely re­
m ained outside the lab o r market. Moreover, their settlements are too rem ote from
urban centers, roads, and main rivers to market cash crops or forest products prof­
itably. Tourism, w h ich was lim ited for the same reasons, has expanded in recent
years under the guise o f ecotourism.
C augh t between the conflicting objectives o f petroleum development and forest
conservation, they are confronted with pernicious and contradictory econom ic a'nd
political interests. N o t unlike the SIL, the oil com panies operating in their territo­
ry are trying to exercise com plete control over them, providing funds and coordi­
nating all governm ental and nongovernmental actions concerning health, educa­
tion, and econom ic im provem ent. Much paternalism and rhetoric accom pany
these “m odernization” program s, which, far from prom oting self-developm ent, are
underm ining what constitutes the core o f H uaorani culture: their unique relation­
ship to the forest and their hunting-gathering w ay o f life.
In 1991, in the w ake o f receiving territorial rights from the governm ent after a
protracted international cam paign, young schooled men formed the O N H A E (O r­
ganization o f the H u aorani N ation o f Amazonian Ecuador). Five years later, the or­
ganization was op erating almost entirely under the auspices o f M axus, a com pany
exploiting petroleum in the region. M axus was payin g a salary to O N H A E ’s lead­
ers, rented an office equipped with telephone, fax, and electronic m ail, and em ­
ployed a nonindigenous secretary to run it. G iven that political decisions are nor­
m ally taken through consensus rather than by m ajority vote, agreements passed
between M axus and elected representatives have often been denounced and de­
clared null and vo id in the communities. T h e political influence o f O N H A E lead-
Preface xix

ers, viewed as too yo u n g and immature to d eserve respect, remains som ew hat lim ­
ited. Conscious o f the O N H A E ’s inadequacies, H uaorani people are searching for
an organizational form m ore in tune with th eir ow n political dynamics.
M y central argum ent in this book is that certain distinctive practices o f the
Huaorani can be understood only in terms o f social and symbolic structures inter­
nal to their own society In this I disagree w ith tw o recent schools o f thought co n ­
cerning Amazonian societies. One o f them interprets contem porary-social form a­
tions as the result o f disruptions caused b y E u ropean penetration o f the region,
disruptions that led to widespread cultural d evo lu tio n and the ethnogenesis o f en­
tirely new societies. T h e other interprets con tem p o rary social activities in term s o f
adaptations to the natural environment.
There always were two possible responses to incursions by powerful, expan sion ­
ist societies: accom m odation in order to ob tain trade goods and w eapons in ex­
change for jungle produce and slaves or m o b ility and flight. M ost o f the argum ents
made by ethnohistorians concerning ethnogenesis in the wake o f European im pact
concern those w ho chose the former response, in part because it is such grou p s that
were most closely involved with Europeans an d abou t w hom Europeans have left
historical records. T h e Huaorani are archetypes o f the latter response: T h e y have
chosen autonom y above all else and are kn ow n fo r choosing suicide over settlem ent
when forcibly assim ilated. I show that argum ents concerning groups that assim ilat­
ed to European presence do not apply to those that chose autonomy.
In the Am azon, autonom y has long m eant a readiness to abandon fixed settle­
ments and engage in long foraging treks through the forest. In the absence o f his­
torical sources, the foraging groups have tended to attract the interest o f the cultur­
al ecologists, w h o began by studying the co n tem p o rary adaptations o f grou p s to
their natural environm ents. In this approach, the environm ent is interpreted as im ­
posing a set o f rather severe constraints on h u m an behavior. It has been argued, for
example, that tropical rain forest areas are n atu rally scarce in proteins, o r som e
other nutrients, and that these scarcities explain patterns o f movement and con flict
over scarce resources leading to warfare.
M ore recently, historical ecology has show n that the environm ent is itself the re­
sult o f long-term hum an intervention and that m ovem ents through the forest take
advantage o f the m anipulation o f the forest b y previous generations. I go beyond
the historical ecologists to show that the H u ao ran i view the forest as the p rod u ct o f
past generations and as naturally abundant an d that they have been able to incor­
porate the presence o f oil camps into their basic worldview , since the oil com panies
have become sources o f spontaneous abundance m uch like the forest itself. T h e
Huaorani preference for relying on slow -grow ing perennial tree crops over annual
crops like m anioc is in part a preference for a k in d o f society in which egalitarian re­
xx Preface

lationships are valued over hierarchical ones. T h u s the structure o f the forest itself
reflects a long-term historical commitment on the part o f foragers and trekkers to
the maintenance o f social autonomy.
I thus argue against both the ethnohistorians and the cultural ecologists that
trekking cannot be reduced to the effects o f either environm ental constraints or the
history o f European penetration o f the region. H uaorani lack o f institutionalization,
ritualization, and m ythological elaboration m ust be confronted com paratively and
in all its complexity w ith ou t resorting to hypotheses about sim plification by dep op ­
ulation or regression. I thus locate m yself firm ly in the tradition o f the A n n ée Soci­
ologique o f Durkheim and Mauss by arguing that m ovem ent through space has a
social and ritual value in itself quite apart from whatever econom ico-environm en-
tal or politico-historical benefits may be derived from it. Relations between people
and between people and their environment should not be studied as tw o separate
dom ains o f interaction. T h e Huaorani’s relation to their environm ent is in m any
w ays a social relation w ith themselves across generations; it is therefore em inently
Chapter I presents the m ain ideas o f historical ecology as they relate to current
rethinking about indigenous adaptation to the Am azon rain forest, and proposes to
m od ify the historical ecology paradigm in a w a y that gives it greater explanatory
force, especially regarding the nature o f N orthw est Am azon trekking and foraging
societies. Chapter 2 reviews critically existing w ork on the im pact o f colonial
processes on the native populations o f lowland South Am erica, and offers a sum m ary
o f existing ethnohistorical sources relating to the U pper N apo region. C h ap ter 3
focuses on the H uaorani s own vision o f warfare and history, and on trekking as pat­
terned by cultural and historical modes o f violence. Chapter 4, w hich exam ines
trekking as a “com ing back” com plem enting the m ovem ent ofw ithdraw al caused by
predation, shows that residential mobility is related to management practices that
transform the forest into a giving environment. T h e principles regulating social life
in the longhouse, the basic social unit, which is characterized by great intim acy, shar­
ing, and equality am o n g co-residents, are reviewed in chapter 5. M arriage alliances,
as argued in chapter 6, are fundamental to H uaorani politics. The egalitarian nature
o f Huaorani society derives in part from the preferential marriage pattern .between
ambilateral cross-cousins and in part from the renewal o f alliances across endoga-
m ous boundaries, celebrated in drinking cerem onies that require horticultural
intensification. C h ap ter 7 explores the effects o f m odern forces such as petroleum
development, the expansion o f agriculture, tourism , and the creation o f airstrips and
schools on settlement patterns and sense o f identity. Chapter 8 concludes this study
by providing further com parative and theoretical reflections on the rejection o f pre­
dation as an aspect o f regeneration and as the d rivin g force in the cosm os.
A ck n ow led gm en ts

his book is based on m y doctoral research at the London School o f

T Economics (1988—1992), funded by an E co n o m ic and Social Science

Research C o u n c il (E SR C ) Student C o m p etitio n Award, a Suntory-
Toyota Studentship, and a grant from the W enner-G ren Foundation for A n thro­
pological Research. A Linnean Society Research A w ard further supported m y study
o f the cultural use o f palm s am o n g the Huaorani.
I received much institutional support in E cuador from the Catholic University
o f Q uito and from FL A .C SO (Facultad Latino-A m ericana de Ciencias Sociales). I
particularly wish to thank Segundo M oreno, Jorge L eón and Andres Guerrero for
their intellectual stim ulation and generous hospitality. T h e Institute o f Social and
Cultural Anthropology and Linacre College at the U niversity o f Oxford gave me
precious support during a sabbatical in 1997, when I prepared an earlier draft o f this
book. I warm ly thank these institutions for their su pp ort.
I am particularly indebted to m y former teacher, B lan ca M uratorio, and m y for­
m er supervisor, M aurice B lo ch , for their valued gu idan ce and much needed en­
couragement. I am also exceedingly grateful to Peter R iviere, T im Ingold, M arilyn
Strathern, Roy Ellen, E d uard o Viveiros de Castro, and A nne-Christine Taylor for
their insights into and constructive criticisms o f m y w o rk.
To thank the H uaorani sounds somewhat lame, as this book cduld not have been
written without their tim e, energy, and generous hospitality. Social life am ong the
H uaorani has a human q u ality that is not easily translatable into words but from
w hich there is so much to learn. I shall never forget the m an y moments o f huaponi
quehuem oni ‘good and h ap p y living’ I shared over the years with A m o, A hua,
O nepa, Bebantoque, D abo , H uepe, and Huiro, as w ell as with their brothers, sis­
ters, children, mothers, and fathers. In this study, I have tried to protect the identi­
ty o f m y Huaorani friends, teachers, and inform ants in the field by using pseudo­
nym s or titles. Should they som e day read this book, I w ish to assure them o f m y
m ost sincere gratitude and adm iration. I hope that w h at follows does not fall too
short o f what they expected.
Finally, I wish to thank m y “ big daughter,” E m ilia, w h o shared my first m onths
o f fieldwork in D ayuno, m y “ little daughter,” Lea, w h ose com ing into the w orld de­
layed the completion o f this project by two years bu t added much joy to m y life,
and N ingui, grandson o f D a b o and great-grandson o fT a m ay e , whose vivid m em o­
ry helped me carry this p roject through.
N ote o n O rth ogra ph y

Linguists from the Summer Institute o f Linguistics (SIL) a n d linguists w orking

within the M inistry o f Education fo r the D IN E IIB (Dirección N acion al de E d ­
ucación Indígena Intercultural y B ilin gü e; in English, N ation al D irection fo r
Indigenous B ilingu al and Intercultural Education) have defin ed the H uaorani a l­
phabet as comprising ten vowels (five o f w hich are nasalized) a n d eleven consonants.
A num ber o f spelling systems have been designed over the years to represent the
H uaorani language, some using a N orth Am erican English alphabet (for example,
Waorani) a n d others using a Spanish one (for example, H uaorani). Whereas earlier
alphabets tended to use a phonem ic system o f translation, more recent ones have
adopted a phonetic system fo r the sake o f sim plicity an d clarity, given that vowel
nasalization is phonemic in H uaorani, but consonant nasalization is not.
As I have mainly worked w ith H uaorani informants train ed by the Catholic
U niversity o f Quito and with schoolchildren who have learned to read a n d w rite in
Spanish, I have used the Spanish alphabet. I have spelled H uaorani words as my in ­
form ants wrote them down. When more than one spelling was used fo r a word, I se­
lected the most common one.


a as in ‘garage’ b as in ‘book’
e as in ‘ red’ qu as in ‘cake’
è as in the French word ‘laic’ d as in ‘dot’
i as in ‘leash’ gu as in ‘go’
o as in ‘alone’ m as in ‘m oon’
n as in m oo«’
N A S A L IZ E D V O W E L S ñ as in the Spanish w ord ‘niña’
as in the French word ‘enfant’ p as in ‘glace’
ë as in ‘sample’ t as in ‘tips’
as in ‘m en’ hu as in ‘warm ’
as in the French word câlin’ y as in ‘youth’
ô as in ‘p o n d ’
T rek k in g T h ro u g h H isto r y

T rekking in A m a zo n ia

CC/■ ■ i oday I go w a lk in g in the forest” (om ere gobopd), u sually im ­

plying “ I can n o t stay in the lo n g h o u se co n versin g w ith y o u ,”
M. is an ap ologetic explanation I h ea rd repetitively du rin g field ­
w ork, and it is not before I felt confident e n o u g h to acco m p an y m y H u a o ­
rani friends on day exped ition s or longer treks th at I tru ly started to u n d e r­
stand their society. M e n , w o m en , and ch ild ren sp en d a great part o f th eir
lives slow ly exploring the forest. T h e y hunt a n d gather, o f course, but they
also sim ply walk, o b servin g w ith evident p leasu re and interest an im al
m ovem ents, the progress o f fruit m aturation, o r vegetatio n grow th. W h e n
w alkin g in this fashion, that is, when being in a n d w ith the forest, the b o d y
absorbing its smells, p eop le never co m p lain a b o u t gettin g tired o r lost,
w hich they do w hen transporting food load s fro m tradin g posts b ack to
their homes or when m arch in g o ff at the fastest p ace possible to visit distan t
I came to understand that the H uaorani te rrito ry is not definable fro m
w ithou t as a w ell-dem arcated space b oun d ed b y clear lim its on all sides. It
is, rather, a fluid and ever evolving netw ork o f p ath s used by people w h en
‘w alking in the forest.’ W alkers keep these p a th s o p en through m an y sm all
and careful gestures, such as the picking up o f a th o rn y le a f fallen d u rin g the
night, the breaking o f b en d in g branches, o r the c u ttin g o f invasive w eed s.
A s soon as they have fallen into disuse, paths revert to the forest, u n d istin -
guishable from the vegetation cover. W e ll-tro d d e n paths, located at strate­
gic intersections, have becom e the repositories o f traum atic m em ories, in
the same w ay that ph ysical landm arks, su ch as creeks, particularly tall and
old trees, lagoons, or h ill form ations recall b lo o d y attacks or spearing raids.
O ther paths form a n etw o rk criss-crossing u n k n o w n o r forgotten lan d ; th ey
lead to exciting discoveries, especially food p la n ts said to have been p lan ted
by past people. T rek kin g in the forest is th erefore like w alk in g th rough a liv ­
ing history book in w h ich natural history a n d h u m a n history m erge seam ­
lessly. Walkers, w hile k ee p in g the paths clear, m o v e fro m direct o b servation s
o f animals or people to detecting their p resen ce; th ey also note m aterial
signs evoking violent deaths o f times long g o n e .
2 Trekking in Amazonia

It is w a lk in g th rough the forest w ith inform ants that I cam e to realize that
there w as n o clear bound ary betw een w ild plant foods an d cu ltivated crops
or b etw een ga th e rin g and cu ltivatin g. W h at H uaorani p e o p le call monito
om 'e ‘o u r la n d ’ is a large stretch o f forest com prising p alm groves, patches o f
fruit trees, u n tid y and m in im alistic m an ioc plots, ab a n d o n e d gardens that
still p ro d u c e ed ib le plantain, an d crop s once cultivated an d n o w grow ing
w ith no o r v e ry little hum an in terven tio n , as well as a great n u m b er o f use­
ful p lants, w ild and dom esticated, fou n d in hunting ca m p s o r alon g river
banks. In term s o f choices and priorities, horticulture is o ften less im p or­
tant th an fo ra g in g . People like m o vin g through the forest an d subsisting on
w ild fo o d . T h e y w o u ld not let cu ltivatio n prevent them fro m trekking. T h is
is w hy, p e rh a p s, m y inform ants an d th eir indigenous n eigh b o rs agreed that
the H u a o ra n i are poor gardeners because “ they can n o t stay pu t for very
lo n g.” M o reo ve r, m anioc gardens are planted not so m u ch to obtain staple
food b u t as p a rt o f w ider alliance strategies involving fea stin g w ith unrelat­
ed or d ista n t grou ps.
M a y b u ry -L e w is ’s (1967:48) rem ark that for the X a v a n te “ the harvests
were th o u g h t o f less as p rovid in g the essentials for the life o f the co m m u n i­
ty than as b on u ses to be used fo r celebration” applies e q u a lly w ell to the
H u a o ra n i. In the course o f field w o rk , I saw fam ily gro u p s a b an d o n their v il­
lage d w e llin g s an d gardens w ith o u t hesitation before h arv e stin g their crops
o f m a n io c an d plantain w hen the pleasure o f aggregatin g an d interacting
su d d en ly gave w a y to fierce d ivisio n s and antagonism . I heard about the
Tagaeri, a sp lin te r group that separated itself from the rest o f the H uaorani
p o p u la tio n in the 1960s. T h e y h ave not on ly kept to th em selves fiercely, re­
fusin g all co n ta ct and killing those w h o have attem pted to con tact them,
but th ey h ave also given up gard en in g. A n d I spent tim e w ith fam ilies living
in “m o d e rn ” com m u nities alo n g airstrips o r around state sch o o ls w h o co m ­
plained b itte rly about their g ro w in g dependence on a gricu ltu re and w ho
were d o in g ev eryth in g in their p o w er to resist sed en tarization , often choos­
ing to u se fo o d crops prim arily fo r ritual and political pu rpo ses.
T h e H u a o ra n i lifestyle, not u n lik e that observed a m o n g o th er h igh ly m o ­
bile n ative A m azo n ian s (for exam p le, the C uiva, M a k u , S irio n o , o r A ch£),
entails a h ig h degree o f n om ad ism associated w ith a m o d e o f subsistence
based o n fo ra g in g . T h e y cultivate but spend m ore tim e, a n d are far m ore in ­
terested in , h u n tin g and gatherin g. T h e prim ary o b jective o f this b o ok is to
d o c u m e n t a n d analyze these specificities and to sh o w th at th ey cannot be
e xp lain ed a w a y w ith reference to the environm ent an d its con dition alities,
nor to h isto ry as a source o f d isru p tio n and d isin tegratio n . A proper analy­
Trekking in Amazonia 3

sis o f nom ad foragers entails taking in to consideration the an thropom or­

phic nature o f th eir environm ent, as w ell as their cultural orientation,
which strongly em phasizes life in the present.

Cross-Cultural Generalizations About

Amazonian Societies
There is a staggerin g tendency in A m az o n ia n an thropology to stress the
cultural h o m o g en e ity o f lowland S o u th A m erican societies. It is as i f the
more we eth n ograp h ically kn ow a b o u t the societies o f the Am azon-
O rinoce drain age, the more we are in clin e d to agree that indigenous A m a­
zonia is so cio eco n o m ically uniform . C ross-cu ltu ral analyses present A m a­
zonia as a d istin ctive ly h unter-horticulturalist cultural area, w ith societies
sharing the sam e broad material cu ltu re, subsisting through hunting, fish­
ing, and cu ltiva tin g gardens, and sh a rin g the sam e basic social organization
o f small, p o litica lly independent, a n d egalitarian local groups form ed
through cogn ate ties (O vering 1983; R iv ière 1984; D escola 1994; D escola
and Taylor 19 9 3 ; V iveiros de C astro 19 9 6 ). A uthors stressing A m azonia’s
socio-technological hom ogeneity ty p ic a lly assume that variation in tech­
nology, system s o f production, or social organization is not significant. A
number o f specialists also argue that A m azon ian societies share a sim ilar
mode o f represen ting their collective id en tity and ensuring their sym bolic
reproduction th rou gh warfare and ritu al predation (M enget 1985; Viveiros
de Castro 19 9 2).
Authors w h o propose to show the lim itin g character o f the en viron m en t1
and those w h o o p p o se environm ental determ inism and try to prove the in­
dependent an d irreducible nature o f social structures and sym bols2 equally
share the vie w that the tropical forest cultures o f A m azonia correspond to
societies in w h ic h politically in d ep en d en t residential groups, subsisting
through sh iftin g cultivation and fo rag in g, and living in sm all and sem iper­
manent settlem ents, constitute the basic social units. Furtherm ore, both
schools o f th ou g h t equally ignore the sociological significance o f m obility
Whereas the proponents o f these tw o conceptual fram ew orks im plicitly
agree, albeit fo r d ifferent reasons, that A m azon ian societies are today social­
ly and cu ltu rally hom ogeneous, archaeologists and anthropologists w ork­
ing in the cu ltu ral ecology tradition stress the social and cultural disconti­
nuity betw een p re-C olu m b ian and co n tem p o rary Am azonian societies, and
discuss trekking as an indicator o f h istorical change. T h e sem inom adic, for­
4 Trekking in Amazonia

aging-based lifestyle o f interfluvial gro u p s, they argue, does n ot reflect the

pattern that p red om in ated in p re -C o lu m b ia n A m azonia, w h ere elaborate
autochtonous ch iefd om s developed an d flourished (R o o sevelt 1991;
C arneiro 1995). In the rest o f this sectio n , I discuss three m ain currents o f
thought on h u n tin g , gathering, an d tre k k in g in A m azonia.

M ob ility a s a S ign o fR egressio n

A uthors w o rk in g in the cultural ec o lo g y tradition, w h ich co m b in es envi­
ronm ental an d h istorical factors to acco u n t for the higher m o b ility and less­
er reliance o n cultivated crops o f so m e A m azonian societies, interpret
trekking and fo ra g in g as part o f a gen eral process o f agricultural regression.
In this particu lar form o f cultural ev o lu tio n ism , con tem porary foragers and
trekkers are seen as resulting from the w reckage o f form er agricultu ral soci­
eties. Far fro m b ein g su rvivin g an cien t foragers, they are the last representa­
tives o f late p reh isto ric com plex societies destroyed d u rin g the European
conquest (R o o seve lt 19 9 1:10 3—5, 19 9 3 :2 5 6 , 19 9 4 ,19 9 8 ).
T h e idea o f agricultural regression g re w ou t o f the early observation that
whereas the first E uropeans w ho h ave had contact w ith A m az o n ia n com ­
m unities describ ed them as intensive agriculturalists p ro d u c in g large quan­
tities o f m an io c flo u r and living in d en sely populated settlem en ts, later ac­
counts (as w e ll as m an y co n te m p o ra ry ones) m ention the existence o f
com m u n ities far less engaged in the pu rsu it o f agricultural activities. T h e
thesis was fu rth e r developed by S tew ard (1948), w ho used the contrast be­
tween m od erate and intensive cu ltiva tio n to differentiate “ m argin al” from
“tropital” fo rest grou ps, thus co rrelatin g stages o f cultural evolu tio n with
degrees o f a gricu ltu ral com m itm en t (R iva l 1999b). T h is thesis has subse­
quently gathered considerable m o m e n tu m w ith the arch aeological discov­
ery o f elaborate autochtonous ch ie fd o m s. T h e w ork o f R o o sev e lt (1991), in
particular, is used as evidence to pro ve that prehistorical an d historical
A m azonian societies did achieve a certain degree o f co m p le x ity and that his­
torical events, rather than the p o ve rty o f tropical forest resources, prevent­
ed their sociocu ltu ral developm en t.3
Sponsel (1989) deplores that the-strange breed o f factual arch aeology and
evolu tion ism , w h ich has now b ec o m e the dom inant p a rad ig m to analyze
p re -C o lu m b ia n A m azonia, has d o n e aw ay w ith the en viro n m en tal dim en­
sion that w as at the core o f the S tew ard ian m odel. I f the h istorical key to the
concept o f agricu ltu ral regression as a form o f cultural d e v o lu tio n is the E u ­
ropean co n q u e st, the ecological k e y is the contrast betw een the rich soils o f
Trekking in Am azonia $

the floodplains (varzea) and the poor soils o f the interfluvial h ab itat (terra
firm e). Lathrap (1968b) suggested that a n a tu ral increase in the h u m an p o p ­
ulation on the floodplain s eventually led to resource co m p etitio n resultin g
in warfare. W eaker groups were expelled fro m the fluvial zon e an d took
refuge in the deep interior o f the forest. In th is p oorer habitat, th ey w ere re­
duced to scattered, sm all, and m obile b a n d s o f hunter-gatherers. C o n se ­
quently their h orticulture was rudim en tary, inefficien t, and u n p ro d u ctive.
These societies reverted to a much lo w e r level o f cultural com plexity. In
other words, it is through com petitive ex c lu sio n from fluvial zones that so­
cieties underwent a process o f cultural d e v o lu tio n .
Lévi-Strauss s (1948) interpretation o f N a m b ik w a ra seasonal treks, as w ell
as his understanding o f Bororo society (L é vi-S trau ss 1955, 1963b) an d , m ore
generally, o f “pseudo-archaic” societies (Lévi-Strau ss 1963a), reflects the
same view that groups disseminated b y w a rfa re and disease w ere fo rced into
unproductive habitats, abandoned a g ricu ltu re , and regressed fro m tribal to
band societies. C o n sequ en tly underneath the egalitarian social fo rm s fo u n d
am ong m any A m azon ian societies, in p a rtic u la r those o f central B razil, it is
possible to uncover m ore com plex and h ierarch ical constructs rep resen tin g
survivals from the past.
It is worth n otin g that cultural evo lu tio n ists challenge en viro n m en tal de­
terminism on ly to a point. I f Roosevelt, fo r instance, is able to refu te M e g ­
gers’s (1971, 1996) hypothesis that c h ie fd o m s from an A n d ean o rig in d e­
volved in A m azon ia because the ecological con d ition s o f the lo w er part o f
the Amazon R iv er w ere not feasible to su sta in their level o f so cio e co n o m ic
integration, and to claim that the ec o lo g y o f varzea flo o d plain s w as rich
enough to su pport the endogenous d e v e lo p m e n t o f ch iefdom s su ch as the
one that gave rise to the M arajoa culture (R o o seve lt 19 9 1), u ltim ately she ac­
cepts the thesis that Am azonian societies are determ ined by en viro n m en tal
conditions and that the lack o f com plex a n d hierarchical so cio p o litical sys­
tems is attributable to a lack o f resource p oten tials. A s she h e rse lf adm its,
whereas the poor-resource tropical rain fo rest m odel is in a p p ro p ria te for
much o f the tropical lowlands in both S o u th A m erica and M eso am erica,
cultural ecology can n o t be proven w ro n g u n til it can be sh o w n that such
complex developm ents occurred in re so u rce-p o o r regions. R o o sevelt even
concludes that “ these alternatives, h ow ever, all consider develo pm en tal and
cultural processes in the environm ental co n te xt. T h e problem fo r the fu ­
ture, then, is to im p rove, not to elim in ate, the environ m en tal determ in ist
paradigm” (R oosevelt 1991:487—38).
An additional problem with cultural ev o lu tio n ism , and w ith its assu m p ­
6 Trekking in Amazonia

tion th at the carrying cap acity o f the environm ent restricts cultural ev o lu ­
tion b y lim itin g the size, distribu tion , and perm anence o f the hum an p o p ­
u lation in the different environm ental zones o f A m az o n ia , is its norm ative
and eth n ocen tric character (Sponsel 1989:38-39). I f the shift from sed en ­
tariness, intensive agricultu re, and relatively high p o p u latio n density to n o ­
m a d ic foragin g can be seen from a cultural and h istorical view point as b ein g
eq u ivalen t to devolu tion and social breakdow n, fro m an ecological v ie w ­
p o in t it m eans survival and adaptation or, in S p o n sel’s (1989:39) w ords, “ the
restoration o f eq u ilib riu m .”

T h e M a x im iz a tion P ersp ectiv e on M ob ility

A m az o n ia n anthropologists w h o stress function al adaptation give p rio ri­
ty to eth nograph ic in fo rm atio n over cultural e v o lu tio n a ry theories an d, in
the process, tend to ign ore historical factors. It is the unfounded character
o f m u ch historical reconstruction underlying m o d els o f cultural evolu tio n ,
p a rticu la rly the correlation o f environm ental co n d itio n s and levels o f c u l­
tural d evelopm en t proposed b y Steward and his collaborators, that has led
researchers w o rk in g in this tradition generally to ign ore historical factors
(tw o n otable exceptions are Ross 1980 and F erguson 19 9 5,19 9 8 ). I f th ey ac­
cept th at A m azon foragers and trekkers were exclu d ed from fluvial zones b y
p o litica lly m ore p ow erfu l and aggressive riparian societies, and that co n se­
q u en tly these popu lation s shifted their adaptive strategy, what to them re­
m ain s to be explained is the types o f adaptive strategies and social d evelo p ­
m en t that are possible in resource-poor tropical rain forest regions. T h is is
w h y th ey continue to argue that low population density, incipient w arfare,
tran sien t slash-and-burn horticulture, and fo o d taboos are all m an ifesta­
tion s o f hum an ad aptation to environm ental lim itin g factors, p articu larly
to the depletion o f critical natural resources.
T h e en vironm ental explanation, reform ulated du rin g the 19 6 0 s an d
19 7 0 s and kn ow n as the “ lim itation hypothesis” o r the “optim al fo rag in g
th eo ry,” is based on a range o f cost/benefit m odels inspired from b io lo gical
e c o lo g y and the stu d y o f anim al populations. T h e se m odels are used to d e­
v e lo p a conceptual fram ew ork w ithin which researchers can carry o u t real
cu ltu ral ecology research (rather than hypothetical reconstructions w ith in a
cu ltu ral evolu tion ary perspective) “as a m eans to the end o f d o cu m en tin g
an d explainin g h u m an adaptation” (Sponsel 19 8 9 :37). D eparting fro m
M eg gers’s narrow focu s on soil fertility to look fo r o th er lim iting factors in
the environ m ent, auth ors such as Ham es and V ic k ers (1983), H arris (1984),
Trekking in Amazonia 7

and R o ss (1978) have exam in ed the social and ecological factors that lead
groups to favor adaptation to environm ental u n p red ictab ility through flex­
ibility an d exploitation o f h eterogeneous resources, an d have differentiated
the gro u ps w h o stress specialization in the obtainm en t o f high yields from
stable resources. O ther authors h ave looked more p a rticu larly at the relative
costs an d benefits o f co llectin g an d cultivating.4 E ven M eggers (1995:19),
w ho n o w stresses that the stren gth o f Am azonia’s environ m en tal constraints
is reflected in the large n u m b er o f traits these h orticu ltu ralist societies share
w ith hunting-gathering societies, by which she im plies that hunter-gather-
ers subsist in environm ents th at do not allo w fo r cu ltivatio n , a more evolved
and co m p lex system o f ad aptation to, and exploitation o f, the environment,
seems to have adopted an o p tim a l foraging perspective.
C u ltu ral ecologists w ho h ave show n an interest in the relative m obility o f
A m azon ian foragers (H ill an d H u rtad o 1996, 1999), trekkers (Gross 1979),
and hunter-horticulturalists (V ickers 1989) correlate a region’s natural re­
source base w ith the cultures an d social structures o f its peoples. T h ey frame
their research using the basic qu estions o f cultural ecology, notably: (1) H ow
do tropical forest horticulturalists meet nutritional needs such as protein?;
and (2) W h at is the carrying cap acity o f various A m azo n ian sub-ecosystems
and particu lar environm ents? G ro ss (1975) interprets the form o f Am azon­
ian in d igenou s settlements, w h ic h are typically sm all, w id ely scattered, and
often deserted for m onths b y residents who have gone o f f on long treks
and fo rag in g expeditions, as eviden ce o f cultural adaptation to game scar­
city. B u t M ilton (1984), w h o notes the relatively low accessibility o f most
w ild p lan t resources in the in terio r forest, identifies carbohydrates as a lim ­
iting factor for the M aku In d ian s o f Northwestern A m azonia. H ill, in the
article he w rote with H aw kes an d O ’C onnell (H aw kes, H ill, and O ’C o n ­
nell 19 82), and in his su bsequen t w ork on the A ch e (H ill and Hurtado
¡9 9 6 ), advances the hypothesis that the rational econ om ic behavior o f A m a­
zon foragers is expressed n o t in their tendency to m axim ize proteins but in
their inclination to m in im ize tim e. Instead o f argu in g, as Gross (1975)
w o u ld have, that faunal resources are a lim iting factor for the hunter popu­
lation in its local en vironm ent an d that game availability, which influences
p opu lation dynamics and cu ltu re, is an adaptive challenge to foraging soci­
eties, H ill formulates his ded u ctive thinking on protein procurement in
cost-benefit terms and explores the reasons why, accordin g to this model,
A m azo n foragers value m eat o ver plant food.
B y contrast, Gross (1979) analyzes trekking in central Brazil from an eco­
logical perspective in form ed b y a cost-benefit approach. H e contrasts hunt­
8 Trekking in Amazonia

in g-gath crin g, a risk -m in im izin g subsistence strategy, w ith agricultural

tech n iques, w hich are p ro d u ctio n -m axim izin g, a n d explain s the lack o f fit
betw een the nom adic and sim p le subsistence e c o n o m y o f G e speakers, w h o
spend m u ch o f the year disp ersed into small n o m a d ic foragin g units, su b ­
sistin g on w ild plants and a n im a ls, and their co m p le x social structure, as a
p articu lar form o f adaptation to, and op p o rtu n istic (i.e., m axim izing) use
of, th eir transitional en viro n m en t. G e speakers trek seasonally into the sa­
v an n ah to take advantage o f its unique huntin g an d gathering po ten tial,
w h ile cu ltivatin g their crop s in forest'galleries alo n g rivers. D u rin g m uch o f
the year, they split up in to sm a ll, high ly m obile fo ra g in g groups to exp lo it
fo o d resources far from the v illag e and its cultivated fields; w hen the harvest
season approaches, they co n g reg ate back in the v illag e. T h e alternance b e­
tw een seasonal trekking, w ith its predom inantly fo ra g in g subsistence a ctiv­
ities, an d village life, w ith its p redom inan tly h orticu ltu ral w ay o f life, co rre­
sp o n d s to tw o distinct so cial form s. In other w o rd s, seasonal trek kin g
represents a form o f en viro n m en tal adaptation, w h ic h allows for the d evel­
o p m e n t o f elaborate so cial structures co rresp o n d in g to cerem onial life
a m o n g central Brazil A m e rin d ia n s. G ross con clu d es that his m odel o f sea­
son al cycle and cultural a d a p tation , o r trekking, can take either the fo rm o f
ban d -size units that m ove a m o n g various habitats y ear-ro u n d or village-size
units th at disperse into b an d -size units seasonally.5
V ic k e rs (1989) uses co st-b en efit studies o f an im al fo rag in g behavior to a c ­
co u n t for the specific d y n a m ic s o f the Sion a-S eco ya subsistence e co n o m y
and its spatial organization. W hereas the S io n a-S ec o y a subsistence e c o n o ­
m y is p rin cipally based o n h orticulture, it also, an d to a large extent, d e ­
pen ds on h un tin g-gath erin g activities. V ickers’s b asic argum ent is that the
sh iftin g horticulture o f the Sion a-Secoya, w h ich p rovid es the bulk o f th eir
fo o d in take, “ requires q u ite lo w investm ents o f la b o u r and does not im p ose
true sedentism or any rig id fo rm o f spatial organ isatio n ” (49). C o n se q u en t­
ly th eir hun ting activities are qu ite sim ilar to th ose fo u n d in h un tin g-gath ­
e rin g societies. In term s o f settlem ent dyn am ics, th eir degree o f m o b ility
an d th eir residential fle x ib ility is interm ediate b etw een agricultural an d
h un tin g-gath erin g societies (V ickers 1989:58). M o b ility strategies related to
fo ra g in g behavior are in flu e n ced b y the fact th at the acquisition o f p lan t
fo o d s (m ore than gam e) requires high residential m o b ility and th orough
coverage o f a particular area, since carrying p lan t fo o d over long distances is
n ot p ractical.6 V ickers co n clu d es that what differen tiates these h un ter-hor-
ticultu ralists (or cu ltivator-h u n ters, as he calls th em ) from hunter-gatherers
su ch as the IKung is n o t so m u ch the w ay th ey rely o n hunting w ild gam e
Trekking in Amazonia 9

but rather the way in which gathered plan t foods have been replaced by gar­
den crops. T h is is possible because m a n io c cu ltivation is so constraint-free
in terms o f spacial and tem poral requirem ents that A m a z o n ia n horticultur-
alists can m ain tain their h u n tin g activities in the sam e w a y as i f they were
pure hunter-gatherers. M o b ility m a y be thought o f as b ein g positive for for­
aging but negative for farm ing. H ow ever, societies d ep en d en t on a m ixed
- subsistence econom y such as the Sio n a-S eco ya have so lv ed the tension be­
tween fo ragin g and farm ing b y co m b in in g the two. H a v in g adapted to re­
source-poor areas that do not p erm it intensive land use, V ic k ers concludes,
the Sio n a-Secoya have developed an appropriate system co m b in in g hun t­
ing and~horticulture.
O n this basis, Vickers, like W ilb e rt (1961) before h im , proposes that
hunter-horticulturalists represent a fo rm o f adaptation co rrespo n d in g to
an interm ediary stage o f d evelop m en t betw een fo rag in g an d farm in g. If, as
we saw earlier, cultural evolutionists tend to fall back on en viro n m en tal con­
siderations, cultural ecologists en d u p basing their argu m en ts on develop-
mentalist considerations. T h is sh o rtco m in g in V ick ers’s acco u n t o f Siona-
Secoya farm ing-foraging becom es even m ore striking w h en his w o rk is read
alongside B ellier’s (1991) p ain stak in g reconstruction o f eastern Tukanoan
ethnohistory, for it highlights b o th V ick ers’s silence on the g ro u p ’s lon g his­
tory o f con tact and his ultim ate preference for e v o lu tio n a ry explanations.

G a rd en in g B efore a n d A fter th e In tro d u ctio n o f M e ta l Tools

D en evan (1992) has recently argu ed that w e shou ld n ot be fooled into be­
lieving that swidden h orticulture, as practiced b y co n te m p o ra ry native
A m azonians, is traditional. In his o w n w ords, “ lo n g -fallo w sh iftin g cultiva­
tion in the upland forests was rare” (D en evan 1998:3), an d “ In d ian shifting
cultivation as we know it tod ay is the prod uct o f the steel axe, and also the
machete” (9). His view on the m atter is that the p ostco n q u est adoption o f
metal tools7 explains in great p art the sim p licity o f m a n io c garden in g today,
as w ell as the ease and flexib ility w ith w h ich gard en in g and hun tin g are
com bined today. H e argues th at given the in efficien cy o f stone axes, two
forms o f cultivation must have characterized p re -C o lu m b ia n A m azon ia: in ­
tensive, m onocultural sw iddens, on the one hand, an d h ouse gardens, on
the other (D enevan 1992, 19 9 6 ). Intensive sw id d en in g (he uses the term
sem i-perm anent short-fallow systems) was practiced in fertile b u t high-risk
floodplains and on adjacent lo w -risk bluffs where soil fertility was m ain ­
tained and enriched through a w id e range o f techniques and practices.
io Trekking in Am azonia

D enevan ad d s th at, contrary to w h at earlier cultural ecologists thought,

intensive a gricu ltu re m u st have been practiced in interfluvial areas su bject­
ed to intensive h u m an m anagem ent. T h e s e areas, whose rich b la ck soil
m ade co n tin u o u s cultivation possible, w ere transform ed into zones o f an­
th ropogenic b la c k earth (terrapreta do in d io ), w hose very existence depen d­
ed on con tin u ed h orticu ltu ral activities. T h e soil was further en rich ed with
household refuse (D en evan 1998:9). T h e se lands were cu ltivated by, and
fed, large and d e n sely populated sed en tary settlem ents not u n lik e the one
identified b y R o o se v e lt (1991) on M a ra jo Island. In addition , carefully
w eeded p e rm a n en t plots o f mixed an nu als and perennials w ere cultivated
next to houses. D e n e v a n (1998:11) m en tio n s tw o other form s o f cu ltivatio n
in prehistoric A m a z o n ia : “patch cu ltiva tio n ,” o r the planting o f sm all na­
tural clearings su ch as tree falls, and “ fo o d forests,” or forests m anaged
through in te n tio n a l planting and u n in ten tion al m anagem ent as agro­
forestry reserves.
W hereas D e n e v a n envisages one type o f population m a x im iz in g their
adaptive strategies b y using these four d ifferen t models o f terra firm e agri­
culture based o n ston e axe technology, I suggest that intensive h orticu l-
turalists m ay h ave developed house gardens and intensive m o n o cu ltu ral
sw iddens, and in c ip ie n t gardeners m ay h ave specialized in patch cultivation
and agroforestry. A ccord in g to this h yp oth esis, the hinterlands w ere si­
m u ltan eously u sed both by indigenous popu lation s living in sedentary,
densely p o p u late d village settlements an d b y sm all, m obile g ro u p s dis­
persed th ro u g h o u t the forest. D enevan’s con tribu tion m ay be u sed to sup­
port a view o f th e d y n a m ic history o f p lan t/h u m an interaction acco rd in g to
w hich fo rag in g w ith incipient h orticu ltu re is as m uch a cultural ch oice as
intensive, sed en ta ry agriculture is. F u rth erm ore, D enevan’s w o rk m ay'b e in­
terpreted as o ffe rin g an im portant corrective to Roosevelt’s thesis w h ic h de
facto leads to the im p licit conclusion th at, had it not been for the conquest,
A m azonia’s n ative populations w ould h ave continued to d evelop intensive
agriculture an d w o u ld have become in creasin gly com plex. M y read in g o f
D enevan’s m o d e l is reinforced by his statem en t that “p ro b ab ly all these
form s o f a gricu ltu re and agroforestry w ere present in the terra firm e in a
m osaic o f va ria b le popu lation densities that m ay have in clu d ed sectors o f
sparse se m i-n o m a d ic foragers; small b u t perm anently settled households
and exten ded fam ilie s; and in som e selected places large an d perm an en t
fields and associated villages” (D enevan 19 9 6 :159 —61).
D en evan’s co n trib u tio n to the debate betw een cultural evolu tio n ists and
cultural eco lo g ists consists in show ing th at w ere the evolu tio n ary general­
Trekking in Amazonia il

izations o f the Stew ard ian m odel to be rejected, as optim al foraging th eo­
rists profess, view in g subsistence econom ies syn ch ro n ically and fu n ctio n al­
ly w ithout taking in to consideration historical factors w o u ld be erroneous
as w ell. Th is is precisely w h at Balee, a p ro m in en t advocate o f the historical
ecology approach to the interaction betw een en viro n m en t and society in
A m azonia, has tried to achieve.

B a lee’s M o d el o f C u ltu ra l R egression

Balee (1989, 19 9 2, 1993) has turned to h isto ry to understand present-day
interactions betw een native Am azonians an d the rain forest and, b y so
d oing, transcend the vexed opposition betw een environ m en tal and h istori­
cal explanations. H is m ain contribution has been to dem onstrate em p iri­
cally that a num ber o f A m azon ian forests are cu ltu ral artifacts (Balee 1988,
1989, 19 9 2,19 9 3; Posey an d Balee 1989).8 S tartin g w ith the twin proposition
that species distribu tion is a good indicator o f h u m an disturbance and that
foraging bands have adapted to disturbed forests, Balee has shown that his­
tory has not only affected postconquest m ig ra to ry m ovem ents but also the
very interaction betw een environm ent and society. H e has also argued that
far from having been lim ited by scarce resources, the indigenous people o f
the Am azon have created biotic niches since prehistoric times. E viden ce
from observation o f con tem p o rary gard enin g activities, the w ide o ccu r­
rence o f charcoal an d n u m erou s potsherds in the forest soil, the greater c o n ­
centration o f palm s, lianas, fruit trees, an d o th er h eavily used forest re­
sources on arch aeological sites, and in d u ctio n s abou t the long-lasting
effects o f past h u m an interference have all lead h im to argue that, far from
h aving been lim ited b y scarce resources, the in d igen o u s people o f the A m a ­
zon exploit “an th rop ogen ic forests.” 9
M oreover, and o f p articu lar relevance fo r the stu dy o f trekking, Balee
(1994, 1999) contends that one can best a cco u n t fo r the existence o f A m a ­
zonian foraging bands b y focusing on the close an d long-term association
between certain p lan t species and hum ans. N o m a d ic bands do not w an der
at random in the forest b u t m ove their cam ps betw een palm forests, b am ­
boo forests, or Brazil n u t forests, which all are “cultural forests,” that is, an ­
cient dwelling sites. A m az o n ia n foraging b and s such as the G uaja, the K a in -
gang, or the Sirion o are able to subsist in the rain forest w ithout cultivated
crops thanks to a few essential “w ild” resources ( palm s, fru it trees, o r b am ­
boo), which, in fact, are the products o f the activities o f ancient p o p u la ­
tions. If, in m axim ization term s, h un tin g-gath erin g m o b ility is closely re­
12 Trekking in Am azonia

lated to the stru ctu re o f food resources in a particular en viro n m en t, this

structure is n o t a n atural given but rather th e outcom e o f h u m an action s
that have altered the distribu tion o f resources w ith in the forest.
In his historical reconstruction o f the co lo n izatio n o f the A m azo n ’s lo w er
course between th e seventeenth and the n in eteen th centuries, B alée (1988:
158—59) argues th at the Indian populations o f Brazil responded to p o litical
dom ination w ith five basic strategies. T h o s e livin g along im p o rtan t rivers
allied w ith the B razilian m ilitary, w hom th ey helped in the capture o f slaves
from rebellious tribes. Less-pow erful grou ps fled, som e adopting a w a n d e r­
in g, non h orticu ltu rist w a y o f life, w hile others continued to cu ltivate fast-
gro w in g crops su ch as sweet m anioc an d m aize. T h e two other strategies
w ere to either resist d om ination vio len tly— and risk exterm in atio n — or
m igrate to rem ote forested areas where settled villages, organized aro u n d
the production o f b itter m anioc, could be m aintain ed . O n the basis o f this
historical recon stru ction , Balee (1992), n ot u n lik e Lathrap (19 70 , 19 7 3 ) and
Roosevelt (19 9 1, 19 9 3), proposes a m odel th at accounts for the pro gressive
loss o f cultivation b y w an d erin g m arginal tribes through disease, d e p o p u la ­
tion, and w arfare.
Finally, his stu d y o f the M aranhao’s in d igen o u s agroforestry c o m p le x in
Brazil defends c o n v in c in g ly the idea that forests o f biocultural o rig in can be
treated as o b jective records o f past h um an interactions with p lan ts, even i f
the local p o p u latio n does n ot have an y so cial m em ory o f such h isto ry and
cannot differentiate old fallows from patch es o f undisturbed forest (Balee
1993). T h e presence o f surface pottery an d charcoal in the soil, the d istrib u ­
tion o f species, the size o f trunks, oral h istory, and native classification s o f
forest and sw id d e n types can all be used to differentiate old fallo w s fro m
h igh forests.
T o sum m arize, B alée uses historical ec o lo g y to counter the ah isto rical ex­
planations o ffered b y both cultural eco lo g y an d evolutionary ec o lo g y w h ile
freeing history fro m the norm ative reconstru ction s proposed b y ten an ts o f
the devolution thesis. I f A m azonian foragers exploit “w ild ” resources, they
are not preagriculturalists, and their agricu ltu ral regression, w h ich fo llo w s a
recurrent pattern, can be docum ented. T h e re aré four im p ortan t sides to
this argum ent. F irst, it is claim ed that the environ m en t does n o t lim it cu l­
tural developm ent as extensively as p revio u sly believed. A n ahistorical view
o f the en viro n m en t b lin d s us to the fact th at w h at w e take to be a “p ristin e”
environm ent m ig h t, in fact, be an an cient agricultural site. S ec o n d , better
explanations can be offered by taking in to accou n t n o n en viron m en tal fac­
tors, particularly h istorical ones, that stress sociopolitical d yn am ics. T h ird ,
Trekking in Amazonia 13

the historical evidence o f past agriculture is tw o fo ld : It is both linguistic an d

botanical. Living foragers do not rem em ber th at th eir forebears cu ltivated ,
but their languages possess cognates fo r cu ltig e n s. In other w ords, am n esia
affects two types o f kn ow led ge: the cultu ral p ast o f the group an d the
group’s technical savoir faire. T h e on ly cu ltu ral transm ission that seem s to
have worked and co n tin u ed through tim e is u n co n scio u s linguistic k n o w l­
edge. However, even lin gu istic know ledge m a y be erased over tim e. B alee
(1992.) mentions, for instance, that the G u a ja , w h o still have a cognate fo r
maize, have lost the term fo r bitter m anioc. F o u rth , the process o f agricu l­
tural regression— and o f regression from sed en tism to nom adism — is p ro ­
gressive. A t each stage a cultigen is lost, an d d e p en d en ce on un cultivated
plants increases. I f the argu m en t for the loss o f cu ltigen s is essentially sim i­
lar to that o f Roosevelt, the great m erit and o rig in a lity o f Balee’s w o rk is to
have shown that the increased reliance on u n cu ltiv a te d plants is not a return
to nature but an adaptation to “vegetational artifacts o f another so ciety”
(Balee 1988:48).
Let us examine B alee’s argum ents critically. W h ere as he insists that h is­
tory is far more relevant than evolution to u n d e rstan d the changes th at
occurred in A m azonia in the relationship b etw een h u m an societies and th eir
natural environm ents (Balee 1995), w hat he re ally m ean s b y history is in d ige­
nous adaptation to the Span ish conquest and to po stco n q u est biological and
political dynamics. H isto ry in his m odel is n ever en visaged as resulting fro m
preconquest social con trad iction s or p olitical co n flicts but always as a reac­
tion to external events that invariably affect d e velo p m e n tal and ev o lu tio n ­
ary trends “ backw ard,” that is, by reversing th e p ace o f developm ent. T h e
prim ary historical con strain t native A m az o n ia n s faced after the con quest
was the severe dem ograph ic collapse they ex p e rien ced . A ll other regressive
changes are seen as consequential: the loss o f a g ricu ltu ra l know ledge o w in g
to defective cultural transm ission and the regression fro m agriculture to
trekking to pure fo rag in g because foraging is th e o n ly option available fo r
sm all numbers o f people i f they are to su rvive (B a lee 19 9 2 :5 1).10 Balee there­
fore correlates lack o f agricu ltu re and m obility. P eo p le w h o farm in tensively
are not highly m obile; conversely, people w h o h u n t and gather are h ig h ly
m obile. W hile I agree w ith his insistence th at m o b ility be considered an
adaptive strategy to h istorical, rather than en viro n m en ta l, con dition s, I
lam ent that he overlooks preconquest h istorical d y n a m ic s triggered b y c o n ­
flicts between highly m o b ile and less m ob ile n a tive populations.
A n oth er critical aspect o f Balee’s m odel is th at it is still cast in the m o ld
o f optim al foraging. W h a t Balee really objects to in the w o rk o f o ptim al fo r­
14 Trekking in Amazonia

agin g th eorists is not that m axim izatio n o f benefits o r m in im izatio n o f costs

are at the root o f Am azonian subsistence strategies b u t rather that optim al
fo rag in g th eo ry fails to recognize that trekking and fo ra g in g m ay be adap­
tations to cu ltu ral, rather than n atural, environm ents. W h a t differentiates
the a d a p tatio n o f A m azonian trekkers and foragers is th at, although they
d epend o n dom esticated and cu ltivated crops, they need n eith er to cultivate
garden p ro d u cts nor to exchange gam e o r collected forest products for gar­
den p ro d u cts. T h e resources th ey gather in the w ild exist as the result o f the
activities o f past agriculturalists, w h o have modified the forest environm ent
to the p o in t that it is better describ ed as a cultural lan d scape than as a nat­
ural h a b ita t.1 1
In this sense his view o f h u m an adaptation is not su bstan tially different
fro m th at o f H ill (H ill and H u rta d o 1996), for instance, w h o analyzes the
m o b ility o f A ch é foragers as a fu n ctio n o f their ad aptation to a particular
type o f b io cu ltu ral landscape. T rek k in g and foraging as envisaged by Balée
can still be analyzed as a form o f econ om ic adaptation to a particular envi­
ro n m en t; in this case form er agriculturalists such as the A ch é have m axi­
m ized th eir adaptation by a d a p tin g the environm ent to th eir needs rather
than a d a p tin g their needs to the environm ent. In o th er w o rd s, there is no
room in B alée’s model for understanding the su bsistence activities o f
trekkers an d foragers in cultural term s, that is, for in c lu d in g in the analysis
their o w n conceptualization o f gathering and h u n tin g in cultural land­
scapes o r th eir ow n discourse a b o u t their subsistence practices. We need to
explore, first, w hether groups, w h o are known to have been intensive horti-
cu ltu ralists in the past but w h o n o w m ainly forage, h u n t, and gather, do so
sim ila rly to those w ho are still intensive h orticu ltu ralists and, second,
w h eth er th eir sym bolic representations o f hunting, gard en in g, and foraging
are id en tical to those heralded b y intensive horticulturalists. In short, does
h u n tin g an d gathering in old fallow s, that is, in en viro n m en ts m odified by
previou s h u m an intervention and m anagem ent, m ake a difference practi­
cally an d sym bolically?
B alée’s m ain concern is to u n derstand the shift fro m agricultu re to forag­
ing in A m az o n ia n societies that are foun d today on arch aeological sites once
in h ab ited b y ancient ch iefdom s fo r w hich agriculture m u st have played a
central role. H e shares this co n cern w ith a num ber o f au th o rs, particularly
R o o seve lt, Lathrap, and, to so m e extent, Lévi-Strauss. L ik e these authors*
because h e sees the progressive abandonm ent o f village life and horticulture
b y a n u m b e r o f T u pi-G uaran i societies o f whom w e k n o w from ethnohis-
torical sources that their intensive horticultural system s w ere destroyed by
Trekking in Amazonia 15

warfare and ep idem ics, he assumes chat A m azonian societies are funda­
mentally o f D en ev an ’s “ intensive h o rticu ltu re” type. Foragers, in his view,
are deculturated, and their botanical kn ow led ge, that is, their know ledge
not only o f garden crops but also an d m ore generally o f the forest en viron ­
ment, is p oorer than that o f gardeners.
Th e m ajo r prob lem I see w ith h is attem pt to typologize terra firme
groups on the basis o f their relative b otan ical know ledge is that it tends to
disregard social, religious, and p o litica l considerations. If, fo r G ro ss and
other cultural ecologists, m obility is cau sed b y environm ental lim itations,
for Balée, âs fo r Lath rap, Roosevelt, a n d Lévi-Strauss, it is caused b y histor­
ical constraints. In either case ecological differences such as those between
terra firme an d varzea become h istorical differences, and m o b ility is seen as
imposed from w ith o u t. M y m ain d issatisfaction w ith this m o d el, as I argue
throughout this book, is that it leaves no place for sociocultural processes.
M obility is as m u ch a product o f h istorical w ill and religious b e lie f as it is a
form o f ad aptation to the environ m en t o r to historical circum stances. W hat
deserves an alytical attention is the fact that people decide to leave a resource-
rich area fo r on e that is relatively p o o rer in order to rem ain in d epend en t, to
preserve a separate identity, and, as in the H uaorani case, to resist assim ila­
tion. W hereas it cann ot be denied th at the conquest favored dispersion and
fragm entation, the reasons for cen trifu gal processes are in part endogenous.
It is through th eir decision m aking an d ch oice exercising that social groups
face historical forces and, for that m atter, environm ental constraints as well.
M obility an d the social forms it en gend ers need to be envisaged as part
o f the historical developm ent o f a d istin ct m ode o f life. Balée’s enorm ous
contribution has been to highlight the fact that higher m o b ility in A m azo ­
nia is linked to tw o choices: that o f u sin g resources that are n ot “w ild ” but
“ biocultural” a n d o f replacing cu ltiva tio n w ith gathering. W e n o w need to
determine h o w such shifts in social an d econ om ic practices are reflected at
the level o f collective representations an d , in particular, in the fo rm ation o f
distinctive identities.

Amazon Trekkers
D iscussions o f m ob ility in A m az o n ia are few, and these tend to focus on
the Indian p o p u latio n s o f central B razil, w h o , in M ay b u ry -L e w is’s words,
have always been som ething o f a m y stery (19 79 :1). T h e y have been fo u n d to
be “m arginal” because they lack basic cu ltu ral traits such as agriculture, pot­
tery, tobacco, canoes, or ham m ocks (Stew ard 1948), yet they exh ib it highly
16 Trekking in Amazonia

com plex social structures (N im u e n d a ju 19 39 , 1942, 19 46 ), an a n o m aly that

led Lévi-Strauss (1955) to form u late the hypothesis that these populations
are decu ltu rated rem nants o f a h igh er S o u th A m erican civ iliza tio n . A s al­
ready m e n tio n ed , the archaeological d iscovery o f elaborate autochtonous
chiefdom s has rein forced the vie w th at a greater m o b ility o f residence and a
lesser degree o f reliance on cu ltivation are signs o f regression. H a v in g briefly
presented ab o ve the ecological perspective on trekking in cen tral Brazil
(Gross 19 7 9 ), I review here exp lan ation s o f K ayapo co m m u n ities, w h ich are
alternately n u cleated and dispersed, w ith sm all bands fo ra g in g indepen­
dently d u rin g the d ry season.
A s d o cu m en te d b y their m ain eth nograph ers (V idal 19 7 7 ; B am berger
1 979; T u rn e r 19 7 9 ; Posey 1984, 1985; L e a 1986; and V ersw ijve r 19 9 2), the
K ayapo tra d itio n a lly spend part o f the year aw ay fro m th eir villages on
treks. T h e y w o u ld com e together again fo r the first rains an d rem ain in the
village th ro u g h o u t the w et season, a tim e fo r agriculture an d cerem onies. In
fact, it can b e said that K ayapo so cie ty is traditionally co m p o se d o f num er­
ous trekkin g gro u ps that congregate in ancestral villages to c a rry ou t elabo­
rate cerem on ial activities. For in stance, V ersw ijver (1992:249) n otes that be­
fore their “ p a cific atio n ,” the M e k râ n g o ti, one o f the K a y a p ô subgroups,
w ho o cc u p ied several villages disp ersed over large distances, used to move
constantly fro m village to village, o c c u p y in g each for a p e rio d o f one or two
years a cco rd in g to the cerem onial c y c le .12 Today eco n o m ic developm ent
has forced th em to give up their tran sh u m an t w ay o f life fo r a m o re seden­
tary lifestyle in. fixed villages and to in ten sify their h o rticu ltu ral activities,
w hich are n o lo n ger seasonal.
Turner (19 7 9 ) argues that the season ality o f Kayapo su bsisten ce activities
and the d u a l social organization it en tails originate in the co n tra d ictio n s cre­
ated b y u xo rilo c al residence. W h e n a y o u n g man m arries, T u rn e r explains,
the stru ctu ral op p o sition betw een o ld an d you n g coin cides w ith a conflict
opposin g the lineage o f the y o u n g m e n entering the h o u se h o ld o f their
w ives’ p aren ts w ith the lineage o f th eir w ives’ fathers. H e add s that, more
generally, G ê speakers use trek kin g to establish the a u th o rity o f “ fathers o f
m any” (th at is, fathers-in-law ) o ver “ fathers o f few ch ildren ” (that is, sons-
in-law) a n d conclu d es that h u n tin g an d gathering food fo r n am in g cere­
m onies p lay s a key role in articu latin g the hierarchical affin al relationship
between m e n w h o are m ature and w h o se offspring are n u m ero u s and men
w ho are im m atu re and have yet to en g en d er children in w e d lo c k .
V ersw ijver (19 9 2:2 20 ), w ith o u t in terpretin g seasonal treks in structural
terms as exp ressin g the fath er-in -law d om in an ce and co n tro l o ver the son­
Trekking in Amazonia //

in-law in a society w here residence is u xo rilo cal, agrees w ith T u rn e r that

trekking is in tim ately linked to the m ale life cycle. K ayapô trekking, there­
fore, is strongly gendered. Verswijver in d icates that yo u n g u n m arried m en
are the most active partakers in lon g cerem o n ial treks, h u n tin g an d raid in g
expeditions, an d , m ore generally, c o m m u n a l activities. A s fo r B am b erger
(x979), w ho focuses on village factionalist politics, trekking its e lf m a y lead
to village fission. B oth Bam berger an d V ersw ijver therefore lin k h igh m o ­
bility not o n ly to annual trekking parties b u t also to factional disp utes lead­
ing to village fission, dissidence, and w arfare. A n d , as w e have ju st seen,
Turners (1979) discussion o f trekking as an expression o f K a y a p ô social
structure represents an im portant attem p t to analyze trekking w ith refer­
ence to the d eterm in in g role not o f the en viro n m en t or postcon qu est h isto ­
ry but o f social structures. O n this basis I w o u ld not criticize T u rn er fo r d e­
riving the id eology-sustaining K ayapô d u a l organization en tirely fro m the
control exercised b y older men over y o u n g e r m en through their dau gh ters,
as M aybu ry-Lew is did (1979), or for o v e rlo o k in g the m atrifocal nature o f
Kayapô residential units, as well as the central political role p layed b y
women as m oth ers-in-law (Lea 1995), b u t rather fo r ignoring the n o n ritu al
forms o f trekking and m obility identified b y Bam berger and V ersw ijver.
A nother w id ely discussed structuralist explanation o f trekking in central
Brazil is the one p u t forw ard by L évi-Strau ss (1948), w ho n oted that N a m -
bikwara seasonal treks were part o f a w id e r pattern o f cultural d u alism .
W hat Lévi-Strauss exactly m eant by this has been the subject o f m u ch c o n ­
troversy. T h is is in part because he has reform ulated his p o sitio n o ver the
years and because other authors, in p a rticu la r R o d n ey N eed h am , h ave d e­
veloped a closely related, yet different, th eo ry o f dualism as an abstract p rin ­
ciple.13 T h e basic issue at stake here is the nature o f the relation betw een
collective representations and social stru ctu res in the context o f seasonal bi-
morphism (or dual social m orphology) as fo u n d throughout the A m ericas
and as first discussed by M auss and B e u ch a t (1927).
In their exchange on N am bikw ara seasonal trekking, dual eco n o m y, and
nomadism, A sp elin (1976), Price (19 78), an d Lévi-Strauss (19 7 6 , 19 78) at
least agree that the N am bikw ara are h ig h ly m obile. H ow ever, th ey disagree
on the exact nature, cause, and sociological im plications o f th eir tran shu ­
mant way o f life. Price and A spelin, w h o give p rim ary explan atory p o w er to
environm ental adaptation, criticize L évi-S trau ss for his dedu ctive use o f
ethnographic observations, which p o rtrays N am b ikw ara trekking as a sys­
tematic and seasonal behavior tied to g e n d e r specialization. T h e y insist that
the N am bikw ara are not seasonally n o m a d ic and that they h eavily rely on
i8 Trekking in Amazonia

h o rticu ltu re all year-rou n d . In replying to his two critiq u es, Lévi-Strauss in ­
sists o n the significance o f in tern al differentiations betw een groups and on
the role o f intertribal an d in tratrib al hostility in accen tu atin g N am b ik w ara
m o b ility. It is w orth n o tin g that Bam berger (19 7 9 :13 0 ), in her discussion o f
K a y a p ó trekking, stresses, like Price and A sp elin , th at the K ayapó do n o t
trek as lo n g and as far as rep o rted and that they rely h eavily on garden crop s
fo r th eir d aily subsistence, th roughout the year. V ersw ijver (1992), v e ry
m u ch lik e Lévi-Strauss, replies that whereas h igh er levels o f hostility an d
factio n alism in the past led to greater m obility, territorial losses and m is­
s io n a ry influence in the p resen t have led to greater sedentism and greater re­
lian ce on horticulture.
T h e correlation o f m o b ility and warfare, on the o n e hand, and o f peace,
g a rd en in g , and village life , o n the other, is not u n iq u e to the K ayapó o r the
N a m b ik w a ra . Such co rrelation seems to be very co m m o n throughout A m a ­
z o n ia , b oth as a set o f co n tra stive practices and as a social discourse. Jo u rn e t
(19 9 5), fo r exam ple, n otes th at the C urripaco, w h o iden tify h orticu ltu re
w ith peace and the fo u n d a tio n o f society, equate the n om adic lifestyle o f the
M a k ti, seen as antithetical to culture and anterior to civilization, w ith w a r ­
fare, h u n tin g, and iso latio n in the forest. Fau sto ’s (1998) study o f tw o
P arak an a groups, w h o h ave ch osen, after splittin g, to live according to tw o
d iv erg en t ways o f life— n o m ad ism and sedentism — illustrates the sam e as­
so cia tio n between p a cific villag e life, horticulture, and sedentism , on the
o n e h an d , and, on the other, m obility, foraging, w arfare, and n om adism .
Several Yanom am i eth n ograp h ers point to the sam e close relation b etw een
in ten se w arfare, a lack o f internal differentiation, n o m ad ism , and a lesser re­
lian ce on garden crops (Fergu son 1995; C o lch ester 19 84; A lbert 1985; G o o d
M o b ility strategies n eed n o t be autom atically related to foraging b e h a v ­
ior. K e n t’s (1989) discu ssion o f m obility in relation to patterns o f aggrega­
tio n an d dispersal is v e r y useful to understand seasonal trekking an d the
d y n a m ic s o f village frag m en tatio n . She exam ines the social, political, e c o ­
n o m ic , and religious ram ificatio n s o f nom adism an d sedentism , an d the
p o litica l function o f m o b ility , w h ich is often u sed as a w a y to segregate an d
a v o id conflict. W h at is ch aracteristic about farm ers and horticulturalists, she
co n te n d s, is not so m u ch th at they cultivate dom esticates but rather that
th e y are relatively im m o b ile and chose storage techn iques accordingly. In
the cou rse o f her research in thè Kalahari D esert, she observed farm ers w h o
so m etim es did not store m o re food than foragers d id , and foragers w h o
sto red food in qu an tities equ al to those o f farm ers an d according to tech ­
Trekking in Amazonia 19

niques identical to farm ers’ m ethods. These foragers, interestingly, were

quasi-sedentary. Such facts h ave led Kent to form u late the hypothesis that
relative m ob ility is a fu n ctio n o f anticipation. Farm ers and foragers w ho
anticipate to remain in the sam e place for relatively lo n g periods store sig­
n ifican tly m ore than farm ers and foragers w ho anticipate traveling. It is
anticipated sedentism, she con clu d es, that leads to an investm ent in a par­
ticular place and to the transm ission o f property intergenerationally. A n tic­
ipated sedentism therefore acts as a centripetal fo rce (K en t and V ierich
1989:12.4—30 ).
K e n t’s observation that m o b ility is not autom atically determ ined by sub­
sistence strategies, even w here grou ps with very d ifferen t levels o f sociopo­
litical organization and subsistence strategy coexist, is readily applicable to
the A m azo n context. A n d so is h er observation that b o th foragers and shift­
ing cultivators seem to m ove n ot in relation to gam e but in relation to
plants, w heth er these are gathered or cultivated. A s I shall argue in the rest
o f this b ook, and more p articu larly in chapter 4, these tw o generalizations
go a lo n g w ay to illum inate H u ao ran i trekking in term s o f their own social
understanding o f space and th eir relation to their forested environm ent, es­
pecially the w ay in w hich m o b ility through the landscape relates to the use
o f old fallow s.
R ecogn izin g the im p ortance o f the dislocating effect o f the conquest,
w hich led to the artificial isolation o f groups, even w h ere extensive trade
netw orks and other types o f exchange existed, I exam in e in the next, chap­
ter ethnohistorical data co n cern in g the U pper N a p o region. I pay particu­
lar attention to the relative p o w er and num ber o f the various groups that
inhabited this region, to the in trod uction o f m etal tools, an d to the correla­
tion underlined by m any a u th o rs14 between, on the o n e hand, nom adism ,
foraging, and warfare, and, on the other, sedentism , horticulture, and p a­
cific village life. W hen first contacted in the late 19 50 s, the H uaorani were
very m ob ile and cultivated sw eet m anioc, maize, and p lan tain only sporad­
ically. T o d ay they are still resisting both sedentarization and the intensifica­
tion o f horticulture. M y pu rpose, then, is to attem pt to establish whether
such beh avior is continuous o r discontinuous w ith the past, both as it is his-
toriographically recorded and cu ltu rally encoded.

T h e U p p er A m azon fro m O m agua E x p a n sio n

to Z a p a ro C ollapse

hapter i has review ed som e o f the en viro n m en ta l and historical

C explanations pu t forw ard to account fo r the form o f A m azo ­

nian settlem ents, in particular, their sm all size, dispersion, and
the pred ilection o f som e for lo n g treks. For auth ors w r itin g w ithin the tra­
d itio n o f environm ental determ in ism , history co n stitu tes a mere b ack­
g ro u n d , a given that does n ot require explanation. M o re recently, however,
interest in historical determ in ation s and historical ou tcom es have su per­
seded attention to en viro n m en tal constraints. T h e chapter has also re­
view ed n ew historical argu m en ts put forth against th e proponents o f en v i­
ro n m en tal determ inism . T h is renew ed interest in h isto ry, w h ich expresses a
general trend in an thropological th in kin g over the past fifteen years, also re­
flects the political im pact o f the fifth centenary o f the “discovery” o f the
A m ericas.
A s m en tion ed in chapter I, archaeologists have fo u n d in the flood plains
o f the L o w er Arftazon traces o f both late prehistoric ch iefd o m s (in p articu ­
lar, p o tte ry predating C en tra l A n d ean pottery b y fo u r thousand years), and
P aleo in d ian hunters and shellfish collectors o f n o n -M o n g o lo id A sian o r i­
gin , w h o m oved in the area som e eleven th ou san d years ago (Roosevelt
19 9 8). T h e se discoveries n o t o n ly challenge on ce an d fo r all the thesis that
A m az o n ia ’s first inhabitants w ere A ndean agricultu ralists, but it also leads to
h yp oth esize a developm ental lin k between the e a rly prehistoric bands o f
shell collectors and the late prehistoric chiefdom s, th u s reinforcing the p o p ­
u lar n o tio n that aboriginal S o u th A m ericans, p a rticu la rly those w ho p o p u ­
lated the A m azon basin, ach ieved high levels o f p o litica l and cultural d evel­
o p m en ts in preconquest tim es, and that, co n seq u en tly, isolated and
n o m a d ic bands are a postcon qu est phenom enon.
F o llo w in g Lévi-Strauss (19 6 3a, 19 68,19 9 3) w h o , h a v in g noted a p ro fo u n d
d ish a rm o n y between ru d im en ta ry technological achievem en ts and c o m ­
plex kin sh ip systems and sophisticated cosm o logies, argued that cultural
d e vo lu tio n affected first an d forem ost pro d u ctive practices, leaving in tact
the representation o f social relations as encoded in kinship systems an d
m y th s, a num ber o f anth ropolo gists have attem p ted to find the traces o f
such fo rm er social advan cem en ts in the th ou ght, i f n o t the institutions, o f
The Upper Amazon 21

co n tem p orary Am azonian societies. V iveiro s de C astro ’s (1992) ethnogra­

phy o f the A raw ete, a “devolved” T u p i-G u a ra n i society w h o se sh am an ic rit­
uals perpetu ate the m em ory o f the great T u pi can n ib alistic co m p le x , can be
read as a rgu in g precisely this (R iva l 1993b). H ow ever, m o st A m azo n ian an ­
thropologists interested in eth n o h isto ry have focused th eir atten tio n on the
historical consciousness and social m em o ry em bedded in m yth s, challeng­
ing in the process the Levi-Straussian divide between “c o ld ” an d “ h ot” soci­
eties, and the view o f indigenous peoples as the con q u ered , colon ized , and
passive victim s o f w hite-m an h isto ry.1 Furtherm ore, A m a z o n specialists
have actively discussed the extent to w h ich the historical past o f indigenous
A m azonia can be reconstructed (Schw artz and S alo m o n 19 9 9 ; C arn eifo
1995; R en ard -C asevitz, Saignes, and T aylo r 1986; D ren n a n an d U rib e 1987;
Roosevelt 19 8 7, 1991), explored native historical con sciousn ess (H ill 1988;
G o w 19 9 1; B row n and Fernandez 19 9 1) and evaluated the n ature and time-
depth o f A m azonian collective identities, as w ell as th eir postconquest
transform ations (W hitehead 1988, 19 9 3; Salom on 19 9 9 ; F erg u so n 1995; H ill
In this chapter I present a su m m a ry o f the eth n oh isto rical in form ation
available on the U pper N a p o region, inclu d ing H u a o ra n i lan d , before ex­
ploring H u aorani representations o f their ow n historical trajectory. B y con ­
fronting historical sources w ith H u ao ran i constructions o f the past, I hope
to id en tify the meaningful elem ents used by U pper N a p o p eop les to consti­
tute them selves into distinctive societies over tim e. S u c h elem en ts, w hich
articulate ethnicity and ritual, cosm ological beliefs an d h istorical events,
and p o litical structures and sy m b o lic schem es into p o w e rfu l “ ethnographic
im aginations” (C o m aro ff and C o m a r o ff 1992), shou ld h elp the an thropol­
ogist exam in e the available h istorio grap h y w hile taking in to acco u n t the re­
cent sh ift fro m adaptationist to historicist interpretations o f native societies
in A m azo n ia, but w ithout overstressing o r generalizing h istorical disconti­
nuities betw een past and present A m azo n ian social w o rld s.

H istoriography and Isolationist People

O w in g to its relative p ro x im ity to centers o f colon ial p o w e r (Q u ito , for
exam ple), the U pper N apo region has had its eth n o h isto ry u n u su ally well
recorded, an d this since the b eg in n in g o f the E u ropean o ccu p atio n . M o re­
over, the N a p o River has been exten sively surveyed b y archaeologists (Por-
ras 19 6 1, 19 7 1; Lathrap 19 70 ). Furtherm ore, k n ow led ge o f this region has
greatly progressed in recent years, thanks to the sch olarsh ip o f a few histor­
22 The Upper Amazon

ically minded eth n ograph ers, such as R enard -C asevitz, Saignes, an d T aylo r
(1986), Bellier (19 9 1), Santos G ranero (1992), and C h au m eil (19 9 4 ).2 All
stress the great cu ltu ra l diversity found w ith in , as m uch as b etw een , the eth­
nic blocs that ea rly voyagers and chroniclers identified.
While stressing the discontinuities betw een clearly distin gu ished histori­
cal periods, these h istorical accounts fo llo w a roughly ch ron ological presen­
tation o f the geo grap h ical distribution o f the ethnic groups th at cam e into
contact with E u ro p ea n s at particular tim es in history, give in fo rm atio n
about the so cio e co n o m ic and political structure o f the groups, an d m ention
how these gro u p s reacted to the presence o f colonists, explorers, arid mis­
sionaries (i.e., w h e th e r they traded, allied , were w illing to sedentarize, at­
tacked, fled to the forest, and so forth). T a y lo r (1992), for in stance, broadly
contrasts five h istorical periods. T h e first period corresponds to the first
decades after the 15 4 1—42 expedition launched by G o n zalo P izarro and
Francisco de O re lla n a , during w hich riverine groups seem ed to h ave w el­
comed the S p an ish as new trade partners. T h is period en d ed w h en epi­
demics, death, an d terror forced the A m erin dian s to suppress their ex­
change netw orks, b u rn their fields and villages, and disperse far fro m river
banks. T h e seco n d period, characterized by m issionary exp an sio n , corre­
sponds to the creatio n o f the first in tereth nic mission villages an d the be­
ginning o f “ transcu lturation” and “eth n ogenesis.” T h e collapse o f the mis­
sionary front at th e end o f the eighteenth century, when native peoples were
left free to live in relative isolation fo r several generations, reco verin g some
autonomy, g ro w in g dem ographically, an d reoccupying som e o f th eir river­
ine territories, con stitu tes the third p eriod . T h e fourth period T a y lo r iden­
tified corresponds to the rubber boom in the second h alf o f the nineteenth
century, w h ich b ro u g h t a new wave o f destruction, death, v io le n t changes,
and m igrations. It w as followed by a fe w decades o f relative peace and isola­
tion before the start o f the m odern p erio d , w hich was characterized b y eco­
nomic d evelo p m en t and national in tegration.
To follow H u a o ra n i footsteps th rough history involves sk etch in g som e­
what hypothetical and conjectural reconstructions o f regional preconquest
tribal dynam ics an d postcontact interactions between native societies and
sociopolitical stru ctu res. People w h o , like the H uaorani, d id n ot accept
contact or d id n o t intermingle w ith the conquerors an d th eir helpers,
are, on the w h o le , absent from E u rop ean w ritten m em ories. T h u s the sum ­
mary below focu ses on the historical traces left by peoples w h o were not
Two elem ents stru ck me when read in g historical m aterials o n the U pper
The Upper Amazon 2}

N apo region. O n e is the seem ing co n fu sio n o f Spanish observers as to

whether they shou ld use subsistence criteria to classify the kinds o f native
peoples they m et an d w ith w hom they in teracted or other criteria, such as
the language they spok e. F o r instance, the S p an ish seem to have m et and
known both the A b ig ira s and the Zaparos sin ce their initial expeditions and
to have clearly d istin gu ish ed them as tw o d istin ct groups, despite the fact
that the Abigiras sp ok e a Z aparoan language. It is perhaps because the A b i­
giras were, like the O m a g u a (but unlike the Z a p aro s) a riverine, agricultur­
ally developed p o p u latio n w hose m aterial cu ltu re was closer to O m agu a
culture than to Z a p a ro culture that the S p an ish classed the Abigiras and the
Zaparos in two d iffere n t ethnic blocs.3-T h e secon d striking elem ent is the
relative persistence o f spatial relations b etw een various ethnic blocs. M ap s
2.1 and 2.2, co m p iled fro m various sources, sh o w the geographic d istrib u ­
tion o f the different ind igenou s groups o f th e U p p er N ap o at, respectively,
the time o f contact w ith the Spanish and d u rin g the seventeenth century.
M ap 2.3 locates in d igen o u s groups in the U p p e r N ap o during the rubber
boom . These three m aps are evidence o f the persistence o f an ethnic fro n ­
tier between, on the on e h an d, the Z ap aroan an d W estern Tukanoan groups
along the river N a p o , and, on the other, Z a p a ro a n and Jivaroan groups
along the river Pastaza. T h ese maps also attest to the progressive eastward
movements o f the Q u ijo s and Jivaros, and the northw ard m ovem ents o f the
Zaparos, as well as the relocation o f groups o f O m a g u a (Tupi-G uarani) and
Encabellados (W estern T ukanoan ).4 Such co n tin u ity is im portant, because
we know that eth n ic identities in the U p p e r N a p o region, a region already
ethnically very co m p le x in the fifteen century, becam e even m ore intricate
when Jivaroan an d Z a p a ro a n groups started incorporating unrelated fu gi­
tive groups and in d ivid u a ls during the co lo n ia l era.

The Presence o f Tupian People in the Upper Amazon

It is on the O m a g u a that the Spanish left the m ost extensive records. T h is
is not surprising given that their m ost in ten se contacts were w ith the
O m agua— at least u n til the relationship deteriorated. T h e Spanish, w h o es­
tablished a garrison in O m agu a territory, em p loy e d allied O m agu a m en in
all their expeditions. M oreover, the Jesu its fo u n d ed a mission am o n g them
(Newson I9 9 6b:2i8). T h e O m agua, a T u p i-G u a ra n i population o rigin ally
from coastal B razil, m a y have m igrated to the U p p er N apo and C o c a in the
twelfth century (see m ap 2 . 4 ) T h e y w ere alm ost certainly preceded by
other Tupi, how ever, as attested to by arch aeological remains that signal the
San Pedro de
FIG U RE 2.1 Alcala dal Rio. C o fa n
Location o f major
H I Abijira
ethnic groups in the Ag varied
ncabelUdoi^/1, H H l Omagua
Upper N apo region 3 Encabellado and Icaguate
after the Conquest
and during the Archidona gamsdl

16th century Igacuate

(after Newson, 1966a). Vurusunl


FIG U RE 1 .1

location o f major
ethnic groups
in the Upper
Napo regions
(after Cabodevilla,
The Upper Amazon 27

presence o f T u p i populations in the area since the tenth cen tu ry and as

confirmed b y the high num ber o f to p o n ym s o fT u p i origin 6 alo n g the rivers
Napo and C o ca .
The O m a g u a, w h o were divided in to three main su bgroup s,7 dom inated
trade netw orks alon g the N apo, C o c a , and U pper A m azon rivers through­
out the sixteenth century (see m ap 2.2). T h e y settled in dense and fortified
villages alon g the banks o f the N a p o and the C oca, w here they cultivated
large fields o f bitter m anioc, m aize, ch o n ta palm , and cotton , kept large
stores o f dried fish and meat, and m ain tain ed impressive m erch an t and m il­
itary fleets. T h e ir trade w ith the Q u ijo s o f the A ndean P ied m o n t was a l- .
ready extensive lon g before the arrival o f Europeans. T h e Q u ijo s, renown
goldsmiths, h eld w eekly fairs on the lo w er flanks o f the A n d es at w h ich they
traded their g o ld jewelry, other lu xu ry item s, and highland agricultural pro­
duce for O m a g u a cotton cloth, fine-glazed pottery, and cin n am o n . Both
trading nation s were selling and b u y in g slaves. I f the exact degree o f
Omagua p o litical centralization is u n k n o w n , it is clear fro m the chronicles
that their m u ltivillage chiefdom s w ere characterized by social stratification
and intensive agricultural p rod uction , and that their political and econom ­
ic am bition w as to achieve com plete m o n o p o ly over long-distance trade be­
tween the low lan d s and the h ighlands o f w hat is now Ecuador.
On the basis o f w hat we k n o w o f T upi-G uarani cosm ology, w e may
infer that the O m agu a have, in their search for the land o f im m o rtality and
abundance, expanded territorially th rough a com bination o f peaceful in­
corporation an d m ilitary conquest. C h ron icles m ention that O m agu a set­
tlements w ere b u ilt around tem ples dedicated to the sun. T h e O m agu a and
their neighbors regularly brought offerin gs o f cloth and precious stones to
these tem ples, w h ich were covered w ith feathers o f all colors and contained
idols. C h ie fs w ere highly respected. T h e y had the auth ority to carry out
punishm ents and to im pose the death penalty (Newson 19 9 6 3:20 ). A m ix­
ture o f m ystical antagonism , arm ed hostility, and marriage alliances charac­
terized the relations o f these feared traders and warriors, w h o m oved goods
and foods over great distances to th eir less-powerful riverine and hinterland
trade partners. T h e O m agua, like th eir Tupinam ba relatives, raided neigh­
boring tribes an d m aintained vast areas o f no-m ans-land around their
territory--- an d they took war prisoners. Santos Granero (19 9 2:12) estimates
that war prison ers constituted b etw een 16 and 25 percent o f village popula­
tions. C ap tu re d enemies, w ho w ere not eaten but were reduced to a state o f
domesticity, w o rk ed as servants w ith in house groups w hose fam ily life they
shared, o ften as dependent in -m arryin g spouses.
o acl, rv.
w GN

2blj Z|_ 1CO
u o ’ SE <u
■S. £ - a
f—' «3
The Upper Amazon 2?

These in d igen o u s conquerors in itia lly treated Spanish conquerors as al-

lies and trade partners. Like the Q u ijo s, th ey first responded favorably to
the Spaniards’ desire for gold and servan ts, and found im m ediate use for
European m etal tools, which allow ed colossal increases in production. The
same capacity to prod uce great su rpluses fo r trade, and the sam e mystical
drive to in tensify their com plex and h ierarch ical orderings founded on sa­
cred power, seem to have characterized the tw o aboriginal social forma­
tions, w ho becam e increasingly d e p en d en t on a trading partnership that
initially had allow ed them to reproduce th eir ow n socioeconom ic systems
on a higher scale. T h e new market o p p o rtu n itie s called for larger supplies o f
goods and slaves, but m ore could be p ro d u c ed in less time w ith European
tools, and E u ro p ean weaponry m ade ra id in g and the capture o f w ar prison­
ers more efficient. Trading with the Sp an ish , however, altered alliances
within, and betw een, Q uijos and O m a g u a groups. There are records, for ex­
ample, o f con flicts arising between Q u ijo s , w h o had the m on opoly over
goods o f E u rop ean origin, and their O m agu a-Y ete trade partners, and o f
Q uijos m ovin g perm anently into O m a g u a territory. Q uijos w h o left the
Andean P ied m o n t for the O m agua’s eastern lowlands fought fiercely with
the latter, each tribe stealing the w o m e n an d children o f the other (Santos
Granero 1992).
Although in form ation on what h ap p e n ed after the first period o f contact
and trading is scant and confused, it appears that com petition for domestic
labor and conflicts over w ho con trolled the trade in metal goods increas­
ingly opposed groups o f O m agua and Q u ijo s to missionaries and colonists.
Omagua people m ust have reached the p o in t w hen, having lost their allies
to the Spanish, h avin g been forced to sell all their servant slaves, and having
themselves been enslaved, they no lo n g er co u ld m aintain their village soci­
eties based on intensive agriculture an d ritu al. Persecuted by colonists, they
fled from the river banks and settled, q u ite against their custom , in the in­
terfluvial zon e betw een the rivers N a p o an d C o ca , where they fought with
local populations. A lo n g with other refugees, they also established them­
selves along the river T ip utin i, w hich th ey occupied between 1550 and 1680.
During this tim e they led num erous w a r expeditions against Christianized
Quijos, from w h o m they stole metal tools and weapons. From a great river­
ine culture, the O m agu a had becom e the “pirates o f the N apo” (Cabodevil-
la 1996:107), the unrelenting attackers o f colonists, missionaries, Q uijos,
and num erous other tribes— all o f w h o m never failed to counterattack.
Th ey eventually left the area at the en d o f the seventeenth century to join a
related T u p i-G u aran i group on the river M aran o n (Santos G ranero 1992).
$o The Upper Amazon

T h e N apo-C uraray Geopolitical Landscape

at the Tim e o f C o rrería s
T h e r e is no question th at the sporadic E uropean co lo n ist and m issio n ary
p en etratio n resulted in the dem ographic collapse o f num erous in d igen ou s
p eo p les through ep id em ics an d enslavem ent, th e drastic depopulation o f
the m ain river banks, increased confrontations b etw een aborigines an d
refu gees in the in terflu vial zones, and, despite intern al differentiations, the
co n so lid atio n o f eth n ic frontiers between the large Q u ijos, T u k an o ,
O m a g u a , and Z ap aro b locs. A rch ival materials also sh o w that tensions an d
disagreem ents betw een m issionaries and colonists, w h o se interests and o b ­
je ctive s partly con flicted, rose steadily th roughout the seventeenth century.
T h e acquisition o f In d ia n laborers, through purchase o r coercion, to w o rk
in th e ir econom ic centers based on extraction an d agriculture (encom ien-
das)s w as vital for colon ists. M issionaries also n eeded Indians to create set­
tlem en ts o f Indians co n ve rted to C hristianity (reducciones), or to repeople
these after epidem ics o r m ass escapes. T here w ere to o few Indians to sustain
b o th the encom iendas an d the reducciones, so m ission aries resorted to in ­
cu rsio n s to kidnap o r slave raids (correrías) as o ften as colonists did. H u n t­
in g ind igenou s peoples d o w n and forcing them to rem ain settled and w o rk
u n d e r their control w ere the tw o main concerns o f w h ite peoples. T o escape
fro m epidem ics and b ad treatm ent, and to rem ain free w hile securing an d
c o n tro llin g access to E u ro p ea n goods, were the cen tral preoccupations o f
m o st indigenous peoples.
S u c h contrad ictory aim s and tensions w ere a lm o st certainly cast in m o ral
an d cultural terms. O n the one hand, it is k n o w n fro m the w ritten records
th at despite their d isagreem en ts colonists and m ission aries were agreed that
the E u rop ean treatm ent o f captured or traded In d ia n s w as m orally su p erio r
to traditional O m a g u a practices (i.e., m ore h um an ) and that, in their view ,
A m erin d ia n s were better o f f w orking for, and liv in g w ith , the E u ro p ean s.
O n the other h and, o n e m a y infer from co n tem p o rary ethnographies th at
in d igen o u s groups, no m atter how decim ated, m ixed , and w eakened, c o n ­
tin u e d to use sym b o lic an d ritual practices, in c lu d in g the violen t an d a g­
gressive incorporation o f exogenous elements, to reproduce their d istin ctive
so cieties (C h aum eil 19 9 4 ; E rik so n 1993).
B u t w h at h appened exactly in the w orld o f correrías, encom iendas, an d
reducciones? H o w d id the decim ated A m erin d ian popu lation s o f the N a p o -
C u ra ra y region su rvive th rou gh the decades sep aratin g O rellanas d o w n riv ­
er vo yag e and the arrival o f rubber m ercenaries? H o w did their fam ilies,
The Upper Amazon 31

lon ghouses, villages, societies, political coalitions, and cultures fare? A n d

w h at becam e o f the orphans, fugitives (cimarrones) and y o u n g adults ed u ­
cated b y the missionaries (viracochas) ? W hat w e learn fro m ethnohistorical
records enables us to infer th at the m ain river ban ks becam e depopulated,
that social units became sm aller, m ore atom ized, an d dispersed over greater
areas, an d that social form s, rituals, and in stitution s that required large,
sed en tary populations to exist sim p ly disappeared, except, perhaps, in the
m e m o ry o f survivors. E th n o h isto rical records also testify to the disappear­
ance o f previous indigenous co llective identities th ro u gh ethnogenesis, eth-
nocide, and tribal fragm en tation , and to the form ation o f n ew generic iden­
tities in the face o f postco n qu est destruction an d colo n ial dom ination.
A n d , as in other parts o f A m az o n ia , the N a p o -C u ra ra y geopolitical lan d ­
scape saw the em ergence o f transethnic village co m m u n ities m olded by
m issio n ary influences and b y the transform ative effect o f C hristian ity on
in d igen ou s tim e and space organization , dem ograph ic and kinship stru c­
tures, an d relations o f p ro d u ctio n (Taylor 1986, 19 9 2).
T o overstress the historical discon tin u ity betw een the bew ildering intra-
and intertribal cultural d iversity o f preconquest gro u p in g s and the ethnic
standardization resulting fro m dispersion, tran scu lturation , and detribal-
ization w o u ld , however, be m isguid ed . W hereas n e w gro u ps were form ed
h istorically such as the N a p o R u n as (the m ixed descendants o f Q u ijos,
O m agu a, and other groups) an d the Canelos Q iiic h u a (the m ixed descen­
dants o f Z aparos, Jivaros, an d Q u ijo s), the large eth n ic blocs form ed by the
W estern Tukanoans, the Z a p aro a n s, and the Jiva ro s rem ained basically sta­
ble w ell in to the nineteenth century. A s briefly m en tio n ed above, the m is­
sionaries o f the great Jesu it m issio n o fM a y n a s established Encabellado set­
tlem ents at the confluence o f the rivers T ip u tin i an d N a p o in the early part
o f the eighteenth century, settlem en ts that O m agu a refugees livin g along the
T ip u tin i regularly attacked an d raided. B y the tim e the Jesu its left in 17 6 7 ,
the confluence o f the rivers N a p o and Curaray was the scene o f constant and
fierce battling between Z a p a ro a n groups (Avigiras, Z a p aro s, and Iquitos),
the last O m agu a (to their east), and transcultural gro u ps form ed under
Jesu it tutelage, particularly the Encabellados (B ellier 19 9 1). Records o f E n ca­
bellado an d A bigira rebellions against the Spanish in 1635 an d 166 7, respec­
tively, m ention that groups o f W estern Tukanos h ad fo u n d refuge am ong
A bigiras. Consequently the A b ig ira s, w ho fought against other Z aparoan
groups as m uch as they fo u g h t against W estern T u k an o an s, nevertheless
allied w ith som e Western T u k a n o a n clans in their w ars against other W est­
ern T u k an o an s.9 Bellier (19 9 1) signals that E ncabellados w ere at war against
$2 The Upper Amazon

the O m a g u a and the A vig iras, Yururies, Z ap aros, a n d Iq u ito s (all Z ap aro an
gro u p s) throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. W estern
T u k an o s and Zaparoans c o n tin u e d to be at w ar u n til the beginning o f the
tw en tieth century. A s sh all b ecom e evident below , conflicts between Z a ­
p aro an s (Aushiris) and E n ca b e lla d o s continued w e ll in to the nineteenth
cen tu ry, although som e m ission aries report the allian ce o f one T u kanoan
gro u p kn ow n as S an tam arías w ith A bigiras, b o th allied against o th er
T u k an o an s.
T h e re fo re , and despite th e d ifficu lty o f both d o c u m e n tin g it in detail an d
in te rp retin g it correctly, w a rfa re continued u n ab ated ly, including betw een
“tran scu ltu red ” popu lation s. T o conclude this p o in t, the w ell-docum en ted
case o f the frontier that sep arated Encabellados (W estern Tukanos) fro m
A b ig ira s (Zaparoans) a lo n g the upper course o f the river N apo illustrates
n o t o n ly the longlasting n atu re o f the ethnic fro n tiers that have perdured
th ro u g h o u t the regions h isto ry b u t also the co m p le x ity and fluctuating n a­
ture o f tribal alliances, w h ic h , although affected b y E u ro pean in terven tion ,
w ere n o t caused by it.
M y o w n reading o f these docu m ents and o f the secondary sources th at
discuss them is that if tra d in g w ith the Spanish increased tribal conflicts an d
ten sion s and caused the em erg en ce o f new eth n ic polarities, it is the ch a n g ­
in g n ature o f man h u n tin g th at affected m ost p ro fo u n d ly the ind igen ou s
p eop les o f the U pper A m a z o n and the social fo rm s th ey had created (N ew -
son 19 9 6 ^ 2 0 5 ). Ram irez M o n ten e g ro (1992) o ffers a fascinating accou n t o f
the w a y s in w hich slave tra d in g (i.e., the exchange o f w a r prisoners for m etal
tools) d u rin g the co lo n ial expansion intensified the hostilities b etw een
riverin e a n d hinterland p o p u latio n s in the U p p e r M ag d alen a region o f the
C o lo m b ia n Am azon. T h e sam e dram atic escalation o f interethnic co n flict
a n d w arfare occurred in the N a p o region. T h e O m a g u a raided d o w n river
p o p u latio n s such as the Y ag u a for prisoners to exch an ge for trade go od s
th ro u g h o u t the seventeenth an d eighteenth cen tu ries. Ram irez M o n te n e ­
gro ’s description o f h o w the intense com m erce o f orphans replaced the
co m m o n precolonial p ra ctice o f abducting y o u n g children equally applies
to the U p p er N apo regio n . A n d so does his discu ssion o f the w a y the
S p an iard s m orally ju stified slavery as.a h u m an itarian undertaking aim ed at
b o th savin g w ar prisoners fro m being eaten b y th eir abductors and savin g
th eir souls from Satan b y m a k in g them C h ristian .
W e do not know the e x te n t to w hich native p eo p les o f the N apo parted
w ith orphans and refugees (w h o were, under n o rm a l circum stances, treated
as eq u al coresidents) in o rd er to secure, as they d id in the U pper M agd alen a,
The Upper Amazon 55

the w elfare o f true blood kin, b u t w e do find the sam e tran sfo rm atio n o f the
war prisoner w ho, from a ritual o b ject to be in corporated w ith in the fabric
o f society, becom es a slave cau gh t for his labor force an d exch an ged fo r m an ­
ufactured goods. T h e new in stitu tion alization o f slave ra id in g du ring the
rubber b o o m , briefly discussed in the next section o n the Z a p aro s, w hile
con tin uing sim ilar trends, h igh lig h ts a perhaps m ore tran shistorical dim en ­
sion o f m an hunting: T h e k id n ap p er is considered m o ra lly su p erio r and cu l­
turally m ore developed than the kidn apped. I say tran sh isto rical, for i f the
superiority o f slave takers is clearly present in the co lo n ial w o rld o f correrías,
encom iendas, and reducciones, partition ed by colon ist an d m issio n ary ide­
ologies into two large hom ogeneous ethnic blocs, the C h ristian iz ed , seden­
tary, and collaborating runas o n the one hand, and the Savage, nom ad, and
insubordinate aucasw on the other, there are reasons to su sp ect that this dual
opposition preceded the con qu est, and even acco u n ted in part for the
O m agua’s m otivations and ju stificatio n s fo r raiding n e ig h b o rin g tribes.

T he Fate o f Zaparoan Peoples D uring the R ubber Era

Z aparoan historical trajectories are o f special interest fo r a n u m b er o f rea­
sons. Z a p aro a n groups, w h o fo rm ed the m ost d y n a m ic an d diverse ethnic
bloc o f the U pper N apo region, rem ained largely free fro m colonist and
m issionary influence well into the nineteenth century, w h en they m ysteri­
ously and rather suddenly disappeared as a collective id e n tity through m is­
cegenation and genocide. M oreover, they occupied w h a t is n o w recognized
as H u aorani territory.
T h e Z ap aros and the m u ltieth n ic character o f so m e o f the Zaparoan
tribes are m entioned in early Span ish ch ronicles.11 D u r in g the sixteenth
century Z aparoan territories (ro u gh ly the headwaters an d the upper cours­
es o f all the rivers com prised b etw een the right m argin o f the N a p o and the
left m argin o f the Pastaza) a d jo in ed those o f Jiva ro a n s to the southwest,
those o f Q u ijos and O m agu a-Yeté (N apo Q u ich uas) to the northwest,
those o f W estern Tukanoans (Encabellados) to the n o rth , an d those o f
T upi-G uaran i (Omagua) to the northeast (see m ap 2.2).
T h e classification o f Gaes, Sem igaes, Yam eos, M asam aes, and Iquitos as
Zaparoan subgroups sharing the sam e basic cultural traits is largely accept­
ed, even i f the extent to w hich their dialects were m u tu ally intelligible is u n ­
known. B y contrast, the Z a p aro a n affiliation o f three g ro u p s that have often
been confu sed with the H u aoran i has been far m ore co n troversial. A s m en­
tioned above, one, the Avigiras (also know n as A vijira, A u x ira s, A biras, and
}4 The Upper Amazon

so forth), w as a lread y existing in preconquest times. T h e second gro u p , the

Aushiris (also A w ish ira and A w ishiri), is in fact alm ost certain ly m ade o f
Abigira descendants. T h e third group, the Arabelas, came into co n tact with
the Europeans m u ch later, during the rubber boom .
Although so m e authors have related these three groups to the W estern
Tukanoan eth n ic b loc, others have sim p ly treated them as en tirely distinct
and separate. O n e explanation for th eir classification as W estern T ukanoans
lies in the fact th at Tukanoan groups (En cabellado, Icaguate, an d possibly
others) found refu ge am ong the A vigiras on the right m argin o f the N apo
River after th eir 1635 rebellion against the Spanish. T h e y were still m ixed to­
gether with the A vigiras when the latter rebelled against the Spanish in
1667, and w h en the Franciscans cam e to pacify them in 1689. A n o th e r rea­
son is that the Je su its created the m ission o f San M iguel a m o n g the A b igi­
ras in 1666. A lth o u g h this m issionary contact did not last m ore than a year,
it added to the un iqueness o f the A b ig iras w ithin the Z aparoan eth n ic bloc.
In sum, the A b ig ira s w ere notably differen t from other Z a p aro a n groups on
three accounts: th eir choice to live alo n g a m ajor river (the N a p o ), their cul­
tural and p olitical affinities with som e W estern Tukanoan gro u p s, and their
tentative experim en tation with m ission life .12
Some issues co n cern in g Zaparoan s, such as, for exam ple, th at they ap­
pear to have been less affected by the h istory o f contact and red u ctio n , and
that, to the p o ssib le exception o f a few individuals (and o f the special case
o f the A bigiras to w h ich I briefly allu d ed above), no Z a p aro a n tribe was
converted to C h ristia n ity or relocated u nder the control o f m issionaries or
colonists d u rin g the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, are easily ex­
tracted from eth n ohistorical records. B u t ethnographic acco u n ts are con ­
spicuously m issin g.
Zaparoan gro u p s w ere divided b y m arked cultural and lin g u istic differ­
ences, as well as b y intratribal political hostilities and m utual accusations o f
anthropophagy. D esp ite the incom pleteness o f ethnographic data, enough
is known to p o rtra y the Zaparos tentatively as people w h o sp en t m uch o f
their time fish in g , hunting, and co llectin g forest products, an d w h o re­
mained h igh ly m o b ile, relying, it seem s, m ore on maize and p lan tain than
on sweet m an ioc. T h e y gradually expan ded both d em ograph ically and spa­
tially over the cen tu ries, eventually co n tro llin g vast territories. Sham an ism
was particularly im p ortan t and developed. Zaparoan sham ans w e re num er­
ous, pow erful, great consum ers o f ayahuasca (Banisteria caapt), an d m uch
feared by th eir neighbors, particularly the N aporunas. E thn oh istorical
sources m ention the diversity o f Z a p aro a n languages and dialects. T h e m a­
terial culture (basketry, weaponry, h ouses, ham m ocks, dress, fo o d , and bod­
The Upper Amazon 35

ily decorations), w h ic h is relatively well d o cu m en te d , shows both m arked

internal differences an d stron g sim ilarities w ith the m aterial culture o f the
Jívaros, the C an elo Q u ich u a s, and, to a certain extent, the H u ao ran i. A
number o f Z ap aroan bands were actively in vo lved in trading w ith E u ro ­
peans during the ru b b e r era.
There are also clear indications that i f there w ere few Z aparos in the
growing D o m in ican reducciones o f the Pastaza (Canelos) and the U p p er
Curaray during the decades o f the 179 0 s to the 18 0 0 s, contacts betw een free
Zaparos and m ission In d ian s gradually increased d u rin g the same period. A
number o f Z ap aroan subgroups seem to h ave specialized in stealing ch il­
dren in exchange fo r steel tools and o th er E u ro p ean goods in the 1880s,
leading to the d evelo p m en t o f a new in d igen o u s trade netw ork. T h e p o p u ­
lation o f incom ing explorers, settlers, an d C h ristian ized Indian laborers
grew to unprecedented levels in the C u ra ra y ju st before the ru b ber era.
These incomers w ere closely involved in the ind igenou s trade netw ork. In
exchange for E u ro p ea n goods, they received fro m Z ap aro trade partners
forest products an d abd u cted youth. A s a con sequen ce the great Z ap aroan
ethnic bloc, w h ich h ad rem ained unscarred b y the m issionary and colonist
activities o f previous eras, underwent a rad ical transform ation d u rin g the
rubber boom , to the p o in t o f virtually v a n ish in g from the ethnic m ap and
leaving, as shall be evid en t below, their vast, n o w em ptied territory alm ost
exclusively to the H u a o ra n i.
Rubber tapping in the area under discu ssion started along the m ain , bet-
ter-known rivers lik e the T igre, Pastaza, C u rara y , and U pper N ap o . W ith
the progressive exh au stion o f rubber trees alo n g these rivers, tributaries
were explored as needed. T h e rubber trade in the N a p o -C u raray region, un­
like the situation in Peru or in the P u tu m a y o , was carried ou t by small
traders indebted to large com m ercial houses based in Iquitos. G iv e n the rel­
atively small v o lu m e o f rubber in the N a p o region , a m ajority o f rubber tap­
pers were sm all traders w h o com bined ru b b e r extraction w ith farm ing.
T h e y engaged in a va riety o f co m p lem en tary activities, such as the collec­
tion o f various o th er gu m s, subsistence fa rm in g , rice cultivation, cattle
ranching, and go ld p a n n in g, and lived w ith th eir gangs o f debt-dependent
indigenous laborers (peon ada or peonage).
Indigenous lab orers w ere recruited th ro u g h a range o f m ore o r less coer­
cive means. S o m e b ecam e peones after h a v in g been abducted, captured, or
sold; others jo in ed th eir bosses more o r less volu ntarily. T h e peonadas were
formed o f R u nas, A b ig ira s, Tukanos and Z a p a ro s w h o , w ork in g and livin g
together, m arried each other and kept an eye on free lands w h ere they
hoped to settle o n ce th eir debts cleared. M a p 2.3, w hich plots the m ain
¿6 The Upper Amazon

farm s and rubber d ep o ts established alo n g m ain rivers and sm all trib u taries,
gives some m easure o f the unprecedented e co n o m ic developm ent o f the re­
gio n during the ru b b e r era.
C om m ercial success depended p rim arily o n the quality and re lia b ility o f
the attached lab o r force, w h ich, how ever, proved to be far m o re vo latile
than the sales o f ru b b e r o r other products an d less secure than the advan ces
in cash and goods fro m the large trading cen ters in Iquitos. R u b b e r-ta p p in g
expeditions, w h ich co u ld last from six m o n th s to one year, w ere carried ou t
w ith more or less frequency. I f the risk o f b e in g attacked by free In d ia n s was
h igh , white settlers w o u ld let their laborers exp lo re small tributaries an d co l­
lect rubber alone. C o n se q u en tly the N a p o -C u ra ra y region, w h ic h h ad re­
m ained isolated a n d undisturbed th rough 350 years o f E uropean ru le, was
fin ally penetrated. N a tive s o f this last refu ge counterattacked. R u b b e r de­
pots and trade cen ters w ere burned d o w n a lo n g the C uraray an d its trib u ­
taries, settlem ents w e re destroyed on the rivers C o n on aco and N u s h in o ,
farm s were raided o n the rivers N ap o a n d Y asu n i, and intruders w e re sys­
tem atically harassed everyw here.
A lth ough there is abu n d an t evidence o f In d ia n resistance to in va sio n be­
tween the 1880s an d the 19 40 s, few reports co n cern the T ip u tin i w atersh ed ,
w h ich seems to h ave rem ained relatively protected even d u rin g this new
w ave o f colonial pen etratio n . T h is is p a rtly because rubber bosses, traders
(regatones), and fa rm ow ners (hacendados) to o k their enslaved lab o rers (p e ­
ones) o f T u kanoan , Q u ich u a , and Z a p a ro a n origin hundreds o f kilo m eters
dow nriver from th eir original lands, w h ere H elvetia rubber, trees w e re m ore
abundant and w h ere the m ajor trading cen ters (in particular, Iq u ito s) w ere
located. T h is n ew w a v e o f Z ap aro m ig ratio n furthered the lo n g process o f
detribalization an d ethnogenesis. E p id em ics o f sm allpox, m easles, an d yel­
lo w fever added to the depopulation o f th e U p p e r N ap o , w h ich b ecam e al­
m ost exclusively in h ab ite d by a few u n co n ta cte d tribes, am on g w h ic h fig­
ured the H u a o ra n i.13
A n in triguing a sp ect in the testim onies left by settlers, ru b b er bosses,
travelers, explorers, an d m issionaries is th at whereas some stress the Z a ­
paros’ reliability a n d cooperation, others re p o rt their fierceness a n d in d om -
inability. A reason fo r this apparent co n tra d ictio n m ay be that th e n in e­
teenth-century e c o n o m ic frontier, stru ctu red b y the capitalist d e m a n d fo r
natural rubber scattered over w ide areas o f previo u sly unexplored h ea d w a ­
ter lands, divided Z a p a ro a n people into th ose w h o attached th em selves to
w h ite bosses, b ecam e C hristian s, and jo in e d the large mass o f b o n d ed In d i­
ans, together w ith Q u ich u a s and T u kan o an peop le, and those, less n u m er­
The Upper Amazon _J7

ous, w ho fiercely defended their independence again st invaders and the n ew

dem ands for Indian labor. W hereas the fo rm e r jo in e d the m u ltieth n ic p e ­
onadas engaged in the m ixed econom y o f ru b b e r collectin g, farm in g, an d
gold panning and lau n ch ed attacks on the g ro u p s still h idin g in the forest,
the latter categorically refused to m ix w ith n o n -Z a p a ro s o r to trade w ith , or
w o rk for, the whites. T h e first category o f Z a p a ro a n s lived on the south side
o f the C uraray w atershed, from where they w a g e d a m erciless w ar w ith th eir
w hite allies against Z a p a ro a n enemies. D e c im a te d th ro ugh epidem ics and
displaced from their native lands, they ev en tu ally disappeared through m is­
cegenation. T heir descendants can still be fo u n d in the Q u ich u a c o m m u n i­
ties o f the river C o n am b o . T h e second ca te g o ry o f Z aparoan s lived a lo n g
the tributaries o f the left m argin o f the river C u ra ra y . E xcept perhaps fo r a
m inority w ho surrendered, they fought fo r th eir in d epend en ce until b ein g
entirely wiped out.
B y sharply contrasting C h ristian -ration al-w orkin g-co op erative Z a p aro s
and savage-in dom itable-n om adic-un productive Z a p a ro s, historical w r it­
ings both reflect and create a divergence o f id e n tity a m o n g indigenous p e o ­
ples o f the N ap o -C u raray region. T h e y also a lm o st certainly reflect an
autochtonous cultural division between those w h o ally w ith the p o w erfu l
and em brace dom ination , and those w ho reject p o w e r and suprem acy, w h o
fight the powerful to the end in a desperate e ffo rt to elim in ate h ierarchy alto ­
gether. C learly too little is know n about the cu ltu re o f the large, diverse, and
n ow alm ost vanished Z a p a ro ethnic grou p to p ro p o se anything else than
conjectural hypotheses. B u t the enthusiastic w illin gn ess o f the riverin e
Zaparoan clans to w o rk fo r rubber traders, th at is, to ally w ith the w h ites in
order to raid enemies, particu larly hinterland g ro u p s (Zaparoans and n on -
Zaparoans), and to exchan ge prisoners fo r E u ro p e a n goods m ust also be
understood as an en d ogen ou s process lin k ed to fo rm s o f predatory rep ro ­
duction such as those explored by Taylor (19 9 4) a n d D escola (1993) a m o n g
the Jivaros, C haum eil (1994) am ong the Y ag u a, o r B ellier (1991) am o n g the
M ai H u n a .14

Recorded Huaorani History

Recent historiography— since the end o f th e ru b b e r boom — w h ich es­
sentially consists o f a series o f reports o f A u c a o r A u sh iri attacks and c o u n ­
terattacks, can be d ivid ed into three periods. T h e first period roughly co rre­
sponds to the rubber b o o m decades betw een 18 8 0 an d 19 20 , w hen variou s
adventurers, explorers, m issionaries, and m ilita ry an d governm ent officials
}8 The Upper Amazon

described a n d m apped the A u c a territory with its “ fierce inhabitants”

(Pierre [1887] 1983; M ich aux [1928] 19 80 ; U p de G r a ff 192.1; Tessm an 1930;
and G ra n ja 19 4 2 ). It is also d u rin g this period that m ajo r p o p u latio n m ove­
m ents o cc u rred w ith the in tensification o f extractive activities on the N apo
and the C u ra ra y rivers and the developm en t o f large h acien d as owned by
C a th o lic m issio n s, Ecuadorian an d Peruvian traders, an d rubber tappers.
T h e m o v e m e n t o f lowland Q u ich u a s corresponds b o th to the establish­
m ent o f ru b b e r estates, haciendas, and m ilitary posts, an d to the beginning
o f oil e x p lo ra tio n . A ll these activities dem anded the use o f In d ia n labor. T h e
vio len t clashes w ith Z aparoan an d H uaorani Indians w ere undoubtedly
caused b y the intensified e co n o m ic exploitation o f the ju n g le and by the
eastw ard m ig ratio n o f m on tañ a Q u ich u a Indians (Tessm an 19 30; G ranja
19 42; B lo m b e rg 1956; Yost 19 8 1a; M u rato rio 1991).
T h e sec o n d period starts w ith the w ave o f oil exp lo ratio n and covers the
eight years (19 4 1 to 1949) d u rin g w h ich Shell was active rig h t at the heart o f
the H u a o ra n i territory. A n ew m in i-ru b b er boom also to o k place during
this tim e (o w in g to East A sian ru b b er shortages caused b y W o rld W ar II),
and m ilita ry posts m ultiplied ( p articu larly in the C u ra ra y and the Yasuni)
to p re ven t fu rth e r Peruvian in vasion . It is during this p e rio d that the H u ao­
rani b ec a m e u n am bigu ou sly id en tified as a separate cu ltu ra l group. B ut
even th en , w h ile the H u aorani, fierce isolationists, stric tly con fin ed them ­
selves to th e hinterlands, explorers and missionaries on the w h o le restricted
their v isits to riverine Indians.
H u a o ra n i expansion fropi the T ip u tin i watershed n o rth to the N apo and
south to the U p p e r C u raray an d V illa n o rivers, w here a g ro u p interm arried
w ith th e last indom itable Z a p a ro s, cam e to an end w ith the beginning o f
the g e o p h y sic al explorations co n d u cted by the R oyal D u tc h Shell C o m p a ­
ny. O n e o r tw o groups found them selves on the Peruvian side o f the border
after P eru gain ed h a lf o f E cu a d o r’s territory with the sign atu re o f the Proto­
cole o f R io de Jan eiro in 1941. R e p o rts from this period w r o n g ly attribute at­
tacks th at w ere alm ost certain ly perpetrated by Z a p a ro a n groups to the
H u a o ra n i (C ab o d evilla 1994:283—304). Yost’s (19813:678) statistics, based on
gen ealog ical surveys recording 17 percent o f rem em bered dead lost to the
guns o f o u tsid ers and 44 percent killed in intertribal h ostilities, reflect the
situ atio n o f intense and vio len t co n flict marking this tim e.
N o t u n til the developm ent o f the oil industry u n d e r the auspices o f
the E c u a d o ria n state, w hich assu m ed a new productive an d adm inistrative
role in th e E cuadorian A m azo n ian region, and at a tim e w hen the need
for In d ia n labor had in tensified, prom pting the eastw ard migration o f
m o n ta ñ a Q u ich u a Indians in to territories that had been depopulated for
The Upper Amazon 39

more than h a lf a century, were the H u a o ra n i recognized as historical ac­

tors.15 F u rth erm ore, the H uaorani b ecam e unam biguously iden tified as a
separate (and feared) cultural grou p w h en expansionist encroachm ents into
their land resulted in violent clashes (Tessm an 1930; G ran ja 19 4 2 ; M urato-
rio 1991)-
As w ill b ecom e evident below, i f H u ao ran i oral h istory does not give
much precision at all about external aggressors (rubber tappers, m ilitary, or
oil engineers) o r th eir activities an d deeds, it has a rich and v iv id body o f
stories reco u n tin g the exploits o f a cultural hero, M o ip a , w h o launched
countless attacks against enem ies, b o th external and internal. R eports indi­
cate that Shell encountered great d ifficu lties in contracting the labor force
it needed to ca rry ou t its am bitious an d extensive plans n o t so m uch be­
cause m ost o f the indigenous lab or fo rce w as tied to bosses b u t because N a-
porunas sim p ly refused to w ork in the N ap o -C u raray region , w hich they
called the “paths o f death.” Shell h ad m ore success w ith Jiv a ro s (alm ost cer­
tainly Z a p aro s o r descendants o f Z a p a ro s), w h o did not flee o r lose their
mind w hile trackin g uncontacted In d ian s in the hinterlands but w ho, on
the contrary, at least according to B lo m b e rg (1956:95—96), engaged in the
man hunt w ith passion.
In order to secure new oil reserves b y extending their northern fields
southward, o il com panies have p rosp ected the H uaorani territory ( particu­
larly the T iv a c u n o and the Yasuni) extensively throughout the 19 70 s and
1980s. T h is is also w hen the C a p u c h in m ission based in C o c a started paying
regular visits to the H uaorani liv in g alo n g the Yasuni River. T h e m issions
effort, how ever, rem ained fruitless w ith the T agaeri.16
A great deal has been w ritten b y jou rn alists and authors o f popular or
missionary b o o k s on the third p e rio d , w h ich starts w ith the k illin g o f five
North A m erican evangelical m issionaries and the creation o f a m odern type
o f reducción w ith C hristianized an d pacified H uaorani liv in g under the
control o f the Su m m er Institute o f Lin gu istics (SIL) (see chapter 7). T h e
SIL era o ffic ially ended in 1982, b u t evangelical m issionary w o rk has con­
tinued to the present day in sch ool villages and oil field settlem ents. From
then on, w e are in the present or, as it w ere, history in the m akin g. A s the
next chapter w ill reveal, neither these m ore recent events n o r the old ones
have given rise to indigenous ch ro n o lo g ical narratives.

Historical Isolation, A daptation, and C ontinuity

In co n c lu d in g this b rief eth n oh istorical overview, I w o u ld like to come
back to the issue raised at the b eg in n in g o f this chapter, that is, o f whether
40 The Upper Amazon

(and how) to distingu ish the H u a o ra n i from the rem nants o f insurgent Z a ­
paroan g ro u p s (i.e., A ushiris, A rab e la s, Tivacun os, S h irip u n o s, and so
forth) w ith w h o m they shared the sam e broad geographical area. Are the
H uaorani the descendants o f the Z a p a ro a n societies fragm en ted under the
im pact o f colonization? D id they disp erse and flee riverine hom elands in
search o f secu rity and sanctuary? A n d d id they loose their co m p le x social in­
stitutions because o f depopulation an d forest internm ent?
In m y v ie w the H uaorani are n ot the direct descendants o f the A bigiras;
they are n o t y et another o f the d iverse, indom itable Z a p a ro a n tribes but
quite a d iffere n t grou p altogether, o n e that has m aintained its separate iden­
tity and su rvive d the vicissitudes o f h isto ry by retaining access to the head­
waters o f the T ip u tin i,17 its core base, from which it has exp an d ed south­
eastward a n d , w h en ever con d ition s perm itted, n o rth w ard .18 I am inclined
to th ink th at i f the H uaorani w ere at all connected to the Z a p aro a n ethnic
bloc in th e past, they separated fro m it and chose isolation lo n g before the
post-O rellan a cataclysm , perhaps at the tim e when ( if n o t before) the A b i­
giras left Z a p a r o land to m igrate n orth w ard and develop a riverine culture
m olded b y O m a g u a and E n ca b e lla d o influences, and based on intensive
A n u m b er o f argum ents m ay be cited in support o f the thesis that i f the
H uaorani an d the Zaparos shared the same broad A m az o n headwater
region, th ey rem ained politically an d socially distinct th ro u g h o u t history.
First, h istorical evidence suggests th at the T ip utin i w atersh ed , w hich the
H u aorani co n sid er their ancestral hom eland, rem ained protected from
w hite in tru sio n s m uch later than a n y o ther region o f the U p p e r N apo . T h is
river, n eith er ve ry accessible n o r v e ry navigable, esp ecially in its upper
course, d id not attract rubber tappers any more than it attracted Spanish
conquerors. It is reasonable to assu m e that such a rem ote region , costly to
access, d an gerou s and depopu lated, w ith no m ajor deposits o f go ld , no large
fo o d -p ro d u c in g Indian settlem ents, and no great co n cen tratio n o f good
rubber trees w as devoid o f m issio n a ry o r econom ic interest before the advent
o f m od ern transport and c o m m u n ic a tio n .19
I have alread y m entioned th at the low er course o f the river T ip u tin i, at
the m o u th o f w hich the Je su its established a redu cció n w ith Western
T u kan oan s kn ow n as Payaguas, b ecam e an O m agu a refu ge in the eigh­
teenth ce n tu ry and that the O m a g u a kn ew and o ccu p ied the upper course
o f the T ip u tin i, possibly all the w a y to its source. H o w ever, this in no w ay
im plies th at the region was n o t already occupied b y o th er gro u p s, w ho, too
small a n d too divided to repel the O m a g u a, were fo rced to share their terri­
The Upper Amazon 41

tory with the latter. M entions o f such fo rce d coh abitation w ith n o n -H u a o -
rani occupying river banks (and so m etim es co m p etin g w ith H u a o ra n i for
hilltop locations) are a com m on feature o f H u ao ran i oral history. Sim ilarly,
reports o f Z a p aro attacks on rubber tap p ers in the river’s m id d le an d low er
courses at the en d o f the nineteenth c e n tu ry should not lead us to exclude
the possibility that other groups, the H u a o ra n i in particular, w ere also liv­
ing in these areas.
That the Z a p aro s lived along the rivers C u ra ra y and T ip u tin i, as w ell as
along their tributaries, for instance, the rivers N u sh in o, S h irip u n o , T iv a -
cuno, C o n on aco , and so forth, w h ic h , incidentally, are all Z a p a r o to-
ponyms, is n o t incom patible w ith the fact that H u aorani g ro u p s lived on
hilltops d o m in atin g these rivers, as w e ll as alo n g sm aller trib u taries. T h e re
is no doubt that the T ip u tin i becam e a refu ge fo r N ap o In d ia n s fro m the
seventeenth ce n tu ry on ; but it does n o t fo llo w that it was n o t alread y a
refuge for other groups fleeing O m a g u a an d Encabellado raids befo re the
arrival o f the Spanish nor that it w as a refu ge sim ilar to those fo u n d in the
Pastaza, w here fleeing Indians ten ded to in term ix and create the p o stco n ­
quest transcultural identities discussed b y T a y lo r (1992) and others.
Another im p o rtan t argum ent is th at the H u ao ran i language is an isolate,
with only tw o borrowed words in th eir lan gu age w h en first co n tacted b y the
SIL (Peeke I 9 7 3 ) - 2 0 O f course, analysis o f H u aoran i syn tax an d sem antics
has been greatly im peded by the lack o f data on Z ap aroan lan guages, and
future linguistic research m ay link the H u a o ra n i language to k n o w n phyla.
However, w o rd lists in Zaparo, A u sh iri, an d other Z ap aroan lan gu ages show
no correlation whatsoever with H u a o ra n i vocab u lary (B eu ch at an d R iv et
1908; Rivet 19 30 ; Steward and M é tra u x 1948:639; G ra n ja 1942.; Tessm an
1930). G iven that it is alm ost certain th at the A ushiris are the descendants
o f Abigiras, one m ay venture to infer, s im p ly on the basis o f lin g u istic evi­
dence, that the H uaorani are not d escen d an ts o f the A bigiras. It is tru e that,
given the h igh linguistic diversity o f Z a p a ro a n languages (it is k n o w n that
some were m u tu ally incom preh ensible), no definite co n clu sio n m ay be
drawn. W h atever caution one exercises, it rem ains nevertheless certain that
Tessman (1930) and the travelers cited b y R iv e t (1930, 1946) m ade contact
with H uaorani speakers, w hom th ey co rrectly distinguished fro m Z a p aro
speakers. T h e w ord list Tessman o b ta in e d from two Ssabela adu lts in V aca-
cocha, at the confluence o f the rivers N a p o and C uraray, is in d eed in H u a o ­
rani, and so is the w ord list o f Tuei (the language spoken b y the Inem o
Dikama) m entioned by Rivet (1930; see Stew ard and M étrau x 1948). T h is is
further confirm ed by the fact that R iv e t’s classification o f T u ei speakers as
42 The Upper Amazon

T u k a n o a n , w hich is p u rely based on geographical criteria, is erro n eo u s

(C h a u m eil, personal co m m u n ication ).
C o n tem p o ra ry H u a o ra n i have confirm ed, in tw o w ays, the existence o f a
H u ao rani-sp eak in g g ro u p at the mouth o f the river C uraray in Peru. F irst,
p e o p le w h o settled in the Y asuni area talk abou t an allied grou p th at m i­
grated dow nriver an d w ith w h om they lost all co n tact fifty-five years ago.
S ec o n d , a you ng lead er w h o w ent to Peru to a C O I C A (C o n fed eración de
las O rganizaciones In d íg en as de la C uenca A m azó n ica) m eeting in the early
19 9 0 s told me w ith great excitem ent that there h e had met a delegate fro m
the C u rara y w ho sp o k e a language he could un derstan d . He added th at the
y o u th , w ho was better dressed and better ed u cated than he was, an d w h o
sp o k e perfect Span ish , w as Ssabela. T h e Ssabelas are m entioned in the eth-
n o historical literature as an “ancient” H u ao ran i grou p w ho stayed in the
lo w er N a p o after the ru b b er boom . T h e y were w illin g to “civilize” an d w o rk
on the hacienda o f a ru b b e r boss with w hom th ey agreed to live.
A n additional a rg u m e n t is that the H uaorani contacted by the S I L m is­
sion aries in the late 19 50 s had no trade goods o r m etal tools other th an those
d ro p p ed by the m ission aries from airplanes a few weeks before co n ta ct
(W allis 19 71). T h e re is also the fact, perhaps not as irrefutable but n e v e rth e ­
less significant, that H u a o ra n i people look m arked ly different fro m , an d are
slig h tly taller and m o re stalky than, their ind igen o u s neighbors. F u rth e r­
m o re, m edical evid en ce (D avis and Yost 1983:2.79) tends to suggest th at, in
co n trast to the N a p o Q u ich u a , Shuar, Siona, an d Secoya In d ian s liv in g
a ro u n d them (i.e., all postcolonial, transcultural ethnic groups), th ey d id
n o t experience viral ep id em ics o f sm allpox, m easles, chickenpox, ty p h u s, or
ty p h o id fever before th eir recent contact. In fact, D avis and Yost (19 8 3:27 9 )
n o te an even low er a m o u n t o f antibodies in the b lo o d samples o f H u a o ra n i
m e n an d w om en fro m the U p per Yasuni area.
S om ew hat co n tra d ictin g such evidence is th at no element in H u a o ra n i
m aterial culture has u n iq u e features unseen a m o n g neighboring g ro u p s, e x ­
cep t perhaps for the sh ap e and size o f their b lo w p ip es (Rival 19 9 6 b ). B o d y
d ecorations, balsa earp lu gs, weapons, h un tin g gear, fire-m aking sets, the
style o f houses, h a m m o ck s, and so forth, b elo n g to the same b ro ad A m a ­
zo n ian genre as th ose fo u n d historically (or even today) am on g Z a p a r o s ,
Q u ich u a s, W estern T u k an o an s, and Shuar. S o m e H uaorani cu ltu ral traits,
fo r instance, m yths a n d ear plugs, are rem arkab ly sim ilar to those fo u n d
a m o n g som e W estern Tukanoans such as the M a i H una (B ellier 19 9 1) .21
S u c h evidence in d icates, at least in my view, th at the H uaorani m u st h ave
The Upper Amazon 43

lived in the midst o f variou s o th er peoples, som e o f w h o m (for exam ple, the
O m agua) were culturally d ifferen t from them an d others (for exam ple, the
in dom itable Zaparos) m o re sim ilar to them ; or, to be m ore precise, they
form ed nom adic and a u ta rk ic enclaves livin g in the interstices betw een
larger and m ore pow erful gro u p s w ith w h om th ey refused contact, trade,
and exchange. O ne in stance o f their fierce refusal to interact w ith n o n -
H uaorani in the past is the fact that abducted m en , w o m en , and children
between the 1870s and 19 30 s (a period for w h ich w e have written records)
system atically com m itted su icid e (Blom berg 1956). A gro u p o f “uncontact­
ed” H u aorani, the Tagaeri, o f w h o m I shall speak m ore in the rest o f the
book, are still living in h id in g ever since m issionaries and oil com panies
have becom e active in the T ip u tin i area, fleeing all co n tact, even w ith other
H u aorani, their direct b lo o d relatives. T h e y are n o w liv in g in the southeast,
close to the border o f Peru.
In sum , I suggest that in stead o f accepting u n critica lly the thesis that the
H u aorani, like the T u p i-G u a ra n i foraging societies studied by Balee, de­
scend from an agriculturalist society, w e should co n sid er seriously the h y ­
pothesis that they m ay h ave constituted an isolated, territorially discrete,
sm all-scale, and cu ltu rally an d linguistically h om o gen eo u s society since
preconquest times. Such h istorical isolation and cu ltu ral continuity are d if­
ficult to docum ent. A sp irit o f insularity, by d e fin itio n , leaves no historical
traces in books written b y m issionaries and travelers.
C u rren t theory is so d ed icated to the exam in ation o f postcolonial ethno-
genesis, that it is alm ost b lin d to the possibility th at som e cultures m ay have
rem ained self-contained o ver lo n g periods. It is easy to understand w h y
A m azonian postcolonial stu dies tend to ignore the existence o f refractory
societies refusing m iscegen ation and to overem phasize the processes that
led to the emergence o f tran scu ltural and m u ltieth n ic societies in the m is­
sionary settlements establish ed th roughout the seventeen th and eighteenth
centuries. A uthors w h o cu rren tly com bine A m az o n ia n history and an thro­
pology, and w ho are p rim a rily interested in the role native h istoricalagen cy
plays in replacing older ab o rigin al sociopolitical m odels and institutions
w ith novel forms o f o rg a n iz atio n ,22 u nderstand ably prefer to focus their
analyses on geographic areas for w hich there is a w ealth o f archival m ateri­
als and good ethnographic records. T h e p rim ary interest o f Spanish co n ­
querors and subsequent co lo n ists and m issionaries in relatively large, seden­
tary aboriginal groups p ro d u c in g for trade and w illin g to barter and ally
w ith the Europeans explain s the unequal coverage o f postconquest history.
44 The Upper Amazon

C o n se q u en tly , i f eth n oh isto rical archives help to d o cu m en t the larger

g ro u p s th at interacted the m o st w ith Europeans, th ey co n tain very little on
p eop le w h o , like the H u a o ra n i, fled contact.
A s a result, eth nohistorians o f the A m ericas, w h o n o w possess an im ­
p ro ve d kn ow led ge o f native sociopolitical m odels a n d are better equ ip ped
to e x a m in e political processes over tim e, tend to p resen t the indigenous e x ­
p erien ce o f the colonial situ atio n in terms o f h istorical processes such as
eth n o gen esis and tribal frag m en ta tio n , stressing, in o th e r w ords, d isco n ti­
n u ity o ver continuity. A u th o rs such as W h iteh ead (19 9 3, 19 9 4, I995> 19 9 6 )
an d H ill (1993, 1994, 19 9 6 ), take historical processes as being essentially
a b o u t the postconquest d e stin y o f the vast m u ltilin g u al and m ulticultural
region al trade netw orks th at developed th ro u g h o u t the A m azon an d
O rin o c o basins before the arrival o f the E uropean s, as w ell as the d evelo p­
m e n t o f generic identities after it. N o t only do th ey exclude the en viro n ­
m e n t fro m their con sid eration s (in m arked co n trast to the previous gen era­
tio n o f ethnohistorians an d archaeologists), b u t th eir conception o f the
c o m p le x ity o f preconquest in d igen o u s social fo rm a tio n s does not allow fo r
regio n al com plexity, that is, fo r the sim ultaneous coexisten ce o f d ifferen ti­
ated ch iefd o m s and acep h alou s, elusive, and ce n trifu g al tribal form ations.
In the b rie f survey o f the U p p e r N ap o eth n o h isto ry offered above, I h ave
stressed fo u r aspects that m ak e the con ceptualization o f such long-term c o ­
existen ce possible. T h e first concerns the co n tin u ity o f abduction practices,
fro m O m a g u a slave ra id in g in preconquest tim e to Z a p a ro slave trade d u r­
in g th e ru b b er boom . T h e secon d aspect relates to the co-occurrence o f tw o
m o d es o f subsistence, n am ely, groups identified as foragers coexisting w ith
o th ers w h o are cu ltivators, the latter also b ein g m o re in volved in trade rela­
tio n s than the form er, an d this independently o f th eir respective lin gu istic
a n d eth n ic affiliations. T h e th ird aspect pertains to the en dem ic character o f
w a rfa re and the hostile nature o f in terco m m u n ity relations in the U p p e r
N a p o region. T h e fo u rth aspect is the eth n o gen etic process by w h ich the
Z a p a r o s disappeared as a distin ctive and separate eth n ic group, not o n ly
th ro u g h their absorption b y o ther com posite groups* such as the C a n e lo
Q u ic h u a s, but also th ro u g h the exterm in ation o f indom itable Z a p a ro
gro u p s.
B y isolating these fo u r aspects in the eth n o h isto rical records, it b ecom es
p o ssib le to distinguish g ro u p s not as discrete cu ltu res but on the basis o f
th eir political acceptance o f, or resistance to, o u tsid ers.23 Like o th er re­
search ers w orkin g w ith isolation ist p o p u latio n s,24 I understand h istorical
an d cultural experience as h avin g w orked to geth er to produce an e th n o ­
The Upper Amazon 45

graphic situation in w hich isolation has becom e an essential co m p o n en t o f

identity an d ethnicity, to the p o in t that endogenous a n d exogen ous forces
are no lo n ger experientially distin gu ished.
In the next chapter I exam in e H u aorani ideas a b o u t h isto ry and show
that n either the turbulent events o f the rubber era, n o r the m ore recent
events lin ked to S IL m issionarization, have given rise to n ative ch ro n o logi­
cal narratives. From a H u aorani perspective, there is o n ly on e lo n g history
o f predatory attacks perpetrated b y cannibal outsiders an d internal destruc­
tion caused by hom icidal m adness, interrupted here a n d there b y truce,
growth, and recovery.

T h e T im e a n d Space o f
H u ao ran i N o m a d ic Isolationism

s sh all b ecom e evident in this chapter, H uaorani p e o p le are not

A d e v o id o f historical consciousness, in the sense th at th ey see

th em selves as having survived as a distinct and au to n o m o u s so­
ciety despite th e v io len c e and aggression o f non-H uaorani b ellico se tribes.
T h e ir survival th ro u g h time, which they attribute to self-segregation, is not
conceptualized as the outcom e o f history, in o u r post-H egelian , E uropean
sense, but is exp ressed through tales o f w arfare and m yths, a n d , m o re im ­
plicitly, th ro u g h a shared cultural discourse on anger, h om icid e, an d death.
It is this overall con stru ction o f h istory as violence that I exp lo re here, first
b y exam in in g styles o f storytelling, then b y explaining the co n tra st m ade in
indigenous d isc o u rse between “exow ar” a n d “endowar,” an d, fin ally, b y ex­
plo rin g cu ltu ral representations o f k illin g and dying.

K now ing, Rem em bering, and Representing the Past

M y k n o w led g e o f H uaorani past fro m a H uaorani point o f v ie w derives
from their en d less tales o f w ar expedition s. G iven the H u a o ra n i lack o f
interest in ex a ct quan tification (on w h ich I have more to say in the next
chapter), w h ic h is m atched by a lack o f precision in re co rd in g tim e,
such tales fo rm a heterogeneous collection o f old-tim es sto ries (du ran i
apene, literally ‘th e stories told by those w h o lived before’ ). D u r a n i is the
plural form o f d u b e ‘past’ , and m ost d u ra n i apene recall a n cie n t, as well
as ch ro n o lo g ica lly fa irly recent, raids an d killings. Like so m a n y o th er peo­
ple around th e w o rld , the H uaorani do not distinguish b etw een m yths
and historical tales, w hich are all stories handed down from gen eratio n to
D ifferen t term s corresponding to d ifferen t time depths are used to ex­
press the past. D u r a n i, durani ba i, or m onito m em eiri a n o b ain du ra n iba in
(‘like the tim e w h e n o u r grandfathers liv e d ’ , that is, in trad ition al tim e) are
used to talk a b o u t the beginning o f tim e, that is, mythical tim e. A n o th e r ex­
pression, h u iin e h u iin e , is also used som etim es. These expression s m ay be
com bined, su c h as in the phrase h u iin e du rani, which ty p ic a lly starts the
telling o f m y th s a n d legends.
H uaorani Nomadic Isolationism 47

T h e terms huarepo (literally ‘again it com es’ o r ‘annual cycle’) and apaica
‘moon’ or ‘m onth’ are used to give w hat appears at first to be m ore precise
information about the length o f time separating the present from the past
event being rem em bered, but this is often an illusion . I soon realized w hile
in the field that huarepo cou ld mean an yth in g from several m onths to sev­
eral years, and that the conscientious repetition o f apa'ica, while counting
one’s fingers, was v e ry seldom related to the actual num ber o f m onths that
had elapsed betw een tw o events. T h e c o u n tin g o f chonta palm seasons
(,daguenca tire), 1 b y con trast, usually gave a m ore accurate notion o f years
passed, and so did the use o f iim o ‘yesterday’ , nuhone ‘right now ’ , ‘at pres­
ent’, ‘today’ , and b a an e ‘tom orrow .’ To m y am azem ent, I found no w ord
other than baane to express the distant future.
To remember is to th in k again (weete pone) and believe (pone), a verb
that is contrasted w ith the verb to know (in i, literally ‘to hear’). I form ed
the strong im pression w h ile living in H u a o ra n i land that forgetting was
more com m on than rem em bering, a poin t illustrated by the fact that when
someone was rem in d ed o f som ething, the person w ould answer laughing
“ d u u b e. . . ,” w h ich is an exaggerated p ro n u n ciatio n o f dube ‘past’ , by w hich
the person m eant, “ It h appened so long ago that I have com pletely forgot­
ten about it.” T h is “ so lo n g ago,” however, often stood for a period o f sev­
eral weeks and never extended beyond several m onths.
To recapitulate, d u ra n i, the term co m m o n ly used to talk about ‘history’ ,
marks a distance in tim e that could range fro m ten years to one hundred
years. Since the p assin g o f tim e is considered an unquantifiable process,
past events do not n eed to be recorded w ith precision. Such im precision
is remarkable in a cu ltu re that shows great reluctance to make general
statements about society, culture, or w ays o f life. W hereas H uaorani in ­
formants do not an sw er questions o f the type “ W h at do H uaorani people
think about . . . ?” o r answ er w ith one concrete, particular case o f which
they have direct kn o w led ge , they answer qu estion s about the past using in­
formation-poor, fixed narratives that are too vagu e to lead the listener to feel
as i f she or he had been there. These narratives construct a transhistorical,
archetypical event th at can be sum m arized as follow s:

Huaorani people (i) are subjected to outside predation; (2) they endlessly wan­
der on or across enem y territory, settle tem porarily out o f reach o f cannibals, and
brave the enemy in order to celebrate the palm fruit season on hilltop sites for­
merly occupied b y long-dead Huaorani; and, finally, (3) times o f warfare, de­
struction, and depletion (piinte quemente ‘m aking— in the sense o f manufactur-
48 Huaorani Nom adic Isolationism

ing— the state o f rage*) are interrupted b y periods o f peace and expansion
(piiyene nani quepam o ‘ou r anger no longer is’).

O r, in the w ords o f on e o f m y H u ao ran i guides: “A long tim e ag o , there

w ere m any H u ao ran i people, w ho d efen d ed them selves fiercely again st can­
nibals and protected th eir land from en croachers. T h e y began to k ill each
other. O n ly a few p eop le w ere left. T h e y said: ‘W e have killed e n o u g h , let us
stop being angry, let us grow children an d becom e m any again .’ ” 2 H isto ri­
cal narratives based on this archetype leave ou t im portant so cio lo g ical in­
form ation , such as the fact that w om en a ctiv e ly participated in raid s, som e­
tim es finishing o ff, dism em bering, an d cu ttin g up enem y corp ses and
van dalizin g or d estro yin g their enem ies’ m aterial property. T h e y o m it the
fact that lootin g som etim es occurred, th at children and w o m e n w ere in
som e cases abd u cted , o r that som e raids, represented as acts o f retaliation ,
self-defense, o r revenge, w ere in itiated b y H u ao ran i men.
I f H uaorani h istory, o r the collective m e m o ry o f spearing a n d killing,
can n ot be precisely located in tim e, its spatialization is less p ro b lem atic.
T h e connection b etw een a specific h istorical event and a p a rticu la r river or
hill, despite its p u b lic character, is in v a ria b ly com m ented on d u rin g forest
treks. For instance, trekkers m ay co m m en t that “this creek is called N e m o n -
pare [N em o’s creek] because N em o , h a v in g escaped from A h u a n e , foun d
refuge here; this river is nam ed Q u ih u a ro [Q uihua’s river] after Q u ih u a,
w h o died here o f the w ou nd s inflicted b y M u n c a s spears,” an d so fo rth . O f
course, the travelers’ conversations also in clu d e num erous rem arks on other
hum an im p rints, as people point to the h u n tin g trail o f N a h u a n e , the old
house site o f M en g a ’s grou p, or the sp o t w h ere G u m e killed a o n e-h u n d red -
p o u n d collared peccary. A n d such co n versation s are in variably interspersed
w ith exchanges on anim al displacem ents an d plant m atu ration .3 A s a result,
the forested lan d scape is “ read” not so m u ch as kn ow ledge o f the past,
w hich can be p h en o m en ologically recalled an d shared w ithin th e co n text o f
trekking, but rath er as a space alive w ith h u m an activities ( past a n d present,
destructive and pro d u ctive), as well as w ith the ever ch an gin g presen ce o f
fauna and flora.
T h is should n o t lead one to th in k, h ow ever, that there is n o th in g distinc­
tive in the w a y th at h um an activities co n n e cte d w ith physical v io le n c e and
death are inscribed in the landscape. In particu lar, they are recalled through
the association o f certain nam ed in d ivid u a ls w ith vagu ely d e fin e d places,
such as a stream o r h ill, and not w ith sp ec ific spots w here the k illin g actual­
ly occurred. A lth o u g h not used as to p o n y m s, the names o f th e k illers (al-
H uaorani Nom adic Isolationism 4p

ways men, and u sually several for each v ic tim ) are nevertheless rem em bered
as vividly as the nam es o f the victim s (alw ays iso lated , m ale or fem ale, in d i­
viduals) that have b ecom e the names o f p a rts o f the forest.
T h e landscape resu ltin g from such “ h isto ric a l” m e m o ry is as cru cial to
the understanding o f H u aoran i culture as th e to te m ic geography is fo r A u s ­
t r a l i a n Aborigines (M o rp h y 1995). In b o th cu ltu res the landscape lin k s to ­

gether people and place, and time is spatialized . H o w ever, topograph y does
not em body livin g m y th o lo gy in the H u a o ra n i h istorical landscape, as it
does in the A ustralian A b o rigin e case. A s I sh a ll exp lo re in m ore detail, i f the
landscape is represented in m yths, it d o es n o t, how ever, represent the
myths. Although H u a o ra n i prim ordial an cesto rs an d cultural heroes crea t-'
ed the earth as it is kn o w n today by cau sin g th e gia n t w o rld tree to fall o r by
raising hilly lands above the flooding p lain (R iv a l 19 9 7b ), they h ave lo n g
ceased to act on the landscape and are n o t a ck n o w le d g e d as the au th o rs o f
their topographical creations. T h e forest exists because o f the lives an d
deaths o f ordinary people.
I f normal life creates the forested lan d sca p e (m ore on this in the n ext
chapter), history an d a separate collective id e n tity result from H u a o ra n i
peoples im m em orial efforts to protect th em selves fro m predators b y fleein g,
hiding, and trekking. People have su rvived b y m o v in g on . T h e y have h ad to
hide and escape from the external vio len ce o f p o w e rfu l, destructive n e ig h ­
bors, as well as from the irruptions o f in te rn al fury, tw o types o f aggression
against which they feel powerless, and, w h e n co m b in e d , periodically b rin g
the Huaorani nation to the brink o f e x tin c tio n . M o re than h istorical ac­
counts, these self-representations constitute d eclaratio n s o f identity: H u a o ­
rani people have h ad to defend their lives a n d th eir collective d ifferen ce
against annihilating and predatory forces. T h e y con stitu te, in other w o rd s,
their historical truth, w h ich the rest o f th is c h a p te r n o w explores.

Primeval Predation and Survival

A great num ber o f narratives, in clu d in g m y th s, reiterate one fu n d a m e n ­
tal fact: there is n either beginn ing nor end to the H u a o ra n i’s flight fro m p re­
dation and destruction. It is often d ifficu lt to d ifferen tiate historical n arra­
tives that recall true violent encounters w ith n o n -H u ao ran i attackers
(Zaparos, N aporunas, w h ite explorers, co lo n ists o r traders, m ilitary, an d so
forth) and those that depict the cannibal a ttac k s perpetrated by d an gero u s
demons or spirits k n o w n as huene. A sto ry I record ed , fo r exam ple, started
in the mode o f a reportage and recounted a raid carried out by in h ab itan ts
5o H uaorani Nomadic Isolationism

from th e to w n o f C oca on the N a p o R iver against the N ih u a iri in the early

forties, b u t q u ick ly it turned into a fantastic epic o f savage slaughter involv­
ing w h a t appeared to be h alf-an im al, half-hum an, im a g in a ry beings, w ho
dove fro m th eir hiding places in trees onto passing H u a o ra n i, cracked their
skulls to eat th eir brains, sucked th eir blood, and carved u p th eir dyin g bod­
ies into pieces to be roasted on b ig open fires. In o th er w o rd s, these non-
H u ao ran i attackers were b eh aving no differently fro m the evil huene spirits
about w h ic h the old Q ueñe told m e the following story:

Ñ eñ e Yere are demons who break stone axes into pieces, kill the H uaorani, and
eat them . A t som e point in the past, over a thousand o f these dem ons came and
killed m ost o f the Huaorani. I kn ow this story to be true because m y grandmother
used to sing about this. T h e dem ons came to visit, and the people had to serve
them m an io c drink from dusk to daw n. There was never enough drink to satisfy
them an d quench their thirst. T h a t’s how the Huaorani k new they were not real
people but dem ons. T h e N ene Yere hid behind trees and started to kill the H uao­
rani. A s they kept com ing through the house jum ping around like monkeys, an
old m an w as chanting. People tried to kill the Ñeñe Yere w ith their soft spears.
T h e y w o u ld jab and jab and jab, but the monkey dem ons w o u ld not be killed.
D o w n river Huaorani came to the rescue and tried to kill the N en e Yere with their
w ood en m achetes and poisoned darts, but the demons d id not die. Alive as they
were, th ey killed more and m ore H uaorani. Only those w h o kept chanting saved
their ow n lives; singing, they escaped from death. T h e dem ons w h o listened to
the chants died. T h e wom en, w h o had gone to hide in the forest, came back full
o f joy, as soon as they realized that the demons were dying. I f it had not been for
these dem ons, we would be like the Quichuas; we w o uld speak the same runa

A related an d popular corpus o f m yths recount the d ead ly actions o f dem o­

niac v a m p ire bats (tonquitay). H e re is a short version co llected in the field:

Tonquitay caused a lot o f hardship in former times. People’s lives were miserable,
for, d espite all their care, the bats w o uld come at night to steal their young chil­
dren to kill them and eat them. T h e bats lived on a giant rock as hard as cement
in the sky. T h e sky, attached to tree tops by climbers, w as close to earth. W hat
people to ok to be wild turkey bones thrown on the grou nd b y birds o f prey were,
in fact, the bones o f Huaorani children. The children had to w o rk hard for the
bats. T h e bats were the bosses, the children the slaves. T h o se w h o refused to w ork
were killed and eaten up.
Huaorani Nomadic Isolationism 51

M any o f these stories stress the H u a o ra n i’s helplessness in the face o f ene­
mies, w h o co u ld be scared away but n ot killed off. H u ao ran i people could
not defend them selves because their spears were made o f soft balsa w ood.
Th ey could su rvive on ly by livin g d ivid e d and separated fro m non -H uao-
rani, at least u n til the son o f the sun cam e to their rescue:

At the begin n in g o f their history, H uaorani people had only spears m ade o f balsa
wood, w h ich were too blunt and soft to kill. T h ey were at the m ercy o f numer­
ous cannibals and under constant threat o f being killed off. T h e ir only protec­
tion against these powerful enemies w as to live in hiding. O ne day, the son o f the
sun visited them and taught them the existence o f peach palm s. H avin g learned
to make hard palm wood spears, they were able to defend themselves. T his is
how, until this day, they have survived as a separate group. W ith hardwood
spears, they could defend themselves and remain different from the cohuori
(non-H uaorani).

W hat these narratives tell us is that at all times, that is, in m yth ical times, in
former tim es, a n d in the w orld today, H uaorani people h ave been continu­
ously subject to the aggression o f predators. They, the h u ao ran i (literally
‘true h um an b ein gs’), are under co n stan t threat o f being captu red and eaten
by cohuori ‘n o n -H u a o ran i’ , w h o are, as the old A ca once to ld m e, quenhu'e
‘cannibal pred ators’ w ho live “on the other side.” T h e y steal people (espe­
cially children) to butcher their b o d ies, sm oke and cure th eir flesh, and eat
it exactly lik e m o n k ey or peccary m eat.
It is n ot possib le to differentiate real hum an attackers (fo r exam ple, Z a ­
paro slave raiders, rubber tappers, m ilitary, or colonists) fro m im aginary
ones, and figh ts w ith outside enem ies are no different fro m m ythical en­
counters w ith huene dem ons because all attackers behave in the same
predatory w a y an d have the sam e evil intentions; they kill real people, suck
their b lood , a n d eat them. Stories a b o u t predatory bats an d other kinds o f
huene m ay easily be interpreted m etaph o rically as a m yth ical discourse on
real historical events. A s noted in the last chapter, native people o f the
Upper N a p o region, especially ch ild ren , were abducted to be used as bond­
ed labor even before the arrival o f Europeans. M oreover, m ythical tales
about the sp irits o f dead relatives, o r relatives w ho left a lo n g tim e ago, come
back for a visit, ask for food and shelter, and end up k illin g and devouring
their hosts, m a y also be interpreted as cultural rew orkings o f real historical
occurrences con n ected w ith p ostcon q u est epidem ics. T h e se h uene devils or
ghosts are said to trick their hosts ( particu larly w om en an d children) by as­
52 H uaorani Nomadic Isolationism

sum ing the b o d ily appearance o f relatives. O ther visitin g h u en e are iden­
tified w ith d ista n t H uaorani gro u p s w h o se habits and d ialect differ from
those o f th eir hosts. Exam ples are the Taromenga ( Taram ongui) /' m onstrous
people w h o h ave no m outh and live un derground in h oles, o r the H uiña-
tare, a tribe o f giants w h o live at th e border o f Peru an d are said to raid
H uaorani fo r w o m en in order to sa tisfy their incon tinen t sexual appetite.
To deceive, h arm , and kill constitutes th eir real m otive fo r visitin g .
It is tem p tin g to interpret beliefs a b o u t cannibal tricksters as cultural de­
vices w h ose fu n ctio n w ould be, on the on e hand, to p reven t co n tact and in­
teraction betw een contam inated k in fo lk returning after a lo n g absence and
n o n con tam in ated individuals, a n d , o n H ie other, to p ro te ct uncontacted
groups fro m the predatory raids o f th eir abducted relatives supposedly
w ork ing as slave traders or guides fo r colonists and ru b ber tappers. B u t even
i f there w ere a correspondence b etw een such function an d the specific his­
torical circu m stan ces that m ay h ave g iven rise to it, w e are nevertheless left
w ith the task o f explaining w h y all these tales articulate the sam e cultural
anxiety tow ard b eing attacked, b eset, b led to death, b u tch ered , and eaten as
game, in a w o rd , devoured. M oreo ver, conversing w ith o ld in fo rm an ts con­
vinces an y field -w o rker that p red atio n , far from being a figu re o f speech or
a vague b elief, is experienced w ith a real sense o f victim iz atio n . O ld people
are ad am ant th at facing an ou tsider is facin g som eone b e lo n g in g to a more
pow erful species, som eone w h o is set to kill and con su m e its H u aorani vic­
tim. F u rth e rm o re, all these tales seem to ju stify the rad ical exclusion o f
those w h o h ave left the group an d the m ilitant o p p o sitio n again st all con­
tact, exchange, o r trade w ith ou tsid ers o n the ground th at all outsiders are
cannibals w h o se sole m otivation is. to p rey on insiders, the o n ly true people.
C u ltu ra lly fram ed in this way, the social universe co m p rises two basic
categories: h u aoran i and cohuori. T h e H u aorani, as a p e o p le , are radically
different fro m all non -H u aoran i, w h o are defined as p red ato rs and hence,
others. T h e differen ce is categorical, o r essential, in the sen se that huaorani
are victim s o f coh uori (in clu din g h u en e). H uaorani an d co h u o ri are like
two d ifferen t species, two d ifferent k in d s o f beings. T h e ir o n ly possible re­
lationship is u nilateral predation. L iterally, cohuori are p red ato rs and huao­
rani prey. T h is is continu ou sly repeated in everyday co n versatio n about the
past, esp ecially w hen trekking a lo n g rivers where v io len t fig h tin g w ith Z a ­
paros, Q u ich u a s, rubber tappers, a n d explorers o ccu rred . M oreover, the
vivid co llective awareness o f h a v in g to engage perio d ically in violen t con­
frontations w ith outsiders is alw ays expressed from the v ic tim ’s standpoint,
even w h en H u a o ra n i expeditions are in fact not m erely to defen d them ­
Huaorani Nomadic Isolationism 53

selves but to initiate the hostilities a n d attack first. A s the lo n g -tim e w arrio r
Cugui once p u t it: “ O u r grandfathers u sed to flee or to fight b a c k .” T h e re­
lation o f predation is unilateral and n on recip ro cal; one species is alw ays the
predator, the other always preyed u p o n .5 A ll differences are erased in this
unequal and perpetual duel opposin g tw o --- and no m ore than tw o----su b ­
ject positions, to use Viveiros de C a stro ’s term in o logy (1998a).
T he im m utable and endless com b at b etw een predator and prey, presen t­
ed from a victim ’s perspective, takes o n a natural, that is, in evitab le, charac­
ter, as if in terlockin g two asym m etrical destinies. T h e absolute an d quasi-
ontological character o f the dual o p p o sitio n o f h u ao ran i-co h u o ri is
confirmed b y the m yth o f origin, w h ic h tells about the tree o f life an d the
great flood.6 T h e m yth starts as follow s:

In the beginning o f time, the earth w as flat; there were no forests, no hills. T h e
earth was like a dried, barren, and endless beach, stranded at the foot o f a giant
ceibo tree. T h is tree, attached to heaven b y a strong vine, was the on ly source o f
shade against the strong sun. O nly seedlings growing under its protective shade
could escape the suns merciless heat; this is w h y there were no hills and no
forests. T h ere was also no moon and no night either. All that was alive dwelled in
the giant tree. It was like a house. T h e livin g slept in the tree and fed on its fruits.
There were no gardens, no need to visit, and food was shared by all. In those
times o f beginning, people formed on e big group. H um ans and anim als were not
yet separated. O n ly birds were different and lived apart: the doves, the on ly game
obtainable, and the dangerous H arpy E agle, w h o swooped dow n on people and
doves alike. Life in those times w ould have been good to live, if it had not been
for the giant preying bird.

W ithout su ggesting that this b rief su m m a ry should be reduced to a single,

univocal m essage, I feel confident in asserting that the m yth ab o u t the
world tree is significant in that it presen ts the prey-predator relation as so
primeval that it even precedes sp eciatio n , that is, the m o m en t w h en H ue-
gongui, the creator god, transform ed p ro to -H u a o ra n i into d ifferen t anim al
species w h ich he then sent dow nhill, o rd e rin g them to live apart.
As noted earlier, ontological p red atio n is also at the center o f the m yths
on the origin o f deadly, hardwood spears an d on the predato ry activities o f
bat dem ons. T h e myth about spears stresses that because the H u a o ra n i m il­
itary capacity o f resistance is lim ited, th eir autonom ou s existence as a sepa­
rate, viable collectivity is constantly u n d e r attack. F light and self-segrega-
tion are therefore essential to su rvival. T h e very sam e social an xiety is
54 H uaorani Nomadic Isolationism

expressed in the m yth o n bats, w ith anxiety abo u t b iological reproduction

fo cu se d in this m yth o n the survival o f the yo u n g . T h u s, taken together,
b o th m yth s highlight an im portan t aspect o f the relation o f predation .
O th e r m yth s m entioned in the discussion above, p articu larly huene m yth s,
also reiterate the m essage th at true people (the H u ao ran i) are victim s, at the
m e rc y o f cannibal predators w h o kill them and th eir children to co n su m e
th e ir strength and vitality.
In su m , there is o n ly o n e kin d o f hum ans, the H u ao ran i. A ll o ther p e o ­
p le lik e beings are predators w h o take on a n th ro p o m o rp h ic characteristics.
O n th is basis I suggest th at it is conceptually m ore precise to speak o f p re­
d a tio n (the treatm ent o f an oth er species as gam e) rather than can n ib alism ,
an d to avoid focusing o n substance in corporation , w h ich , for us W estern ­
ers, represents the m ost h o rrifyin g and extrem e fo rm o f violence and d o m ­
in a tio n . In H uaorani th in k in g , predators kill o n to lo g ical others to rep ro ­
d u c e them selves b io lo g ica lly ; the prey-predator relationship is not th ou gh t
o f in term s o f a categorical shift from one o n to lo g ical category (i.e., h um an )
to a lo w er one (i.e., a n im a l), as entailed in our o w n conception o f ca n n ib al­
ism . Predators (in ve rn acu la r tenohuenga) are an im al killers; they kill to eat
ra w flesh. T h e anim als o n w h ich they prey are sim p ly quenguinani ‘fo o d .’ 7
T h is term , it should be n oted , stands in contrast to the term queninga ‘p et’ ,
tran slated , literally, as ‘th at w h o is fed’ or ‘that w h o has received fo o d fro m
h u m a n s .’ T h e p roto typ e predator is not the ja g u ar {m iñe, from the root m ii
‘ ra w ’ , w h ich also m eans ayahuasca) but the h arp y eagle (quenihue, literally
‘th a t eats live flesh’). H a rp y .eagles are taken as fledglin gs from their nests
a n d attached on high p latfo rm s at the entries o f longhouses, where th ey are
fed live hunted m o n keys an d birds, T h eir cries are said to protect lo n gh o u se
residents from invaders. Ja g u ars, which are not con sid ered a separate species
as o th e r anim als are b u t rather are viewed as in d ivid u a l anim als, each p o ­
te n tia lly in corporating a h u m an soul, are sy m b o lically adopted as the sons
o f sh am an s, as discussed in the next chapter.
N a tu ralized in this w ay, the relation o f p redation is clearly ahistorical. It
has neith er begin n in g n o r en d , and n othing alters o r transform s it. M o re ­
over, it is not developm en tal. N o t only is it fixed, b u t it is always lived fro m
the sam e point o f view , that o f the victim s. T h e H u ao ran i never represent
th em selves as predators, n ever take on the p o sitio n o f predators, even w h en
th e y retaliate in self-defen se, fo r if they kill the en e m y thanks to the m a teri­
al m ean s provided b y th e son o f the sun, the act o f k illin g is an end in itself.
T h e cannibals are n o t p reyed upon but are sim p ly exterm inated. T h e y are
n o t consum ed, nor are th ey sym bolically rein corporated w ithin H u a o ra n i
Huaorani Nomadic Isolationism yy

society. Predation is tim eless and perpetual, b u t h istory as irreversible

change and transform ation does, however, irru p t. In the m yth o f o rigin ,
w h en Squirrel inadvertently severs the liana attach in g the w orld tree to
heaven, the giant tree falls and is irrem ediably tran sfo rm ed into the A m a ­
zon River. T h e en vironm ent and the fate o f liv in g beings are changed fo r­
ever; there is no going b ack to the pre-fall era (R iv a l 19 9 7b ). Sim ilarly, the
creation o f animal species an d the separation o f proto-h um an s into d iffer­
ent groups (i.e., anim al species) is irreversible, even i f individuals som etim es
can, and in certain circum stances do, transform them selves across the
boundaries between species. It is understood fro m these m yths that there
w ill not be a return to the tim e w hen both h um an s and anim als were p ro to ­
h um ans. T h e separation is definitive. H ow ever, i f these transform ative
events constitute a w atershed, a before and after, p red atio n preexisted them .

A nger and H om icide

O n tological predation does not explain w h y real people (i.e., H uaorani)
kill each other. Intratribal w arfare is explained b y in vo k in g a form o f anger
(p it ) that drives m en to m ake spears and to use them to kill enem ies
(huarani, literally ‘unrelated others’) or even at tim es their own kin (g u ir i-
n a n i)— either by blood o r b y residence. For in stan ce, com m on answers to
the question “ W h y did p eop le kill each other before?” are these: “ W h en
they w ere angry, they k illed ” ; “ T h e ir disagreeing ab o u t a m atter m ade them
so an gry that they w ou ld get their spears out an d k ill” ; or “ I f som eone in the
longhouse became sick an d died, the men w o u ld get an gry to the poin t o f
bein g driven to m urder som eo n e, anyone.”
T h re e main ideas co n tin u e d to recur in the discussion s I had w ith in ­
form ants on warfare. F irst, p i t ‘anger’ drives o n e to kill “enem ies,” that is,
unrelated people. Second , the untim ely death o f a kin should be avenged b y
killin g as m any huarani ‘e n e m y others’ as possible, no m atter how direct or
indirect (according to em ic criteria) was their resp o n sib ility in causing that
particular death, the goal b ein g to kill as m an y others as possible, as an end
in itself. N oth in g should be taken away from the enem y, not even the spears
used to kill them, w h ich n o w form an integral p a rt o f the victim s’ bodies.
T h ere is no snatching here o f anything belon gin g to the enem y: no b o d ily
parts such as Jivaro heads o r Yagua teeth; no a cq u isitio n o f sym bolic po s­
sessions, for exam ple, n am es, chants, or other types o f ritual property as
am o n g Tupi-G uarani gro u p s, and no w om en o r ch ildren as occurs in so
m an y Am azonian societies.
$6 Huaorani Nomadic Isolationism

T h e F orce to C arry o n L iv in g a n d th e D riv e to K ill

M e n have to be under th e influence o f pi'i, a m ix tu re o f courage, fearless­
ness, anger, and force— b o th m oral and physical— to kill w ith a spear. P i i,
as raw en ergy or vitality, is felt b y men and w o m en alike. B u t only m en b e ­
co m e p i 'i inte, that is, b eco m e the fit o f rage itself (rath er than just feelin g its
presence in the body), a transform ation that, i f sustained long en o u gh ,
drives them to “spear k ill” o n e o r more victim s. O n c e pi'i takes over the
k ille rs body, he no longer listens and kills b lin d ly ; it does not m atter w h o
the v ic tim s are, for the goal is to bring on death.
P i'i, o r hom icidal furor, is represented as so m e th in g natural, the b o d y ’s
em o tio n al response to a p a rticu la r change in the social environm ent, m o re
precisely, to the death o f a relative. I witnessed m en b ecom in g pi'i on sever­
al occasion s. Each tim e, the first m anifestation o f rage was directed again st
the m an ’s yo u n g children. H is w ife or wives an d o th er co-residents h ad to
co n tain h im , stop him fro m seizing his spears an d k illin g in his own h ou se.
O n c e I heard a man, in fu riated by the death o f his son w h o had drow n ed in
the C u ra ra y River, sing: “ I w a n t to kill, as a result y o u die. M y b eco m in g
a n g ry drives me to w an t to k ill, resulting in y o u r d y in g .” Today, w h ile p i 'i
inte m en seize their shotguns and shoot aim lessly abo ve their heads, w o m e n
preven t tragic accidents b y fleein g to the forest w ith their youngest c h il­
d ren . O ld e r children run a w a y to hide in the forest o r seek refuge in a relat­
ed lon gh ou se, and they d o n o t com e back u ntil rage has deserted th eir fa ­
th er’s body.
A fte r the first fit o f rage, m en usually channel th eir pi'i energy by p la n n in g
a k illin g raid. T h eir rage an d determ ination to k ill, w hich they su stain
th ro u g h chanting, spreads contagiously to o th er m en in the lo n gh o u se.
T h e y need to remain in a state o f rage th roughou t, fro m the fashioning an d
d e co ra tin g o f spears to the fin d in g o f and s p y in g on victim s. V ictim s are
am b u sh ed and killed w h e n they are most v u ln e ra b le or least su sp iciou s.
M o re often than not, h ow ever, w ar parties are ab o rte d , as men cease to feel
pi'i w h ile looking for, o r sp y in g on , the enemy. T h e feelin g m ay even w a n e
earlier, fo r exam ple, w h ile sharpen in g their spears.
T h e death o f a kin, w h ic h causes pi'i, is alw ays interpreted as having b een
cau sed directly or in d irectly b y som e hum an agency, w h ich , in turn, triggers
the h om icid al em otion. C o m p a red to deaths b y predation, w h ich are
caused b y external p ow ers, all deaths are con cep tu alized as m urders th at
cause furth er murders, excep t deaths in old age, w h ic h , as I discuss in c h a p ­
ters 4 and 5, are v o lu n ta ry deaths. W hereas a co h u o ri predator k illin g a
Huaorani N om adic Isolationism 57

huaorani prey is seen as co m m ittin g a natural p re d a to ry act sim ilar to those

foun d w ith in the animal k in g d o m , a H uaorani k illin g an o th er H uaorani is
not view ed in this way, even i f the em bod ied drive to kill is considered to be
a natural phenom enon b eyon d reason. Said differently, n o n -H u ao ran i p rey
on H u ao ran i in the same w a y as jaguars or h arpy eagles p rey on m onkeys
and birds. H uaorani are killed as p rey and consu m ed as fo o d , and their b o d ­
ies are used to feed other b odies, w h ose nature it is to kill and eat. B y co n ­
trast, a H uaorani killing a n oth er H u aorani does n ot co n su m e his victim but
reciprocates an unwanted death w ith a death he causes.
Lan gu age usage confirm s the equivalence betw een death and hom icide;
to be dead o r to be killed are interchangeable n o tio n s, b oth translated as
hueni. Tapaca tenonani ‘to kill w ith spears’ (literally ‘to spear kill’), is the
m ost co m m o n expression used fo r death. A n oth er w o rd fo r ‘to k ill’ is hueno,
a w ord that also means ‘to be an xio u s o r p reo ccu p ied .’ F in ally, the expres­
sion huenonga huentapa ‘he k ille d hence he/she d ied ’ is o ften used to m ean
‘to k ill.’ T h is gram m atical stru ctu re, w hich corresp on d s to the com m on
H uaorani w a y o f expressing an action follow ed b y a reactio n , translates p er­
fectly the notion that death, far fro m being “n a tu ral,” is caused by hum an
(re-)action. A ll deaths, w h eth er resulting from spearin g, illnesses (fever), or
accidents (snake bites, b ein g crush ed by a fallin g tree, o r drow ning) are
thought to be the direct results o f a particular k in d o f h u m an agency.
T h e unw anted death (daicaho ahuante hueni, litera lly ‘d y in g o f fever
and illness’) receives very little elaboration in co m p ariso n w ith the “w illed ”
death (tapaca hueni, literally ‘spear killed’) o r hueno tenongui. (literally
‘causing som eone to die b y sp earin g’), as i f it w ere p u re ph ysical sensation
or raw desire that created m ean in g. T h e cultural stress is u n am bigu ou sly
on the rage, w hich, located in the k ille rs body, tran sfo rm s h im from a kin ,
a co-resident, and an insider into an external aggressor w h o kills in dis­
crim inately. T h e killer and his fate are not ve ry im p o rta n t either, except in
the extrem e case in w hich he becom es a kind o f cu ltu ra l anti-hero, m yth ­
ologized as a fierce, perfectly au to n om ou s, and d re a d fu lly lonely in d ivid ­
ual w h o lives kinless and w ith o u t society, alone w ith the trees, and d rin kin g
his ow n urine. Killers w h o , u n d er the influence o f pi'x, have becom e
that w ild , that uncontrolled, an d that decorporated fro m the shared su b ­
stance o f the longhouse are c o m m o n ly said to be o rp h a n s.9 In addition to
the role o f pi'T, it is the victim ’s experience that is em ph asized in H uaorani
culture, as revealed in the collective representations relatin g to the scarred
but su rvivin g body o f the vic tim an d to the d y in g w a rrio r buried w ith his
you ng child.
$8 Huaorani N om adic Isolationism

The S ca rred B o d y
W h en su rvivo rs tell about past w ars, th ey invariably illustrate th eir story
by exh ibitin g th eir scars. T h e very fact o f seeing, and letting th eir in terlocu ­
tors see, the a n cie n t m arks is often en o u gh for the victim s to start giv in g de­
tailed in fo rm a tio n th at is often left o u t w h en they just talk ab o u t “ the angry
tim es.” In o th e r w o rd s, scars trigger the com m u n ication o f facts that allow
nonparticipants to internalize as accu rately as the protagonists, and share
in, the experien ce o f deaths resulting from pi'1'.
M ore than m n e m o n ic devices, scars ard b o d ily im prints re m in d in g w h o ­
ever sees them th at spears are w eapons p u rposefu lly designed to cause suf­
fering and to k ill.10 H uaorani spears are th in n in e-to-ten -feet-lon g pieces o f
hard palm w o o d . D ouble-h an d ed , th ey end in tw o fire-hardened heads o f a
triangular shape. T h e heads, o f w h ich on e is usually n otch ed, are as sharp
and cu tting as m etallic blades. T h e y can be sharpened again b u t generally
break o f f in the v ic tim s body. O n ce a spear is thrust, it can n ot be recovered
easily. T h is is o w in g as much to the w a y it is designed as to the stren gth w ith
w hich it is th ru st. T h ru st fiercely an d designed to kill b y in flictin g deep
w ounds at close ran ge, tearing organs, an d spillin g blood in p ro fu sio n , they
are left in the b o d ies o f dying enem ies. A s I learned from dem o n stratio n s on
dum m ies, the b arb ed points, aim ed prim arily at the low er ab d o m en , are
m oved to an d fro to cause m axim u m internal hem orrhage.
V ictim s’ b o d ie s are left exposed to the elem ents and to scaven gers, w ith,
on average, e ig h t to ten spears deeply b u ried in the trunk. C o rp se s (tomen-
ga bad in i h u in te y o m e, literally ‘this person’s flesh is rotting a w a y ’) are left to
rot. A ll the sto ries an d accounts I collected , as w ell as the n u m ero u s in for­
mal con versation s I had with guests, in fo rm an ts, and friends o n the subject,
all agree that en em ies are left to rot, th eir bodies riddled w ith spears. T h e
flesh gets p a rtly eaten by vultures, a n d the rest decays in “ ju ice s” that filter
into the forest gro u n d . Soon o n ly the bones rem ain; they lo o k like tapir
(tite) bones a n d are quickly foun d an d eaten b y the giant an teater {(¡to). A t
least this is w h a t h appens i f the victim is not foun d by k in fo lk . I f the victim
is already d ead w h en found, he or she is buried in a shallow , east-w est ori­
ented grave, w ith the face turned to w ard the east. T h e grave is covered with
rotten w o o d a n d dried palm leaves.
A su rp risin gly h igh num ber o f v ic tim s, however, are reported to have sur­
vived b y g a th e rin g enough strength to pull spears out o f th eir bodies. V ic ­
tims m ay also be saved by relatives w h o arrive in time to cut the protru d in g
spears at n o tch level. T h e w ounds heal over the barbed heads that remain
H uaorani Nomadic Isolationism 59

inside the body, u n til they are expelled so m e w eeks after the attack. T h e suf­
fering inflicted on the speared body cu lm in ates in the excruciating pain and
slow death o f m o rib u n d victim s, unless these are foun d by com passionate
kin and co-residents w h o dig a fairly large and deep grave, and b u ry them
alive. W hen the v ic tim is male, as is m ost o ften the case, fem ale kin lin e the
grave with b am b o o m ats on which th ey la y the d yin g body to hasten his
death and put an en d to his suffering. T h e re are m an y stories o f d y in g fa­
thers buried alive w ith one o f their ch ild ren , u sually the last o n e ,1 1 so, I was
told, “the father does n ot leave the lan d a lo n e, so he does not feel lo n ely in
the afterw orld.” M y classificatory sisters o n ce show ed m e h ow this was
done, and as-they w ere p u ttin g a yo u ng in fa n t o n the pretend grave, they ex­
plained to m e th at the onohuoca ‘b o d y -so u l’ 12 o f a buried speared victim
who dies by su ffo ca tio n does not go b ack to its birth place but stays right
there. T h e burial place, w ith its trapped ‘ b o d y -so u l’ becom es a place v iv id ­
ly remembered.

Warfare, H istory, and Kinship

In addition to the ethnographic data exp o sed in the previous section,
numerous con versation s w ith men an d w o m e n o f all ages, have led me
to think that p e o p le understand pi'i to be triggered by the departure
through death o f a b lo o d kin and/or a co -resid en t (g u iri). L ik e in so m an y
places in A m a z o n ia 13 anger is widely associated w ith bereavem ent , and the
desire for revenge w ith g rie f turned to anger. A n g er also flares d u rin g d rin k ­
ing festivals in w h ic h m arriage alliances are contracted outside en d ogam ou s

K illin g in A n ger M ak es K inship V isible

As already exp lain ed , death is experienced as the violen t and in ten tio n al­
ly caused loss o f a close person, alm ost as i f w h at caused death caused the
person to aban don his or her house g r o u p .14 A lth o u gh no on e expressed
this explicitly an d q u ite in the same term s, death enrages m en fo r it turns
kin into n o n -kin , an d co-residents in to unrelated, departed others. N o
longer guiri, a d ead person becomes huaca ‘oth er.’ A t the sam e tim e, m en
possessed w ith rage at the news that o n e o f their close kin has died retain
their kinship co n n e ctio n w ith the m issin g loved one, hence also becom in g
other’ to the liv in g w ith w hom they sh are substance. R etainin g kin ties to
the dead w ho has b ecom e huaca ‘an o th e r’ , th ey have tem porarily lost their
60 Huaorani N om adic Isolationism

o rd in ary attachm en ts. Said differently, w h e n a H uaorani k ills an oth er

H u aoran i, they sto p b ein g related; no lo n g er ‘us’ , they are n o w ‘en em ies’ or
‘oth ers.’
T h e death o f a father, m other, or sib lin g affects particularly ch ild re n and
adolescents. K in less in d ividu als are in a w e a k social position a n d becom e
easy targets; no o n e w o u ld avenge their death s. T h e ir position, th erefo re, is
sim ilar to that o f affin es, for the deaths o f affin es never call fo r reven ge. B ut
w h en a dying w a rrio r is buried w ith one o f his children, his so ul fu sed w ith
the soul o f his c h ild , he leaves acco m pan ied b y a kin, that is, as a fu lly in ­
corporated u xorial k in , and not as an a ffin e. O rp h an ed bachelors are m ore
lik ely to form m a le sib lin g groups and d ed icate their lives to k illin g as a w ay
o f life by aven gin g the deaths o f their p a re n ts.15 W hereas fratern al interest
grou ps becom e th e basis fo r the d evelo p m en t o f a peaceful so cie ty am o n g,
fo r exam ple, the P arak an a (Fausto 1998), th ey lead to w arfare a m o n g the
H u a o ra n i.16 T o co n c lu d e this point, k illin g transform s insiders in to o u t­
siders, and k illin g creates kinship. F u rth erm o re, b y creating k in sh ip , k illin g
creates history.17
W h en exam in ed b eyo n d the m icro -h isto ry o f particular fam ilie s, in its
w id er historical a n d cultural context, en d ow ar, or the killing o f H u a o ra n i
b y other H u ao ran i, is em ically represented as the succession o f tim es o f w ar
and destruction ( p 'i'i in te q u em en te , literally ‘w e live in a state o f an g er’), fo l­
low ed by times o f peace and expansion ( p i'iy e n e n a n i q u ep a m o , literally ‘no
lon ger angry, w e live w ell w ithou t sp ea rin g ’). T h e story below , to ld b y an
old m an from the Y asu n i (see m ap 3.1), illustrates the cyclical altern atio n be­
tween w ar and peace:

People killed each other because o f lies. N an icab oiri ‘longhouses’ fo u g h t against
one another. T h o se w h o lived north and south were healthy and norm al. Th ose
who lived west an d east always caused trouble. Before, there were m ore H uaorani
than ants. B u t th ey w ould kill each other periodically. . .'.-wiped ou t th ey w ould
end. Then, they w o u ld grow a little bit, then a little bit more. H ou ses were so
large then, full w ith people. . . . H u n tin g territories were carefully looked after
and protected. M a n io c was planted on all sides. People were happy. . . . far from
them the idea o f splitting or leaving their grandparents’ land. T h e longhouses
were crowded, and there were m any ahuene [senior house heads]. T h e greatest
was Queyebe. H e used to say: “do not kill, live in harmony and gro w m ore chil­
dren.” But w hen he died, the furor o f k illin g caught the people back. You see, it’s
like when the great ceibo tree falls in the forest. Everything gets torn off. T he
vines are pulled away. Everything around is destroyed. Exactly the sam e happens
Shell Mera

W e

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£ ~c
62 H uaorani Nomadic Isolationism

w ith the H uaorani. I f it was not so, w e w ould be as num erous as the Quichua or
the Shuar. W e true human beings have destroyed ourselves with fallen trees,
snake bites, malaria fever, fighting, and spearing each other. T h e forebears left,
som e h ead ing south. T h ey all left, som e heading east, and, so, few people now
rem ain.

As the sto ry above illustrates, w arfare is explained as the inevitable and

cyclical o u tco m e o f social reprodu ction : Endogam ous gro u ps expand and
prosper, b u t their grow th is n ot sustainable past a certain level. People
w h o o n ce d efined them selves as co-residents and g u iri sudden ly becom e
h u aran i. K illin g creates otherness and marks the b o u n d aries between those
w h o , liv in g apart, are or b ecom e unrelated, and hence poten tial enemies.
A s best as I could judge fro m field observations an d conversations w ith
H u a o ra n i friends, hosts, teachers, and guides, killin g an d destruction fare
m u ch h ig h er in peoples m e m o ry than growth and peace. People are far
m ore exp an sive on the subject o f w ar than on peace, as i f peace were not
m ean t to b e discussed but experien ced . T h ey are w illin g --- more, eager— to
share th eir m em ories o f h om icid es. In contrast, th ey h ave very little to say
on h o w it w as w hen the n a n ic a b o iri lived in great n u m b ers and in peace.
T h e o n ly inform ation I co u ld get (confirm ed by the abo ve testim ony) is
that peace w as often the m a k in g o f great men and w o m e n w h o “ow n ed”
d rin k in g cerem onies and w ere successful at m ain tain in g peace am ong sons
and n ep h ew s, and at ensuring grow th and prosperity fo r all. M ore is said in
ch ap ter 6 on the peace-keeping role and skilled h a n d lin g o f marriage al­
liances b y heads o f longhouses. I focus next on the co n flicts that arise over
m arriage agreem ents and postm arital residence.

W hen M a rria g e A lliances F a il. . .

W h ere as H uaorani people v ie w the cohuori as an undifferentiated class
o f c a n n ib a ls, w hich stands in absolu te opposition to th em , they see them ­
selves as relatively differen tiated in huaomoni ‘us’ an d h u aran i ‘others.’ T h e
tra d itio n a l system o f social alliances is based on a strict closure o f the social
w o rld o n to itself, as well as on the partial isolation an d m u tu al avoidance o f
the regio n al groups. T h e overall population is d ivid e d in dispersed net­
w o rk s o f interm arryin g lon gh ou ses separated by vast stretches o f unoccu­
pied forest (see m ap 3.1 referrin g to the pre-contact situ ation ). For greater
secu rity an d autonom y, lo n gh o u se residential grou ps tend to isolate them ­
selves fro m m ost other gro u p s. Longhouses not related b y marriage avoid
Huaorani Nom adic Isolationism 63

meeting an d often ignore one a n o th er’s exact location. H ow ever, their iso­
lation fro m one another is relative, as they are conn ected— at least poten­
tially— th rough personal relationship s; further, cognate k in livin g in nonal­
lied lon ghou ses reactivate their ties w henever spouses are scarce or social
disruptions caused by warfare too acute. T h e follow in g stories illustrate the
close lin k betw een failure in secu rin g m arriage agreem ents and cycles o f war
and peace. A s these three stories show , whereas the h u ao m o n i-h u aran i o p­
position structures marriage allian ces, killin g raids are directed against
huarani ‘en e m y others.’
In the late 1950s two large h u aran i groups were at w a r w ith each other,
the M o ip a iri ‘those o f M oipa’ an d the G u iqu etairi ‘those o f G uiqueta’ ,
despite the fact that M oipa had b een livin g w ith G u iq u e ta as a child. O n ly
two w o m en from M oipa’s gro u p w ere living w ith the G u iq u eta iri. Eight
years after a raid, in which m a n y o f the M oipairi died, the tw o groups had
largely fo rgotten about each other, in clu d in g their respective location in the
forest. T h e G u iqu etairi tricked the M o ip a iri, w ho needed spouses for their
young adu lts, into accepting an in vitation to a m a n io c-d rin k in g festival
they w ere organizing. But far fro m ally in g w ith the M o ip a iri, the G u iq u e­
tairi killed them o f f before the en d o f the d rinking festiv a l.18
A n in fo rm an t from the B ab eiri g ro u p told me the fo llo w in g story:

Ima was m y father. He was very good, a man o f peace. He kept telling us to live
in peace, to never kill each other, but live well, planting and growing manioc in
abundance to prepare large e'eme. H e became very ill and eventually died. After
the great man’s death, the men o f his nanicabo [longhouse] were fuming with
rage; they wanted to avenge his death. One o f them wanted to marry Omene’s
daughter. Omene was a relative, but Omene was mean, mean, mean, stingy; he
said the girl was too young to be given in marriage yet. On the very day when my
father Ima died, the frustrated prospective groom and his friends killed Omene.
They were huarani. They, too, had promised us a spouse, but they lied; no spouse
was given, so we became enemies.

T h e th ird story about failed a ttem p ts to establish m arriage alliances in ­

volves the Tagaeri, a group still d e fen d in g a strict au tark y and refusing all
contact, in clu d in g with their “civ ilize d ” kin. T h e T agaeri live in hiding,
with no cu ltivated crops, their fires b u rn in g only at nigh t. T h e y refuse m ar­
riage alliances outside their o w n g ro u p , and each year, despite the danger o f
being spotted b y the oil crews n o w w o rk in g on their lan d , they try to go
back to th eir palm groves for the fru itin g season. R ecent attem pts (1995—96)
64 H uaorani Nomadic Isolationism

by som e o f the Tagaeri’s m issionarized relatives to “p a c ify ” th em and ex­

change m arriage partners failed, ca u sin g one death on each side. T h is oc­
curred desp ite the close ties (i.e., classificatory brothers) e x istin g between
m em bers o f the tw o huarani gro u p s. T h is is how m y in fo rm a n ts tell the
story. Several m en from the B ab eiri g ro u p (a group n o w settled alo n g the oil
road)19 raid ed a Tagaeri lon ghou se a n d kidnapped a y o u n g w o m a n , w hom
they b ro u g h t b ack to their settlem en t.20 T h e y organized a d rin k in g party in
w hich she w a s w edd ed to a y o u n g B ab eiri bachelor, b u t the m arriage could
not be co n su m m ated , as she refused n o t o n ly to prepare fo o d fo r the groom
but also to feed h erself or to talk. S h e w as kept in c a p tiv ity fo r a few weeks,
but her fierce determ ination to refuse all social in terco u rse w ith her k id ­
nappers fin a lly induced the latter to b rin g her back to h er n ative longhouse.
T h e girl’s relatives attacked the kid n ap p ers as they w e re h ea d in g back to
their o w n p a rt o f the forest, sp earin g a yo u n g Babeiri m a n to death.

From the V ictim ’s Point o f V iew

T h is ch a p te r has presented the stru ctu ral processes th at giv e m ean in g to
H u ao ran i history. H istory in this p articu lar context is en visaged as an end­
less series o f predatory attacks perpetrated by can n ib al o u tsiders and the
con tin u ou s destruction caused b y h o m icid al m adness, in te rru p ted here and
there b y tru ce, grow th, and recovery. From an in tereth n ic perspective, his­
torical tim e is represented not as a lin ear and cu m u lative p rocess b u t, rather,
as the sy m b o liz ed and repetitive b attle opposin g true h u m a n s (i.e., H u ao ­
rani) an d can n ib alistic killers (i.e ., p ow erfu l n eigh b o rin g tribes). From an
in traeth n ic perspective, h istory is lived as the cyclic alteration between
times o f w a r and destruction, characterized by in creased trekking, and
times o f peace and expansion, w h e n endogam ous g ro u p s b ecom e m ore lo­
calized a n d in tensify their h o rticu ltu ral activities, an asp ect exam ined fur-,
ther in th e fo llo w in g chapters.
L ike a g ro w in g num ber o f S o u th A m erican specialists,21 w h o have fol­
lowed----o r not— Sahlins’s (1981:8) grou n d -breakin g p ro p o sitio n that histo­
ry is o rgan ized b y structures o f m e an in g , I have sh o w n here that m ythical
structures are essential com p on en ts o f H uaorani co n scio u sn ess o f the past
and, in particu lar, o f people’s m em o ries o f violent death s. I have also argued
that it is th ro u g h the u n ifyin g th em e o f predation an d k illin g that m yth and
history b ec o m e com plem en tary fo rm s o f consciousness (W righ t 1998:100;
G ray 19 9 6 :2 0 0 ) and that the H u a o ra n i m ake h istory b y creatin g a moral
link to th e past in defiance o f d o m in a n t powers. T h e tru e people, endlessly
H uaorani Nomadic Isolationism 6j

killed and co n su m ed by powerful p red ators, go through perio d s d u rin g

which com m u n ities at peace w ith o n e an oth er grow and exp an d an d tim es
when death, an ger and hom icide sp lit h ouse groups apart an d b rin g the
population to the verge o f extinction.
T h e eth n ograph ic data presented here co n firm , in im p o rtan t w ays, the
Amazonian cultural logic identified b y a n u m b er o f authors (M en g e t 1985;
Cam eiro d a C u n h a and Viveiros de C a stro 1985; V iveiro s de C a stro 1992;
Vila$a 1992; and others), namely, th at k illin g functions as the p rim e m ech ­
anism for in sertin g m em ory into so cial life,22 that predation is the m ain
model o f in teraction with the ou tsid e (V iveiros de C astro 19 9 6 ), an d that
warfare is a m o m en t in the general p rocess o f the p ro d u ctio n o f persons
(Fausto 1998).
A lthough the H uaorani seem to share the sam e cultural o b session w ith
predation an d alterity as their neigh b ors an d m any other A m az o n ia n soci­
eties, their vie w o f w arfare as fo stering a m oral co n tin u ity w ith past h istory
is, in m y view , radically different. T h e ir co sm o logy does n o t eq u ate the in ­
side and id en tity w ith a lack o f fertility in such a w ay th at th eir social re­
production becom es sym bolically d e p en d en t on a p red ato ry relationship
with the ou tsid e and with alterity. In H u a o ra n i cosm ic h istory, predation
predates h um an existence and stru ctu ra lly conditions th eir co llective exis­
tence as a separate and autonom ous eth n ic group.
It is possible to think o f cohuori as the necessary en em y fo r the co n stitu ­
tion o f H u ao ran i collective identity, fo r the H uaorani defin e them selves
in opposition to cohuori; but, as I.h ave argued, w e are d ealin g here w ith an
ontological o th er w h o cannot be in corp o rated w ithin H u a o ra n i society
in the w ay T u p in a m b a victim s, for in stan ce, were (C arn eiro d a C u n h a and
Viveiros de C astro 1985). C oh u ori rep ro d u ce b y preying o n H u a o ra n i, both
biologically and socially, but H u ao ran i exist as a separate co llective iden tity
by denying the need to incorporate the outside to co n stitu te the inside.
Th ey resist b ein g incorporated in co h u o ri societies by fleein g an d co u n tin g
on their ow n vita lity and fertility. T h e y take the subject p o sitio n o f p rey and
accept the fact o f predation as a p u re ly n on -H u aoran i rep ro d u ctive strate­
gy. This is w h y nothing is taken fro m the enemy. T h ere is n o attem pt in
Huaorani w arfare, w hich is aim ed at the partial destruction o f those w h o do
not count as “ u s,” to snatch the life fo rce o f the enem y o r to prevent the
enemy from being properly buried. T h e H u aorani kill reactively as m an y
cohuori as they possibly can in th e h o p e o f con tain in g the p redatory
“plague” by decreasing, even if o n ly m in im ally , the im balance betw een “ h u ­
mans” and “can n ib als.” Rather than b alan ced reciprocity b etw een exchan g­
66 Huaorani Nom adic Isolationism

in g grou ps through tit-fo r-ta t vengeance, the b alan ce being restored is that
o f un w an ted deaths m atch ed w ith wanted ones. M orib u n d victim s are
ab an d o n ed to their fate. T h e y m ay survive, th ey m a y be devoured b y v u l­
tures, o r they m ay b e fo u n d b y relatives w h o then give them a proper b u r­
ial. T o use Fausto’s (1998) term inology, whereas co h u o ri consum e h u ao ran i
“p ro d u ctively,” h u a o ra n i do n ot appropriate th eir enem ies’ external su b je c­
tivities; they do not in c o rp o rate aliens.
F ro m a H u aorani p ersp ective, the victors are alw ays aliens, the v ictim s al­
w ays insiders, and w a rfa re alw ays productive o f victim s. H uaorani are v ic ­
tim s w h o neither tu rn in to predators nor use w a rfare as a form o f n egative
reciprocity. T h e y a cce p t that their pow erful neighbors reproduce th e m ­
selves through “ re b o u n d in g violence” (Bloch 1992) but choose to resist the
p re d a to ry logic b y re versin g the sym bolic order an d pu ttin g the p rey at the
center, in other w o rd s, b y su bjectifyin g them selves as victim s. T h e lan g u age
o f vengeance is used to exp lain to the anthropologist w h y a particular act o f
“ in tentional life-ta k in g ” w as perpetrated; it is n o t because killing o b ey s a
lo g ic o f retaliation b u t because victim hood an d iden tity are in trin sically
related. A s the discu ssion o f funerary rites has dem onstrated, the focus o f at­
ten tion is on the v ic tim , n o t the killer. T h e victim o f internal w arfare is ty p ­
ically a dyin g w arrior, eith e r the one w ho w as attacked by surprise, d efen se­
less and unprepared, o r the one who attacked b u t w as fatally w o u n d ed in a
cou n terattack, the fo rm e r b ein g far more co m m o n than the latter. In b o th
cases, however, it is th e kille d , not the killer, w h o is culturally and so cia lly
v a lu e d . D y in g w a rrio rs b elo n g to their kin, w h o rem em ber and keep alive
the tale o f the circu m stan ces in which they died (k illin g raids are alw ays d e ­
scrib ed by the v ictim s a n d their kin, never b y the instigators). Tales o f w a r­
fare are stories abou t m e n w h o , buried alive b y th eir kin, die as cogn ate k in ,
n o w fu lly tran sform ed in to mem bers o f their w iv es’ groups and attached
fo rever to their w ives’ h om elan d . I f being killed is the m ost hum an death
(A lb ert 1985), it is b ecau se one dies as a victim an d a kin, in short, as an
T h e fact that to b e k ille d is culturally m ore sign ifican t than to kill is even
tru e o f m ale insiders w h o , possessed by pi'i, turn in to alienated killers, b e­
co m e as w ild and n o n h u m a n as jaguars and co h u o ri, and create othern ess
fro m w ithin . F or even th en , it is the victim s b u ried alive (with or w ith o u t a
ch ild) w h o are rem em b ered as insiders w orth aven gin g, whereas the w ild
k illers are not. W h e n k illers are eventually killed , their death is an en d in it­
self, and they are rem em b ered as cultural anti-heroes featuring in sto ry ­
telling. H o m icid e is n o t presented as an exp lo it, an act o f bravery, o r the
Huaorani Nomadic Isolationism 67

source o f mystical vitality, as it is am ong the Ilo n g o t (M . Rosaldo 1980;

R. Rosaldo 1980:138) but, rather, as an u ncontrollable b o d ily drive, the u n ­
fortunate outcom e o f pi'1'.23 Pi 1, w hich is beyond h u m an control, explains
w h y violence, a necessary part o f hum an in teraction w ith the nonhum an
w orld , is also inevitable b etw een huaom oni ‘us’ an d h u aran i ‘others’ , despite
the m oral anxiety this cau ses.24 A s in other A m azo n ian societies, w e find de­
grees o f social alterity rath er than the static in terior-exterior opposition.
H ow ever, there is a su bstantial difference: T h e en e m y is not incorporated
but expelled. T h e m ad killer, insider turned outsider, represents otherness
created from within an d expelled w ithout. T h e H u ao ran i system, w ith its
focus on the killed and the fate o f the killed, does not incorporate outsiders
that it turns into insiders b u t, instead, expels insiders w h o have becom e o u t­
siders, a fascinating reversal o f the Am azonian th em e o f incorporation o f
externality and otherness.
To conclude, i f w arfare is used in H uaorani society as it is elsewhere in
A m azo n ia to produce sy m b o lic capital essential fo r social reproduction, it is
so o n ly in so far as it prod u ces n ot tem porality as such but discontinuities
in tim e (times o f peace an d tim es o f war), as w ell as violen t memories in ­
scribed in hum an bodies an d enshrined in the landscape. T h is is not in ­
com patible with C arn eiro d a C u n h a ’s and V iveiro s de C astro’s (1985) thesis
that A m azonian societies refuse history and tem p o rality by using warfare to
pro d u ce “non-history” or, to use another o f th eir expressions, “projections
tow ard the future,” in the sense that their con cep tu alizin g effort, inspired
b y the w ork o f Lefort (19 78 ), w as to (1) differen tiate W estern from non-
W estern forms o f h istory; an d (2) explore the specificities o f Tupinam ba
historicity, which, they argu ed , was in fact a lo n g in g fo r future im m ortality.
H u aorani historicity, b y contrast, is concerned w ith the hazards and co n ­
tradictions o f social rep ro d u ctio n . In the next ch apter I exam ine activities
that create temporal co n tin u ities between the lives o f hum ans and the

H a rv e stin g the F o rest’s N atural A b u n d a n ce

s shown in the previo u s chapter, the p erm an en t threat o f preda­

A tory attacks an d o th er types o f aggression, as well as death, p a r­

ticularly vio len t death , cause people to flee, often aban don in g
e v ery th in g behind. In this ch ap ter I intend to presen t an aspect o f H uaorani
m o b ility linked to processes o f life and subsistence. T rek k in g in this sense is
m o re a com in g back than a m o vin g away. L iv in g p eo p le, the forest, and past
gen eration s are linked together through trekking a n d the continuous a b u n ­
dan ce o f fo o d stu ff and o th er useful resources.

A n Econom y o f Procurem ent

D istin gu ish ab le from b o th anim al foraging an d agricultural prod uction ,
H u a o ra n i subsistence e c o n o m y is, as I hope to dem o n strate in this chapter,
d isin vested from futu re-orien ted concerns. F o llo w in g B ird -D avid (19 9 0 ,
19 9 2 a , 1992b) and In g o ld (19 9 6 ), w h o have argu ed that the subsistence
e c o n o m y o f hunter-gatherers is best described as an econ om y o f p ro cu re­
m e n t, b y w hich they m ean a distinctive w ay o f en g ag in g in subsistence ac­
tivities, w hatever these are (i.e., w age w ork, trade, cu ltivation , stock k eep ­
in g, h u n tin g, and gath erin g), I w ish to argue th at H uaorani econ om ic
practices are closer to hunter-gatherer “food p ro cu rem en t” than to h o rti­
cu ltu ral “ food p ro d u ctio n .”
L ik e all A m azonian In d ia n s, the H uaorani h u n t, fish, gather, and c u lti­
vate. B u t this says ve ry little, because these activities can be organized an d
th o u g h t about in m an y d ifferen t ways. T h e H u a o ra n i w a y o f carrying su b ­
sistence activities is characterized by a strikin g lack o f specialization, the
p referen ce for extractive activities over agricultural prod uction , and the fact
th at m en , w om en, and ch ild ren spend hours “cru isin g ” in the forest, alon e
o r in groups, slow ly e x p lo rin g alm ost every in ch o f forest along their trails,
w h ile checking w ith evid en t pleasure and interest the progress o f fruit m a t­
u ra tio n , vegetation gro w th , and animal m ovem ents.
F o rest trips are con sid ered successful and p ro d u ctiv e as long as useful
p ro d u cts are brought b ack . People spend a great part o f their time co llect­
in g fo o d w ithin a radius o f 5 kilom eters (som etim es go in g as far as 20 k ilo ­
Harvesting the Forest’s N atural Abundance 6p

meters aw ay), an occupation they call ómere iiante gobopa (literally ‘forest
visitin g in order to bring so m eth in g back’) and th at en com passes all their—
in practice undifferentiated— h u n tin g and g a th e rin g activities.1 O m ere
aante go b o p a is as much a style o f w alkin g as it is a m ean s o f subsistence.
W h en w alk in g in the “cru isin g” fashion, a style o f d isp lacem en t m arked ly
differen t from the one used w h en visiting distant kin o r w h en tran sportin g
food fro m one place to another, people are not s im p ly ch eck in g the state o f
their “ larder.” T h ey collect w h a t they need for the day, reco rd in g patches o f
resources fo r later use, and m o n ito r vegetation g ro w th an d changes in gen ­
eral. I f they are not already fam iliar w ith the area, th ey also look for old
cultigens and other plant species denoting fo rm er h u m a n occu pation .

L iv in g in th e Forest A gain
It is n ot before m y adoptive h ouse gro u p 2 left D a y u n o fo r go o d and asked
m e to jo in their trekking exp ed itio n that I cam e to appreciate fu lly the ex­
tent to w hich Huaorani livelih o o d depends on forest resources. A fte r years
o f residence (more than tw en ty years) in this relatively o ld sed en tary village
w ith a school and an airstrip (see m ap pref.2), the N ih u a r i ch ose to revert to
a m ore nom adic way o f life or, in their ow n exp ressio n , aye ómere queente
quehuem oni ‘ live in the forest again’ , a change o f circu m stan ce they d e­
scribed to m e as illustrative o f the du ra n i ba i ‘tra d itio n a l’ (literally ‘as was
practiced by past generations’) w ay o f subsisting. H a v in g left D ay u n o es­
sentially for political reasons— they no longer w ish e d to su p p o rt the village
chief, a fem ale affine w h o m they foun d d o m in ee rin g an d exploitative—
they lived their nom adic forest existence w ith ju b ila tio n ; th ey had regained
freedom . T h e y trekked for so m e m onths th rough a p a rt o f the forest they
had used as hunting territory in the past and that th ey associated w ith the
lives o f their forebears, and, finally, they decided to create a n ew co m m u n i­
ty alon g the Shiripuno R iver (in H uaorani, Q u eh ueire O no ‘the river o f the
cannibals’).3 T h e exact site o f the co m m u n ity w as ch an ged three tim es
before its final location w as established n orth east o f their old village,
D ayu n o , at a tw o-and-a-half d ay w alkin g distance.
F o r a year or so, Q u ehu eire O n o w as noth in g m o re than a large h un tin g
cam p. L ike most o f the w estern part o f H u aoran i lan d , Q u eh u eire O n o is
characterized by rugged terrain featuring three sizab le hills d o m in atin g the
narrow valley that has fo rm ed alon g the U p per S h irip u n o , an d by red and
unfertile soils (Sourdat and C u sto d e 1980; C a ñ a d a s 19 83; I G M [Instituto
G eográfico M ilitar] 1986). T w ice du ring m y first stay I saw the w ater levels
yo Harvesting the Forest’s Natural Abundance

rise sharply an d cause severe flooding, transform in g the landscape fo r a few

days into a vast, u n even , and desolate m arshland. O nce, in S ep tem b er or
O ctober 1989, w e w ere caught in a b rie f b u t intense w in dsto rm associated
w ith a h eavy d o w n p o u r that was m o vin g from east to west, ca u sin g m any
trees to fall a ro u n d the cam p and alon g the river.
For the first three o r four m onths, w ild life was abundant and visible
everywhere a ro u n d the cam p. It was then that I saw groups o f m o n k eys at
close range fo r the first time. Flow ler m on keys (itva, Alouatta seniculus) re­
m ained in the trees surrounding the ca m p for several w eeks, an d th eir noc­
turnal calls c o u ld be heard for m uch longer. It was com m on d u rin g this pe­
riod to see to u ca n s (yaw e, Ramphastos sp.) and macaws (ehue, A ra macao)
flying over the ca m p , o r river otters (om pure, Pteronura brasiliensis) basking
in the sun o n a lm o st each piece o f d rift w o o d that cluttered the S h irip u n o
in its u pper co u rse. E arly-m orning river crossings by so litary tapirs (tite,
Tapirus terrestris) w as another fam iliar sigh t. B y the end o f m y stay, and on
subsequent trip s, w ild life was still ab u n d an t in the region, given local hunt­
ing success rates, b u t it had moved far aw ay from the c o m m u n ity and was
not easily seen a lo n g the Shiripuno o r a lo n g hunting trails.
T h e N ih u a iri sp en t the next eight m o n th s surveying the region w ith ob­
vious pleasure an d a great sense o f conten tm ent. T h e y had left ten sion s and
hostile feelin gs b eh in d , and were n ow discovering a new part o f the forest,
slow ly lo catin g its anim al resources an d dw elling places, as w ell as salt licks,
and fruit trees th at w o u ld attract d ifferent species in the fo rth c o m in g ripen­
ing season. T h e y explored the forest systematically, lo o k in g fo r useful
plants, an d , m o re im portant, for evid en ce o f previous o cc u p atio n , such as
potsherds, sto n e axes, and plant species all taken to be u n m istakab le signs o f
previous h u m a n o ccu pation. D u rin g evening conversations, after having
shared a co p io u s m eal cooked from forest food, they w ou ld exch an ge news
about reso u rce-m atu rin g states and location s, and laugh h ea rted ly w ith no
trace o f regret fo r the producing gardens an d well-equipped h ou ses they had
left b eh ind. T h e y w ere also largely in d ifferen t to the m alicio u s gossip di­
vulged b y rare v isito rs from D ay u n o o r to the news that th eir houses and
gardens h ad b een looted by the ch ie f an d her rem aining fo llo w e rs, in furiat­
ed by the N ih u a ir i’s desertion. A n d th ey had yet to show a sense o f urgency
regarding th eir n ew geopolitical situ ation . N othing, it seem ed , co u ld dis­
rupt the bliss o f liv in g in the m iddle o f the forest again, n o t even the need
to forge a llian ces w ith new indigenous neighbors, ecotourist agencies, and
com panies p ro sp e ctin g for oil.
H u nted an im a ls form ed an essential part o f H u aorani d iet in the
Shiripu n o, as th ey d id in D ayu no, b u t in a different way. T h e d iet consist­
Harvesting the Forests Natural Abundance 71

ed essentially o f forest food , tree-dw elling gam e, num erous fru its, germ i­
nated seeds, w ild roots, and so forth. N o w in a part o f the forest n o t yet
transformed b y sedentarization and a gricu ltu re, people hunted m ain ly
monkeys and b ird s, and used their b lo w p ip es m ore often than th ey did in
D ayuno. T h is is perhaps because b lo w p ip es, w h ich are m uch lo n ger and
heavier than sh o tg u n s, w ere too cu m b ersom e fo r hunting around D ayu n o .
In D ayuno, because hunters had to w a lk lo n ger distances to find gam e and
because it was m o re convenient to h u n t g ro u n d —-rather than tree5—an i­
mals, shotguns w ere used m uch m ore freq u en tly.4 A n oth er sign ifican t d if­
ference between the h u n tin g behavior I ob served in the recently form ed
Quehueire O n o w as that hunting seem ed to be a m uch less specialized ac­
tivity than in the o ld D ay u n o . H u n tin g in Q u eh u eire O n o was carried out
alongside a w h o le range o f parallel activities su ch as exploring the forest and
extracting useful resources.
Th e h un tin g an d gathering I observed d u rin g these m onths o f trekking,
far from representing separate and d ifferen tiated productive activities co r­
responding to a fixed division o f labor b y gen der or age, form ed a single
process, not ju st o f extraction but also o f k n o w in g and discovering the fo r­
est. C onsiderable tim e was invested, an d great interest shown, in all kinds
o f collecting activities, conveniently su b su m ed under the above-m entioned
expression om ere dan te gobopa ‘forest v isitin g in order to bring som eth in g
back.’ A lm ost ev ery day, som eone in the lo n gh o u se w ould hunt sm all arbo­
real species an d gather. B oth men and w o m e n had a great kn ow ledge o f the
habits, habitats, a n d feed ing cycles o f m o st arboreal species. In ferrin g from
fruiting cycles, w eath er conditions, and m a n y other signs, they co u ld pre­
dict animal b eh avio r and locate an im als th ey could not see precisely.
Thanks to th eir acute senses, especially those o f hearing and sm ell, they
could feel the presen ce o f anim als and an ticip ate their next m ove. C h ild ren
tended to hun t a n d gather in bands, never g o in g beyond a five-kilom eter ra­
dius around the lon ghou se.
Table 4.1 su m m arizes quantitative data o f w h at adult m em bers o f nine
house groups h u n te d and collected over tw e n ty days in N o vem b er—D e ­
cember 1989.5 D u r in g these— not all con secu tive— twenty days, 59 m o n ­
keys, 33 birds, 10 collared peccaries, 2 deer, an d 4 river turtles w ere hunted;
50 middle-sized an d large fish and 8 k ilo gram s o f small fish were fished; 150
kilograms o f m o rete palm fruit, 113 k ilo gram s o f ungurahua palm fru it, 28
kilograms o f u b illas and 9 kilogram s o f o th er unidentified fruits w ere gath ­
ered; and, finally, m ore than 750 omacabo leaves, at least 810 mo leaves, m ore
than 24 cham bira leaves, 20 unidentified p a lm leaves, and 50 bam bo o stem s
were collected (see table 4.2 for H u aorani an d scientific nam es).6
Extractive Activities Carried O u t in Quehueire O no
in November—D ecem ber 1989


day 1 3" b ir d s p e to m o 1 5 k g s o m acabo 13 0 2 h u n te rs

(1 p e to b a, 2 m t . c o lle c t o r s
2 cuhue) 4 f o o d c o lle c t © «

day 2 1 am o , 4 cuhuc, o m acab o 1 10 6 h u n te rs,

2 b ar£, 4 d eyc, 1 a ls o fis h e d , 1

2 cuhuc, w it h h is w ife

3 k g s s m a ll fis h ,
2 1 m id d le -s iz e d F is h in g P A R T Y :

f is h , 2 9 la r g e fis h 4 a d u lt s a n d
5 c h ild r e n
3 m t . c o lle c to rs

day 3 om acabo 24 0 8 m t . c o lle c t o r s

day 4 1 cuhu obohuenga, 1 h u n te r

2 kgs 1 fr u it c o lle c t o r
ic a h u e p a lm fr u it ,
7 kgs

day 5 3 cu h u e, 2 am o n a n to c a , 5 0 k g s 2 h u n te rs
1 0 fr u it
c o lle c t o r s

day 6 1 iw a , 1 p a q u e m o le a v e s 1 1 0 2 h u n te rs
2 0 oona 3 m t . c o lle c t o r s

day 7 3 b ird s 2 h u n te rs
(2 n ah u an e, 2 m t . c o lle c t o r s

1 abam o)
1 p a q u e , 2 iw a

day 8 1 g a ta , 1 cu h u e m o le a v e s 3 5 0 2 h u n ters .
2 m t . c o lle c t o r s

day 9 1 g a t a , 3 b a rfc , 1 le a fo o n ^ , 5 h u n te rs

3 am o 1 paque 2 1 p a lm tre e s 6 m t . c o lle c t o r s

fo r h o u se
c o n s t r u c t io n ,
om acabo

d ay 10 2 iw a , 1 b a r£ 1 le a fo o n fc , 2 h u n te rs
m o le a v e s , 4 m t . c o lle c t o r s
om acabo

day 11 1 g a t a , 2 iw a p e to m o 1 8 k g s 3 l e a v e s o o n fc 2 h u n te rs
2 m t . c o lle c t o r s
2 fr u it
c o lle c t o r s
Harvesting the Forest’s Natural Abundance 75

ta b le 4 .1 (co n tin u ed )


12 5 k g s o f ve ry 4 le a v e s o o n i 2 fis h e r m e n
s m a ll fis h , 3 a m o , a n d w iv e s
7 d e y e , 2 g a ta , 3 h u n te rs
1 b are 4 m t. c o lle c t o r s

13 3 g a ta , 2 d e y e , p eto m o 5 kgs 4 h u n te rs
1 to u can n a n to ca 2 0 kgs 1 fru it c o lle c t o r

14 1 d e y e , 1 g a ta , n a n to c a 8 0 kgs 4 le a v e s o o n e 2 h u n te rs
1 b are 2 m t. c o lle c to r s
5 fru it c o lle c to rs

15 1 g a ta 3 5 0 m o le a v e s , 1 h u n te r
5 0 o m a c a b o le a v e s 1 0 m t. c o lle c to r s

16 1 d e y e, 1 b are 2 0 p a lm le a v e s 1 h u n te r
2 m t. c o lle c to r s

17 5 deye 1 0 kgs p eto m o 3 h u n te rs

18 1 am o, 2 0 kgs yoh ué 1 o o n e le a f 3 h u n te rs
1 d e er, 1 g ata an d 2 boys
1 fru it a n d
m t. c o lle c t o r

19 1 d eer, 1 b a re , 5 kgs p e to m o , 2 0 0 om acabo 1 h u n te r (sm o k e

2 g a t a , 4 iw a 3 kgs yohué le a v e s , * fo r D . w e d d in g )
1 o o n e le a f 2 fru it c o lle c to r s
1 5 m t.
c o lle c to r s

20 ' 1 0 g a ta , 1 b are p e to m o 6 0 kgs 6 o o n e le a v e s 2 h u n te rs (sm o k e

yo h u é 5 kgs 3 0 oones fo r D . w e d d in g )
5 fru it c o lle c to r s
1 1 m t . c o lle c t o r s

T h eir diet consisted On the w hole o f m o n k e y m eat and m orete ( peton

fruit, which made p eop le remark with d e lig h t that th ey were livin g like be­
fore, during those blissful m onths. A s the ch o n ta palm (Bactris gasipaes)7
season approached, the N ih u airi, w h o h a d destroyed their planted groves
before leaving D ay u n o (except for one g ro v e that w as bequeathed to a son
w ho had decided to rem ain in the old village) an d kept the hard w ood for fu ­
ture use, searched n eighboring hilltops fo r om ere daguenca ‘w ild chonta
74 H arvesting the Forest’s Natural Abundance

T A B L E 4 .2
Huaorani N am es Mentioned in Table 4.1
Compared with C o m m on and Scientific N am es



p eto b a co m m o n p o to o Nycti b i us griseus

cuhuc b lu e - t h r o a t e d p i p i n g g u a n P ipile p ip ile
am o c o lla r e d p e c c a r y Tayassu tajacu
b arè cu ra sso w M i tu sa lv in i
deye b la c k s p id e r m o n k e y Ateles paniscus
iw a re d h o w le r m o n k e y Alouatta seniculus
g a ta w o o lly m o n k e y Lagothrix lagothricha
paque riv e r tu r tle Podocnemis expansa,
Podocnemis unifilis
abam o g ra y t in a m o u Tinam us tao
nahuañe g r a y - w in g e d t r u m p e t e r Psophia crepitans
yahue to u can Ramphastos sp.
cohuañe re d b r o c k e t d e e r M a za m a am erican a
obohuenga f r u it o f a n u n id e n t i f ie d tre e —
n a n to ca fr u it o f m o r e t e ( n a n t o h u e ) M a u ritia flexuosa
p e to m o fr u it o f u n g u r a h u a ( p e to h u e ) Jessenia bataua
ic a h u e c h o n tilla p a lm Bactris spp.
yohuè u v a s d e l m o n t e , u b illa s Pouroum a cecropiaefolia
om ocabo p a lm , u n id e n t ifie d sp e c ie s —

oònè c h a m b ir a Astrocaryum tucama,

Astrocaryum cham bira
m o p a lm Geonoma- tam andua
óoña bam boo Barn busa sp.

p a lm .’ A fe w ancient groves, w h ic h they recognized as m onito m em eiri q u i

(literally ‘o u r grandparents’ b elon gin gs’) were restored b y clearing weeds
and sh ru b s an d felling old dead trunks. Peach palm fru it, collected on the
site o r b ro u g h t from elsew here, w ere repeatedly c o o k e d and eaten there,
w h ich fu rth e r encouraged the propagation o f the favo rite palm (Rival
19 9 3a). O n the top o f a hill w h ere w e were collectin g “w ild ” chonta palm
fru it, m y o ld friend and classificatory brother, Y ateh u e, on ce told me that
the p a lm “w as o f ” his m aternal grandparents. H e a d d ed th at he was go in g
Harvesting the Forest’s N atural Abundance 75

to prepare the seeds by sm earing th em w ith w oolly m o n k ey b lo o d and plant

them next to his house in Q u eh u eire O n o as well as in the ancient grove
that he and his brother, C u g u i, h ad restored.
As life b ecam e increasingly settled in Q uehueire O n o , in d ivid u al families
started their ow n short treks, creatin g new pockets o f useful plants along
their h u n tin g trails and around th eir cam ps. Sm all patches o f plantain and
manioc w ere planted w henever stalks and shoots could be obtained from
Shuar and Q u ich u a neighbors o r w h en ever planting m aterial was traded for
forest p ro d u cts, curare poison, o r handicrafts. A p p ro xim ately one year after
having sp lit from D ayu n o, together the new com m u n ity b u ilt a vast tradi­
tional d u ra n ib a i onco ‘feasting lo n gh o u se’ around w h ich a large manioc
plantation w as established, in p rep aratio n for a political m eetin g to discuss
H uaorani land rights to w h ich w ere d u ly invited all H u ao ran i villages, as
well as representatives from regional Q u ich u a and Shu ar organizations and
leaders o f the C O N F E N L A E (C o n fed eración de las N acion alidades Indíge­
nas de la A m az o n ia Ecuatoriana) an d C O N A I E (C o n fed eración de las N a ­
cionalidades Indígenas del E cu a d o r).
Later, Q u ehtieire O no villagers also obtained garden produce from
neighboring Shu ar and Q u ich u a villages, as well as don ation s o f rice, sugar,
oil, flour, and canned fish from oil com panies. H ow ever, an d as I explain in
chapter 7, this food was extorted, stolen, or accepted m ore as a m eans o f es­
tablishing political ties w ith su rro u n d in g groups than o u t o f dire necessity.
N ot on ly w as forest food plen tifu l, b u t people had chosen to rely on it, a de­
cision th ey freely made as part o f th eir political choice to live in the forest
‘am ong pure kin ’ (huaponi h uaom o n i toma quehuem oni, or, in Spanish, vive­
mos puras fa m ilia s), while leavin g b eh in d not only the a u th o rity o f the ch ief
and garden produce but also seeds and other planting m aterials.

C lose a n d D istan t G am e
Like the N ih u airi discussed in the previous section, m ost H uaorani have
access to abu n d an t forest resources. T o gather and to h u n t are not generally
experienced as hazardous o ccu p atio n s. H unters rarely co m e back without
game. In fact, returns are high, an d everyone eats at least 2 0 0 gram s o f meat
each day. T h e localized d istrib u tio n o f favored species o f gam e anim als in
different areas o f the forest is w ell k n o w n and fairly predictab le.8 I f hunting
is not experienced as the risky a n d unreliable business depicted by m axi­
mization theorists for w hom h u n tin g is largely a m atter o f lu ck (game ani­
mals b ein g few and far betw een), it is because the locatio n o f game and
j6 Harvesting the Forests Natural Abundance

other useful resources is well k n o w n and broadly p redictab le. O n the one
hand, species habitats, m ovem en ts govern ed by foragin g an d m atin g habits,
and the w a y that seasonal cycles o f forest fru it influence the distribution o f
game an im als is well u nderstood, an d , on the other, the forest, w hich is in­
herited as a place full o f resources, is exploited in a w a y th at keeps resources
in constant an d adequate supply.
H u aorani traditionally avoided m ain rivers and lived o n h illtops, so fish­
ing, an activity undertaken m ore b y w o m en and children than b y men, was
m arginal. Sm all fish were— an d still are— stunned w ith a variety o f plant
poisons an d then scooped ou t in nets knotted by w o m en . Larger fish were
som etim es speared from w ater p o o ls b y m en w ith long, flexib le lances made
o f palm w o o d . Since the creation o f p rim ary schools, w h ic h has accelerated
the processes o f sedentarization, riverin e adaptation, accu ltu ration , and
m arket in tegration, fishing has b ecom e central to the subsistence econom y
in m any settlem ents (Lu 19 9 9 :136 —39). H ence one o f the greatest changes in
their subsistence econom y has been th eir recent a d ap tation to the riverine
B efore the introduction o f sh o tg u n s in the m id -19 7 0 s, the H uaorani
hunted b irds and m onkeys ex clu sively w ith blow pipes, an d white-lipped
peccaries ( Tajassu peccart) w ith spears, although the w h ite -lip p ed peccary
(the o n ly gro u n d anim al con sid ered edible) was h un ted o n ly occasionally.
T h e H u a o ra n i had no other w e ap o n s— no traps, bows an d arrow s, o r clubs.
As the fo llo w in g testim ony fro m Pegonca makes clear, m o st other animal
species w ere taboo:

Traditionally, people only ate birds and m onkeys, never tapir. Today, Huaorani
see river people (Quichua) eat everyth in g, any kind o f m eat, so they do the same.
In the past, we hunted deye [spider m onkey], gata [woolly m onkey], iw a [howler
m onkey], ure [white-lipped peccary], cuhue [guan], bare [curassow], an d yahue
[toucan]. W e did not hunt amo [collared peccary], tite [tapir], nor ompure [giant
river otter], which is like a brother; w e have similar bodies, it w ould be like you
eating y o u r dog. We never hunted tapir with spears for the sam e reason, it would
walk near the longhouse like a brother, w e could not eat it [see table 2 for these
anim als’ scientific names].
I learned to civilize in T ih u en o [m ission base o f the Su m m er Institute o f Lin­
guistics--- L .R .; see Rival 1992]. I w as taught to sew m y clothes and to use a shot­
gun in hunting. It’s amazing h ow the m onkey falls from the tree right away when
you shoot it with a gun. It doesn’t clin g onto the branch. M y son worked for the
C om pany. I waited for the m oney, and I bought a new gu n. T h a t was not long
ago, w hen I was still living in D am u intaro.
H arvesting the Forest’s N atural Abundance 77

As a civilized person in Tihueno, I w as taught how to eat all kinds o f meat that
walked on the ground. At first, I vom ited. But Babe’s w ife taught me the
Quichua ways. She got us a dog, so w e could hunt peccaries. W e had seen dogs
before, but we were very scared o f th em ; they attack and bite people like jaguars.
Dr. Vela [an Ecuadorian anthropologist w h o was working for the Ecuadorian na­
tional oil com pany, C E P E — L .R .] got us a G erm an Shepherd. W e gave the pup­
pies aw ay to m y relatives. 1 kept on e; it grew big, and I w ent h u n tin g w ith it.
With the dog, I could now chase cohuane [deer], tota [capybara], amo [collared
peccary]. We all learned little by little, each for his own benefit.

Like the M ak u (Silverw ood -C ope 19 7 2 ), but unlike the C u iv a (Arcand

1973), the H u aorani have specialized in tree gam e h u n tin g .9 I f birds are
hunted as often as monkeys (both bird s an d m onkeys are h u n ted m ore
often than squirrels and other sm all arboreal m am m als), m o n k eys are b y far
the favored gam e. O f the three largest m onkeys, the w o o lly m on key
{Lagothrix lagotrichd), the how ler m o n k e y (Alouatta seniculus), and the spi­
der m o n k ey (Atelespaniscus), the first is especially praised.
H u n tin g consists o f two d istin ct fo rm s o f activity— b lo w in g and spear­
ing. H unters say that they “ b low ” m o n k ey s and birds w h en h u n tin g them
with blow pipes, b y which they im p ly that, u n like predators su ch as jaguars
and h arpy eagles, they do not kill m o n k e y s an d birds but retrieve them from
the forest and carry their meat b ack to the longhouse, sim p ly another w ay
o f harnessing the forest’s bounty. H u n tin g w ith a b lo w p ip e establishes a
close, nonaggressive relationship w ith arboreal species, w h ic h , like people,
feed m ain ly on forest fruits. B y co n trast, w h ite-lipped peccaries ( Tajassu
peccart), the on ly ground anim al tra d itio n a lly h unted, are k illed violently, in
a fit o f d rivin g rage, with spears o f c h o n ta palm w ood , like h u m an enemies
are killed. T h e m eat o f this o m n iv o ro u s anim al w ith an u n con trolled ap­
petite, considered highly in to xicatin g, is consum ed o n ly infrequently, in a
kind o f o rg y (Rival 19 9 6 ^ 156 ).
B low pipe h un tin g is based on the idea that a balance m u st be foun d be­
tween h u m an groups and the a n im als th ey h u n t, for w h en h um an settle­
ments becom e too large or too sedentary, tree anim als fle e .10 T h is is
achieved through m anagem ent activities, an d through sh am an ic practices.
First, peop le say that they share fo o d resources— particu larly fruit— with
hunted species, principally by en su rin g that trees in the rip en in g season are
never fu lly h arvested, so that som e fru it is alw ays left for birds and m onkeys
to feed on . Such pragm atism (k eep in g gam e close by p ro vid in g them with
food) is n ot devoid o f moral am b ivalen ce. M on keys an d birds feeding on
fruit relished by people are said to be “stealin g” food fro m h um ans. In this
78 Harvesting the Forest’s N atural Abundance

co n te xt, stealing m eans th at anim als help them selves to food that is n ot
theirs b u t to w hich they are entitled, in the logic o f dem and-sharing, a p rin ­
cip le o f exchange I discu ss extensively in the next chapter. In other w o rd s,
fru its legitim ately b elo n g to hum ans, but hum ans h ave to put up w ith a n i­
m als’ d em an ds, not o n ly because animals need fo o d to subsist, fatten, an d
rep rod u ce but also b ecau se i f people were to stop sh arin g fruit w ith an im als,
the an im als w ou ld steal the seeds, hindering the reproduction o f fru itin g
p lan t species. Several m y th s explicitly elaborate on the need to share fru it
w ith m o n keys to keep th em close and to ensure the con tin u ed sym b io tic re­
latio n sh ip between p e o p le , arboreal game anim als, and fruit trees (R iva l
19 9 3 3 :6 4 2 -4 3 ).
S ec o n d , gam e an im als are kept close and in p len tifu l supply th ro u gh
sh a m a n ic practices. Ja g u a rs, w h o are believed to co n tro l the distribu tion o f
an im a ls and to attract tro o p s o f monkeys or flocks o f birds close to h u m an
settlem en ts, becom e the ad o p tive “sons” o f sham ans. W h en “visitin g” th eir
“ p arents” (shamans in a trance and their w ives), th ey tell hunters w h ere to
fin d abu n dan t gam e resources (Rival 19986:627—28). It appears, therefore,
th at H u ao ran i sham ans, u n lik e theirT ukanoan counterparts (R eich el-D o l-
m a to ff 19 9 0 ; 1996:82—9 9 ; A rh e m 1996), w h o use th eir pow er to ensure the
co n sta n t regeneration o f gam e, are prim arily co n cern ed w ith co n tro llin g
the spatial distribution o f gam e animals and, in particular, attracting th em
b ack w h en they flee fro m peop le. In other w ords, H u ao ran i sham ans use fil­
ial relations to keep an im a ls close, such as m on keys, w h ich are already q u ite
lim ite d in their d istrib u tio n and ecological requirem ents.
F u rth e r insight in to H u a o ra n i hunting m a y be derived by co m p arin g it
to M a k u n a hunting. A rh e m (1996) shows that an ethical code he calls “ the
co sm ic foodw eb” u n d erlies both the M akuna sh am an ic system and h u n tin g
practices, as the M a k u n a believe that hunters use sham anic m eans to e m ­
p o w e r species to rep ro d u ce and multiply. G ive n th at anim al Spirit O w n e rs
allocate their “anim al ch ild re n ” to human beings, k illin g for food, A rh e m
exp lain s, involves an act o f reciprocity (19 2).11 F o r the M akuna, k illin g a
g am e anim al and ea tin g its flesh liberates its essential, spiritual essence,
w h ic h can then be re em b o d ied (i.e., reborn) in an oth er anim al.
H u m a n and anim al reprodu ction are not so directly and ob vio u sly in te r­
co n n ected for the H u a o ra n i, whose sham anic system does not represent
recip ro city as the m o st appropriate mode o f exchange between h u m an s,
sp irits, and anim als. W h e re a s hunting is a k in d o f m ale gardening fo r the
M a k u n a (Arhem 19 9 6 :19 9 ), it is a form o f gath erin g for the H u a o ra n i,
w h ereb y using and c o n su m in g natural resources does not im pair— an d p o s­
Harvesting the Forests N atural Abundance 79

sib ly even encourages— th eir continued rep ro d u ctio n . T h e H uaorani say

that m on keys and birds rep rod u ce u n p rob lem atically as long as hum ans
leave them enough food to eat and as long as in terspecies population d y ­
n am ics are balanced, that is, as lo n g as hum an settlem en ts remain relatively
sm all, interspersed, and transient. Furtherm ore, th e jagu ars, w ho help keep
the gam e close, are con ceptu alized as generous “ancestral spirits,” rather
than as allies w ith w h o m the souls o f dead h u m an s are exchanged fo r the
live bodies o f animals.
M e n becom e sham ans (m enera, literally ‘parents o f jagu ars’) 12 at a m ature
age, w h en , w ith several o f th eir children already m arried , they are fu lly in ­
co rp o rated into their w ives s h ou se groups, a co n d itio n sine qua non fo r ac­
q u irin g the ability to estab lish consanguineal ties o f a m ore personal and
m ystical nature. A m an does n o t choose to be a sh am an but, rather, is ch o ­
sen b y a jaguar spirit w h o first appears in his dream s an d w ants to adopt him
as his father. I f the dream recurs, the jaguar sp irit feels w elcom e and is en ­
co u raged to com e back; the m an is now considered to h ave accepted h im as
his son . From now on, the ja g u a r spirit visits his h u m an father, his “m o th ­
er” (i.e., his hum an fath ers w ife) and his “siblings” (i.e., his hum an father’s
ch ildren ) regularly at n igh t in their longhouse. S u c h visits make the m an
“d ie” tem porarily, as the ja g u a r spirit/son takes the place o f the man’s soul
an d uses his body as a “tape recorder” to broadcast his visio n s and conversa­
tions w ith longhouse co-residents. H e speaks a n d ch an ts, referring to the
u n con sciou s man w hose b o d y he possesses as “m y fath er,” w hile addressing
the m an’s w ife as “m oth er,” an d the man’s ch ildren as “sib lin gs.”
Ja g u a r spirits choose a d o p tive fathers w ho n o t o n ly are m ature men w ith
a fam ily o f their ow n b u t w h o also have “ k n o w n death” at an early stage
in th eir lives. W hen a ch ild is so ill w ith daicaho ‘feVer’ that h e13 is thought
to be close to dying, his paren ts take him to a m enera w ho gives h im
the ultim ate remedy, m ih i (Banisteriopsis m iiricata). I f the child survives
thanks to the ingestion o f m ih i, he becomes a d iffere n t kind o f person,
literally a survivor, w h o , in m ature age, becom es susceptible to visits b y
ja g u ar spirits. F urtherm ore, it sh ou ld be noted th at the m im o ‘ heart souls’ o f
dead sham ans and w arriors killed while figh tin g are said to “give birth” to
several fem ale jaguar cu b s, w h ic h are adopted an d raised by “real” forest
jagu ars as their own cubs. In short, the spirits th at live in jaguar bodies,
ad o p t certain men as th eir fathers, visit h um ans, m ak e anim al gam e stay
closer to hum ans, and tell h u m an s where to fin d gam e in the forest on ce
lived in hum an bodies, th at is, in the bodies o f sham an s or w arriors.14 I
sh o w in the next section th at this construction o f sh a m a n ic power concords
80 Harvesting the Forest's N atural Abundance

w ith o th er m anagem ent practices that transform the forest into a g iv in g

en viro n m en t.

T h e M a n a g em en t o f P la n t R esources
H u a o ra n i ecology is to be prim arily based on p e o p le’s experience o f h o w
d ifferen t tree species grow , m atu re, and reproduce, an d w hich anim als are
related to w h ich plant species. A lth o u gh people’s u n derstan d in g o f the rain
forest ec o lo g y seems lim itless, special attention is given to a few features,
all associated w ith gro w th an d age. T h e foxest, m onito ome ‘our lan d ’ o r
sim p ly om e ‘hom eland’ , ‘te rrito ry ’ , o r ‘forest’ , is con ceptu alized as a p a tch ­
w o rk o f successional fallow s. People call the forest a ro u n d Q uehueire O n o ,
and, in fact, the w hole o f th e o ld Protectorate ah u en e ‘the place where trees
have g ro w n again’ , that is, seco n d a ry forest.15 S e c o n d a ry forests are fu rth e r
d ivid ed into huiyencore (fo u r- to ten-year-old clearings characterized b y
the freq u en cy o f balsa trees), huyenco (ten- to tw en ty-year-o ld clearings),
h u in em e (tw enty- to fo rty -ye a r-o ld clearings ch aracterized by the high in c i­
dence o f adult palm s), a n d d u ra n i ahue (forty- to a hundred-year-old cle ar­
ings, rem arkable for th eir b ig trees). H uinem e forests w ere traditionally the
preferred sites in w h ich to establish m ain residences. H ow ever, all types o f
forest w e re—-and still are----co n tin u o u sly visited an d lived in, for lon ger o r
shorter stays.
M u c h m ore research is need ed on ecological z o n in g according to local
percep tio n , but the p re lim in a ry and rather su p erficial data I Was able to
gather w h ile in the field in d ica te that the H u a o ra n i recognize that sh o rt-
and long-term disturbances such as tree falls an d river activity influence the
d istrib u tio n o f anim als a n d plants. In fact, changes associated w ith gap d y ­
nam ics and vegetational su ccession , that is, eco logical processes, are m a n ip ­
ulated and used as ad d itio n al exploitable forest resources.
A great num ber o f cu ltigen s that are not plan ted in gardens are co n su m ed
daily, an d num erous p lan t species are encouraged to gro w outside cu ltivated
areas, as people engage in va rio u s d aily activities ( p lan tin g , selecting, tran s­
p lan tin g , protecting, u sin g , an d discarding) th at h ave a direct or in d irect
effect on the distribu tion o f species, be they fu lly dom esticated or not. F o r
exam p le, I saw w om en p lan t part o f the vine th ey h a d brought for stu n n in g
fish near the stream b efo re g o in g h om e w ith th eir catch . O n e threw the seeds
o f c u n i (a bush w hose leaves are m ashed and m ix e d w ith clay to p ro d u ce a
stu n n in g poison) a lo n g the stream w here she h ad fished. She had also
th ro w n som e o f the sam e seeds in her m anioc p lan ta tio n the previous day.
Harvesting the Forest’s N atural Abundance 81

C u ltivars are found— discovered— th roughout the forest. T h is further

indicates an evident strategy o f resource dispersion w ith in specific regions.
Fish poiso n vines are fo u n d alo n g the creeks w h ere p e o p le fish, sem iw ild
fru it trees near hunting cam ps, an d num erous useful p alm s (such as odnem-
p a , Astrocaryum tucama) a lo n g trails. People regu larly leave their longhous-
es fo r h u n tin g and foraging trips and m ove th rough vast territories in such
a w a y that distinguishing b etw een “extraction” and “m an ag em en t” becomes
alm ost im possible. W h erever a Fluaorani finds h e rs e lf in the forest, she
chances upon needed plants. She is particu larly vagu e on w hether these
strategic and handy resources w ere planted by so m eo n e o r ju st happened to
grow there. She is even vagu er on when it was that p e o p le lived in the area
m arked b y hum an activities. W h a t m atters to her is th at the occurrence o f
useful plants can be related either to individuals o r to h o u se groups, or even
to indeterm inate users o f a p articu lar area. For instance, w h en yo u n g H u ao­
rani unexpectedly discover useful plants in a part o f th e forest w ith w hich
they are unfamiliar, they often attribute them , w ith n oticeab le pleasure, to
the activities o f past people. I f they decide that these cu ltigen s were left by
dead forebears— usually great-grandparents— th ey m a y see these plants as
an in vitation to move p erm an en tly and legitim ately in to this part o f the for­
est and to create a new lo n gh ou se. W h en no certain lin k w ith past or pres­
ent h u m an activity is established, the w ide occu rrence o f cultigens is linked
to anim al activity. For exam p le, an edible w ild ro o t vegetab le is said to “ be­
lo n g” to the tapir.
M a n y useful plants, how ever, are not connected to a n y h um an or animal
activity, even when their distribu tio n affects h u m an d istribu tio n . For in­
stance, an inform ant w h o on ce told m e, “ W e rem ain w ith in the lim its o f
the oonta ( Curarea tecunaruni) territory,” was nevertheless adam ant that the
vine, w h ich he gathered to prepare his h un tin g p o iso n , ju st happened to be
w here w e found it. H ow ever, given the cultural im p o rtan c e o f curare poi­
son, one wonders w hether the Curarea tecunarum v in e has not been sub­
jected to indirect hum an m anagem ent. A lth o u gh this can n o t be solved be­
fore thorough botanical research is u ndertaken, the denial o f plant
m anagem ent is interesting in itself.
A n o th er species, w hich does not seem to be m an ag ed in an y intentional
w ay but w hose spatial d istrib u tion greatly influences the H u ao ran i’s move­
m ents and choice o f residence, is the ungurahua p a lm (Jessenia bataua\ in
H u ao ran i, petohue). A n u m b er o f inform ants h ave to ld m e that one reason
w h y longhouses are built o n h illtops is that this is w h ere ungurahua palms
grow. T h e ungurahua palm provides rich food, b u ild in g m aterials, and raw
82 Harvesting the Forest’s Natural Abundance

materials for th e m a k in g o f a wide range o f artifacts and rem edies. Besides

being an e x tre m ely useful plant resource, the ungurahua p alm offers pro­
tection. Its w o o d m akes a good fire, even under the wettest co n d itio n s. T h e
safest place to sp e n d the night w hen lost in the forest is under a ungurahua
palm. People sa y th at ungurahua palm s, w h ich have deep roots an d grow in
fertile soils, can sto p violen t w inds fro m felling em ergent ca n o p y trees. Fi­
nally, in form an ts stress repeatedly that those w ho flee from w ars an d spear­
ing raids w o u ld n o t su rvive w ithout the ungurahua fruit {petom o). It ripens
throughout the year, an obvious advan tage over the chonta palm ’s (Bactris
gasipaes) seasonal fru itin g , and it is rich in fats and proteins. M oreo ver, the
fruit is greatly ap p reciated by w oolly m onkeys (Lagothrix lagotricha), a fa­
vored gam e a n im a l. T h e ungurahua p alm is never planted b u t grow s along
ridge tops, w h ere p e op le collect the fru it d u rin g their gathering expeditions.
It is brought b a c k to a cam p or lon ghou se hearth to be sim m ered. People are
perfectly aw are th at these cooking activities encourage the germ in atio n o f
ungurahua p its, h en ce facilitating its p ro p a ga tio n .16
M ore generally, the H uaorani have a clear dietary preference fo r fruit,
and gathered fru its fo rm an im portant p art o f their daily fo od in tak e, as well
as germ inated seeds, a relished food d u g from beneath certain trees. T h e
fruits o f at least 15 2 species o f palm s, trees, or epiphytes are regu larly har­
vested and eaten (Lescure, Baslsev, an d A larcon 1987). In ad d itio n to the
ungurahua (petom o, Jessenia bataua) a n d the chonta palm (daguenca, Bactris
gasipaes) m a n ag ed in forest groves, o th e r palm fruits, in c lu d in g m orete
(nantoca, M a u r itia flexuosd), and a w id e range o f fruit species are collected
and consum ed. L ik e the ungurahua an d the chonta palm , a large n um ber o f
these food p lan ts are propagated th rou gh hum an con su m ption rather than
direct p lan tin g. F o r exam ple, the favo red daboca (Solarium pectinatum ,
Solarium sessiliflorum ) fruit grows w h ere it has been discarded. A ve ry sour
fruit, it is n ever com p letely eaten, an d the seeds remain on the forest floor
until the righ t h eat and light conditions cause them to germ in ate. T h e re are
numerous daboca bushes in m anioc gardens, around hou ses, and along
rivers, but, a c c o rd in g to m y inform ants, none o f them w ere plan ted.
It is in this co n te xt that the H u a o ra n i, not unlike the C u iv a (Arcand
I 9 7 3 : 5 i f f i ) , c o n sid e r gathering a lo w -risk , anxiety-free enterprise and a fair­

ly predictable d a ily routine. H uaorani subsistence techniques, like those o f

many h un ter-gatherers throughout the w orld, are rem arkab ly sim ple yet
allow people to o b tain what they co n sid er a sufficient q u a n tity o f food
without e x p e n d in g m uch time or energy. N um erous plants are also collect­
ed as b u ild in g m aterials or raw m aterials fo r the m aking o f h an d icrafts and,
H arvesting the Forest’s Natural Abundance 8}

to a lesser extent, fo r m edicinal purposes. F o r instance, referring back to

table 4.1, a total o f 3 0 0 kilogram s o f palm an d other fruit (an average o f 2.91
kilograms fo r each o f the forty-five adu lts an d fifty-eight children), and a
total o f 1,6 0 4 p alm leaves for house co n stru ctio n (an average o f 118 .4 6 per
house) were collected du ring these tw en ty days. M y field notes, however,
mention n um erous other plants for dyes, m edicin e, fish and h u n tin g p o i­
son, quivers, b ark cloth , and so forth.
T h e exam ples o f plan t resource use given here indicate various form s
o f landscape m an agem en t w ithout direct dom estication or cultivation.
T h e productive gro w th o f wild edible plan ts (and, to som e extent, the m u l­
tiplication o f an im als such as birds an d m on keys) is prom oted through a
range o f strategies w h ich over tim e, m a y result in the evolution o f plants
such as ungurahua {Jessenta bataud), ch o n ta palm (Bactrisgasipaes), ubillas
(Pourouma cecropiaefolia), cham bira (Astrocaryum chambira), o r ayahuasca
(Banisteriopsis m uricata) into crops. In d e ed , indigenous peoples livin g in
the N apo region do cultivate all these sp ec ies.17
It is well k n o w n that crop evolution started w ith hum ans being attracted
to eat and disperse the fruit o f crops w ith o u t necessarily grow in g them and
that hum ans in ad verten tly caused plan t m u tatio n s by harvesting individual
wild plants possessin g desirable qualities to an exceptional d egree.18 W h at
is particularly in terestin g in the H u ao ran i case is that, on the one h an d, they
recognize past sites o f consum ption and d w ellin g sites as m ajor sites o f plant
reproduction, an d , on the other, they co n scio u sly choose not to grow plants
in gardens but rather to exploit plants w h ere they find them in the forest. As
a result, they a ctively m anage the forest b y collectin g w ild natural produce
as well as plants resu ltin g from past h u m an activities, including fo rm er cul­
tivation activities. B y cultivating w ild p lan ts w h ile m anaging dom esticated
species in the w ild , they establish a p ercep tib le continuum betw een undis­
turbed and d istu rb ed forest. In con clu sion , the H uaorani are prim arily m o ­
bile food collectors w h o obtain their fo o d an d other requirem ents directly
from the forest b y altering the natural d istrib u tion o f plant and anim al
species in a w a y th at creates patches o f con cen trated useful resources (Balee
1998; Rival 1999b).
Furtherm ore, as the exam ple o f the g ro u p th at left D ayu n o illustrates, the
Huaorani easily sh ift from food p ro d u ctio n to h unting-gathering, and vice
versa. However, g ro w in g food by agricultu re is n ot as valued as h u n tin g and
gathering w ild food s. People trek and revert to the predom inant hunting-
gathering lifestyle w h enever they can an d n ever rely exclusively on food
production or o n crops grow ing in areas they have cultivated them selves,
84 Harvesting the Forest’s Natural Abundance

preferring to d ep en d on w ild food, that is, on food encountered in the fo r­

est while trekking. M oreover, n on cu ltivated fo o d supplies are n o t co n sid ­
ered to be a form o f safety food to be relied on when cultivated fo o d has
failed. Quite the con trary, noncultivated fo o d is the main staple, an d cu lti­
vated food is used essentially for political reasons, as I explain in ch ap ter 6.
Finally, the shift fro m cultivation to h u n tin g-gath erin g (or vice versa) does
not necessarily co rresp o n d to a shift fro m sedentary living to n o m a d ism .
People trek to patch es o f w ild , abundant resources (such as u billas) to plant
foods indicating fo rm er cultivation (such as banana plantations o r ancient
chonta palm groves) o r to m anioc gardens ( planted and cu ltivated b y the
consumers them selves, b y their enemy, o r b y non-FIuaorani). A n d , as m en ­
tioned earlier, p e o p le trek to get access to certain anim al— as w ell as plan t—
resources, given th at birds and m onkeys, the favored game, ten d to o ccu p y
areas o f forest rich in fru itin g plants, a w a y from hum an settlem en ts and
their associated fo o d -p ro d u ctio n system s.

Chonta Palm Groves, Fructification, and Forest B o u n ty

For a H u aorani, it is on hilltops w h ere on e looks for m arks left b y past
humans. T h ere p eop le notice, as i f ch ro n o log ical tim e did n o t m atter, a
hunting trail still in use, secondary regrow th on an old garden site, o r the
site o f a Ionghouse d a tin g back several gen eration s. Productive a ctivities and
forest vegetation u n fo ld in each other an d fo rm a single process o f grow th,
decay, and regeneration. A hilltop is covered w ith producing p alm s because,

the grandparents used to live there, they built their Ionghouse on it, they lived
together w ithout splitting up, and they m ade gardens to feast w ith th e enemies.
. . . Do you see this fish poison vine? M y grandm other must have m ade it grow
here, look, there used to be a creek down there, she fished in it.

I heard similar rem arks over and over again w h ile w alking th ro u g h the for­
est with inform ants. In the course o f liv in g , a residential grou p h u n ts, gath­
ers, and m anages a w h o le range o f u seful plants along h u n tin g trails and
streams. People c o o k a n d eat, discard fru it seeds, throw roots, a n d cu t dow n
trees, which gives ligh t fo r other tree species to grow. People are totally
aware o f these processes and o f the in tim ate , sym biotic co n n e ctio n s be­
tween their b ein g alive (i.e., prod ucing an d consum ing) and th e state o f the
Collective m em ories o f past house g ro u p s, specific forebears, a n d m em o ­
Harvesting the Forest’s NaturalAbundance 85

rable drinking cerem onies are especially a ro u se d b y ch on ta palm stan d s still

grow ing in form erly cultivated forest p atch es. L ik e m an y A m azon ian In d i­
ans, the H uaorani g ro w chonta palm seed lin gs (usually from the stone, but
rarely from a basal su cker), w hich th ey re p la n t later in the clearin g su r­
rounding the lon ghouse. It is likely that m o st ch o n ta palm groves start in
this fashion. But, as forest regrowth w o u ld co v e r over the palm s on e o r tw o
decades after the d w e llin g site has beerj a b a n d o n e d , the groves w o u ld n ot
endure without h u m an intervention. T h e s e g ro ves are, in fact, o ld d w e llin g
sites managed w ith a view to encourage th e co n tin u o u s grow th o f sp ecific
plant species. T h e y exh ibit scattered p o tsh e rd s an d broken sto n e axes,
which are proudly excavated and kept as th e secure signs that “the g ra n d ­
parents lived there.”
E very year, at the b egin n in g o f the fru itin g season (which gen erally starts
in Jan uary and lasts u n til A pril), groups related th ro ugh interm arriage c o n ­
verge toward these p a lm groves, generally at a tw o-to-th ree-d ay w a lk in g d is­
tance from their m a in residences. D a gu en ca, the chonta palm fru it, b e­
com es their m ain stap le, and hunting is d isc o n tin u e d . A s m en tion ed in the
previous chapter, the years are counted in d ag u en cateri ‘new ch o n ta p a lm ’
seasons, which are also a tim e when b o th p e o p le an d gam e anim als fatten ,
and when female m o n k eys gestate. G iv e n th eir seasonal periodicity, ch o n ta
palm s punctuate th e tim e dim ension lin k e d to the reproductive cycles o f
natural and h um an resources. Related h ou se g ro u p s spend the w h o le season
collecting and p rep arin g the fruit for th eir d a ily con su m ption an d , m o re
im portant, for d rin k in g cerem onies an d m a rria g e celebrations. S o cia l re­
production and h u m an fertility is thus a ssim ila te d to the ecological tim e o f
seasons, w hen forest resources increase.19
A s people prepare and consum e vast q u a n titie s o f fruit in season, n ew
seedlings develop a ro u n d the tem porary h ea rth s, year after year. T h e c h o n ­
ta palm fruit is in ed ib le, unless sim m ered in w a ter fo r a few hours. F ru it at
the top o f the pot that is not properly h ea ted , h ence not co m pletely freed
from proteolytic en zym e inhibitors or c a lc iu m oxalate crystals, are d iscard ­
ed. Som e o f this fru it is eaten by anim als, b u t a substantial am ount is left to
germ inate on site. Y o u n g saplings o f m acahue (un iden tified species, p ro b a ­
bly o f the Bom bacaceae fam ily) are plan ted at the side o f the th orn y ch o n ta
palm trunks to p ro vid e easier access to fru it b u n ch es. Younger ch o n ta stem s
(tehue) are used to m ake blowpipes (R ival 19 9 6 b ). O ld er ones are felled for
the quality o f their h ard w ood, which is u sed to m ake spears and a w h o le
range o f smaller p ie rcin g o r cutting tools. C u ttin g dow n mature p alm s has
the additional ad van tage o f p rom oting th e gro w th o f new shoots. In
86 H arvesting the Forests N atural Abundance

w a rtim e, palm groves are destro yed to m ake spears. E n e m y groups destroy
each o th e r’s groves as a m eans n o t o n ly to increase th eir stock o f precious
h ard w o o d b u t also to suppress social memory. W ith o u t these landm arks, a
gro u p loses its sense o f co n tin u ity and its claim to a particu lar part o f the
A lth o u g h chonta palm groves cou ld not persist w ith o u t hum an interven­
tion , th ey are not cultivated. M ain tain e d through activities o f con sum ption ,
they are the products o f the activities o f people fro m the past w hom those
w h o c o m e to feed on the fru it id entify as their deceased grandparents o r
great-grandparents. D espite the fact that the cu rren t practice in sedenta-
rized villag es is, like in m a n y oth er Am azonian societies, to plant chonta
palm s in sw iddens and b ack d o o r yards, the old cu ltu ral m eanings have n ot
co m p le te ly died out. A s discu ssed at the begin n in g o f this chapter, w h en
fam ilies like the N ih u airi leave a com m u n ity after a d isp u te w ith its leader,
th ey n ever abandon their gardens w ithout felling all their chonta palm s, a
p recau tio n th ey do not take fo r other crops; large b an an a and m anioc p lan ­
tation s, cacao, coffee, and groves o f citrus trees are sim p ly left behind. T h is
practice indicates that ch o n ta palm s do still stan d fo r social continuity.
M o reo ver, planted palm s, w h ic h are treated like in tro d u ced food crops, are
still d istin gu ish ed from the ancestral groves to w h ic h p eop le continue to go
every year. Resulting from sy m b io tic relations p erpetu ated through co n ­
su m p tio n , chonta palm groves are not w illfully p lan ted but m ay be d e­
stro yed deliberately.
P alm fru its, and m ost esp ecially the chonta palm (Bactris gasipaes), p lay
an im p o rta n t role in the fe rtility rituals held th ro u g h o u t northw est A m azo ­
nia, fo r instance, am ong the S h u a r (Pelizzaro 1983) o r the Yagua (C h aum eil
2 0 0 1) b u t m ost notably a m o n g the groups o f the V a u p e s-R io N egro region
p e rta in in g to the Y u ru pari cu lt com plex (S. H u g h -Jo n e s 1979). Pelizzaro
(19 83:56, 81) notes that U w i, the ch on ta palm’s sp irit, reproduces itself w ith ­
o u t ever d y in g and that the S h u a r celebrate in this palm the life o f plants
that germ in ate and grow w ith o u t hum an in terven tion . T o the Shuar, the
ch o n ta p a lm is the tree o f life, the seed that fecu n d s the w hole o f nature
(Pelizzaro 1983:135). E th n o grap h ers o f the Y u ru p a ri cu lt com plex have
p ayed m o re attention to the role o f sacred flutes a n d to the sym bolism o f
c u ltiva ted plants— such as m a n io c, tobacco, and coca— than to the use an d
m e a n in g o f palm fruits. H o w eve r, and despite the scarcity o f com parative
d escrip tio n s, it can easily be established that ritual dances to the sound o f
sacred flutes often involve the brin gin g in the lo n gh o u se o f large quantities
o f w ild o r cultivated fruits in the ripening season, m ost often o f ch on ta
Harvesting the Forest’s N atural Abundance 8/

palm o r inga (Inga sp.) fruit (H u gh -Jo n es 1979:66). Perhaps unsurprisingly,

the best descriptions o f fruit h arvest festivals are by the ethnographers o f
two m o b ile fo od collectors, the M a k u and the C u iva, w h o , like the Huao-
rani, seem to use palm fruits exten sively in rituals celebrating the fertility o f
the forest.
A lth o u gh the M aku consu m e large am ounts o f m an io c beer that they
prepare w ith traded m anioc o r w ith m anioc stolen from river Indians, they
perform a fru it-offering ritual w h ic h suggests that forest fruits m ay have
played a greater ceremonial ro le in the past. S ilverw o o d -C o p e (1972:53)
adds that w h en the pupunha p alm s (local term for Bactris gasipaes) are in
fruit, drinking-bouts take place as often as every six o r seven days. Further­
more, the M a k u believe in a fru it pow er or fruit essence (elu) that all hu­
mans m u st have laid on them to g ro w strong and as pro tectio n against ill­
ness (Silverw o o d -C o p e 19 7 2 :2 7 2 ). Sim ilarly the C u iv a, w h o hold dances
whenever drugs are plentiful a n d enough people are in cam p, organize a
special dance w hen there is y a iv e ib a ‘plenty o f m eat.’ T h is ritual involves
hunters d an cin g with yo u ng girls (a father cannot dan ce w ith his own
daughter) an d offering them “p le n ty o f m eat.” A m yth indicates that yawei-
ba was o rig in ally celebrated w ith a “ bitter” palm fru it called naharebo that
had to be co o ked or roasted to b ecom e edible and that acted as a symbolic
marker o f natural fertility (A rcan d 19 73:230 , 238).
Sim ilar to the argument I d evelo p ed som e years ago (R ival 1993a) regard­
ing the H u a o ra n i’s use o f Bactris gasipaes groves as sym b ols o f slow growth,20
generational continuity, and m e m o ry o f the dead, E rik so n (1996:189) has
recently stressed the significance o f the continued exploitation o f ancient
Bactris groves by the M atis, w h o con sid er the palm s to be the receptacles, if
not the transform ed bodies, o f th eir ancestors. C h au m eil (20 01) has further
analyzed the relationship betw een chonta palm s, the livin g, and the dead
am ong the Y agua, and, m ore generally, in a num ber o f N o rth w est Amazon
groups. In this new publication C h au m eil notes that even in their present
sedentarized State, the Yagua return periodically to th eir ancient clearings,
which are located near ab an d o n ed sites containing graves, to harvest palm
fruits and exp loit palm w o o d . H e adds that the first an d m ain ripening
o f the ch o n ta palm fruit, called p u ren dan u ‘Bactris tim e’ , inaugurates the
year’s cerem on ial cycle and ord ers the calend ar o f ritual activities, and that
‘Bactris tim e’ is lived as a tim e o f abundance. C h au m eil concludes that the
Yagua associate the palms w ith the self, ancestors, an d intergenerational
O n the basis o f these eth n o grap h ic facts, it can be said that Northwest
88 H arvesting the Forest’s N atural Abundance

A m azon h orticulturalists, such as the Yagua and the M a tis, and N orthw est
A m azon trekkers and foragers, su ch as the M akú , the C u iv a , and the H uao­
rani, b ro a d ly share the same sy m b o lic association b etw een old chonta palm
groves, fertility, abundance, an d con tin u ity. H ow ever, a n d as I try to dem on­
strate in the next section, the relation sh ip between th e liv in g and the dead
is co n ceptu alized quite d ifferen tly b y forest fruit h arvesters, w hose cultural
representations stress the benefits o f relyin g on naturally p len tifu l resources,
and b y ch o n ta palm cultivating gro u p s, w h o are p rim a rily concerned with
timeless ancestral essences and u n ch an g in g modes o f reciprocity.

T he G iv in g Environm ent
T h e “ n atu ral abundance” o f the forest is m ade m a n ifest in that omere
gom on ahuaoran i ‘people trek kin g’ d o n ot have to cu ltiva te, fo r they f i n d use­
ful plants an d cultigens in o ld cam p s and abandoned h ou se sites or along
rivers o r trails. A lth ou gh a th orou g h botanical su rvey o f H u ao ran i land has
yet to be con d u cted , it is qu ite clear that the H u a o ra n i, like other A m azo­
nian trekkers and foragers (Balee 19 9 4 ), have trad ition ally depended on an-
th ropoph ytes and sem idom esticates, and have used a w h o le range o f more
or less inten tio nal m anagem ent practices to en co u rag e the continuous
grow th o f certain fruit trees an d palm s in old sites w h ile facilitating the
p ro p agatio n o f certain plant species. A s explained in earlier sections, the en­
viro n m e n t is n ot fully exploited (o n ly a small array o f w h a t is available is
eaten), b u t fo o d sources are p len tifu l in H uaorani lan d , fo r the forest, m od­
ified b y the past activities o f lo n g dead people, is rich in resources.

N a tu ra l A bundance
T h e re is n o w ord in H u a o ra n i to translate literally w h a t I call natural
abu n da n ce, b u t this does not m ean that the term does n o t capture the in­
digen ous representation o f the relationship betw een liv in g people, the for­
est, and past generations. A n u m b e r o f superlatives, em p h a tic suffix m ark­
ers, ad verb ial form s, and, ab o ve all, speech d iacritics (tone o f voice,
w ordless exclam ations, gestures) are used to co n vey the ravished pleasure
and en th u siastic excitation cau sed b y the sight— o r the recall— o f an abun­
dance o f useful resources and fo od stu ff. H an d m ad e o b jects or processed
products d o not cause such ad m iratio n and enthusiasm . F o r exam ple, none
o f the aforem en tion ed superlatives w o u ld apply to a large m anioc garden
under p ro d u c tio n or a hip o f h u n te d gam e or collected nuts. A peccary herd
H arvesting the Forest’s N atural Abundance 8p

passing b y m a y cause m uch e x c ite m e n t (“ th ere w ere so m a n y , m a n y , m a n y

o f th em !” ), b u t n o o n e w o u ld e x c la im “ th ere are so m a n y o f th e m !” at the
sight o f tw e n ty h u n ted , dead p e c c a rie s a w a itin g to b e b u tc h e re d and
cooked. S im ila r ly a palm grove w it h r ip e n in g fru it w ill c a u se p e o p le to ex­
claim : “ T h e r e is so m u ch fru it, a n d it is rip e !” b u t n o o n e w ill m a r v e l at the
five or six b ig ja rs o f fru it d rin k lin in g th e lo n g h o u se w a ll.
A rapid su rvey o f m anioc cu ltivatio n highlights the m e an in g o f natural
abundance contrasted to the reasons b eh in d the H u aorani dism issal o f crop
production as a mode o f o b tain in g the resources necessary to sustain
human life. It is through hunting a n d gathering that d a ily su bsistence is se­
cured21 and that m anioc cu ltivation is (i) neglected in practice (Rival
1998O and (2) largely confined to the grow in g o f fo o d s tu ff n eeded in the
elaboration o f cerem onial drinks u sed in festive attem pts to fo rge alliances
with enem y groups (Rival 1998c); besides, (3) m anioc is associated w ith fast,
unreliable grow th (Rival 1993a).
W hat is strikin g about H uaorani m a n io c cultivation is that, u n like their
Quichua an d Shuar neighbors and so m a n y other A m azo n ian horticultur-
alists, they do not seek to obtain a con stan t and reliable source o f foodstuff,
which becom es essential to the v e ry defin ition o f identity.22 G ard en s are
small in size, p o or in crop variety, h a rd ly w eeded, and ab an d o n ed after only
one harvest. T h e soil is not cleared o f all its vegetation cover, nor is it
burned. M oreover, m anioc p ro d u ctio n is em inently sp o rad ic. Instead o f
using the convenience o f natural storage by w h ich m a n io c— unlike
maize— can be left in the ground fo r m on th s after root m atu ration (Rival
2001) and instead o f planting d iffere n t varieties w ith d ifferen t m aturation
rates in order to secure a co n tin u ou s su p p ly o f roots (Elias, R iv al, and
M cKey 2 0 0 0 ), the H uaorani use o n ly a few varieties m atu rin g at the same
rate and gen erally harvest their gardens all at once, often w eeks before the
roots are fu lly developed and have reached their m axim al size. M oreover,
they do n ot keep a constant stock o f m an ioc stalks to replan t an d, given
their general lack o f planning and co n cern for securing regu lar an d con tin ­
uous supplies o f garden crops, m ay en d up spending m on th s at a tim e w ith ­
out any. Finally, and as I have argu ed elsew here (Rival 19 9 33:6 4 4 —48), they
assimilate m an io c to the category o f fast-grow ing, sh o rt-lived species that
are propagated over vast, boundless areas and associated w ith political in ­
stability. B ecause o f its fast grow th a n d easy dispersion, m a n io c is consid­
ered undependable. It is culturally con trasted w ith the lo n g-term reliability
o f concentrated resources that gro w slo w ly and reproduce over generations
in the sam e biocultural locations. T h is cultural contrast represents, in m any
po Harvesting the Forests N atural Abundance

w a y s, th e core m ean in g o f natural abundance: People should not subsist on

fo o d created by th em selves in the present. T h e re sh o u ld be a tim e lag b e­
tw een n atures generative fructification and its use b y hum ans. T h is is w h y
fo o d dependence on p eren n ials is preferred to reliance on short-lived crop s.
W h a t makes H u a o ra n i th in kin g so different fro m A m azonian societies,
w h o stress the m oral v a lu e o f hum an labor,23 an d , indeed, from o u r o w n is
th at the natural en v iro n m e n t is thought o f as co m p risin g elements th at are
the direct m anifestations an d concrete objectification s o f past hum an w o rk .
H e re , there is no m ystical regeneration through death or through predatio n
a n d appropriation o f th e life essence o f others b y k illin g them. W h ereas, in
m a n y A m azon ian societies and throughout the w o rld ,24 life is represented
as a lim ite d good an d d eath seen as necessary to the regeneration o f life, here
w e h ave a system th at stresses the past o f a dead person , rather than death it­
self, as con d ition in g resou rce increase. W h en an o ld person dies, it is n o t the
w o rk o f death nor the sp irits and forces being detached from the b o d y th at
are the source o f life a n d nu rtu ran ce for the livin g. Rather, it is the activities
th at w ere carried o u t as p art o f the business o f liv in g that have a co n tin u o u s
an d generative effect a n d that are at the origin o f the natural resources ev en ­
tu ally used in the fu tu re .25
In other w ords, the presence in the forest o f abu n dan t resources is en vis­
aged as resulting fro m th e subsistence activities o f people long dead. P eople
are also conscious th at th eir present activities are m ak in g sim ilar activities in
the fu tu re possible. S u c h awareness, how ever, is devoid o f m oral im p lic a ­
tio n an d has noth ing to d o w ith the m odern n o tio n o f planning for the b en ­
efit o f future gen eration s, for the future and the past are encapsulated w ith ­
in a tim eless present (D a y , Papataxiarchis, and Stew art 1998). T h e dead
d o n o t ask for a n yth in g , so no exchange takes place between the liv in g and
the dead. Besides, w h a t they “give” to the liv in g is n ot really a g ift;26 it is
m o re like a b y -p ro d u c t, a consequence o f the fact that they spen t th eir
lives giv in g to, and re ceivin g from , one another. In short, todays u seful re­
sources are the legacy o f the past sharing ec o n o m y (m ore on this n o tio n in
ch ap ter 5).
S o the living ow e n o th in g to the dead. In fact, i f the living can recognize
p ast activities in the fo rest, they can never be sure o f their authors. M y in ­
sistent questions w ere often met w ith h esitant answers (“yes, su ch plan t
grow s in such place b ecau se this is where ‘X ’ n anicabo lived,” “X ” stan d in g
fo r a nam ed [great-] gran d fath er or [great-] gran dm o th er), as i f m y H u a o ­
rani friends and gu id es w ere aware o f the co n jectu ral character o f th eir as­
sertion s. H o w can w e k n o w w ith certainty w h o se activities have gen erated
Harvesting the Forests N aturalAbundance pi

abundance when residential groups are so m o b ile, an d w hen so m any d if­

ferent historical groups (n o t all H uaorani) lived in the region? W hat m at­
ters, in any case, is that h u m a n w o rk can be recogn ized in the landscape and
identified as the source o f abu ndance for the livin g.
A s discussed so far, the H u aorani notion o f natural abundance shares
m an y traits with B ird -D a v id s (1990) concept o f a g iv in g environment, a
term she coined to defin e the econom ic system o f hunting-and-gathering
populations, which she analyzes as being “ch aracterised by modes o f distri­
bution and property relation s that are constru cted in terms o f giving, as
w ith in the family, rather th an in terms o f reciprocity, as between kin” (189).
Startin g from M oskos (19 87) structuralist analysis o f M b u ti religion, and
using G udem an’s (1986) th eo ry o f local econ om ic m odels organized around
root metaphors, B ird -D a v id generalizes the con trast between gatherer-
hunters and their cu ltivatin g neighbors on the basis that whereas the su b ­
sistence econom y o f the fo rm er is centered a ro u n d the “giving en viron ­
m en t” metaphor, the su bsistence econom y o f the latter is centered around
the “reciprocating e n viro n m en t” metaphor. T h e distinctiveness o fN a y a k a ,
M b u ti, and Batek e co n o m ic system s, therefore, is n o t so much linked to
their m ode o f subsistence (i.e., that they h un t an d gather instead o f cu lti­
vatin g or herding like th eir neighbors do) but to th eir particular view o f the
forest as ever provid ing p aren t rather than as reciprocatin g ancestor. In
other words, their relation ship to the en viron m en t, like the social relations
structuring distribution, is based on sharing, th at is, requests to be given. B y
contrast, their neighbors organ ize distribution in term s o f reciprocity, b al­
anced or unbalanced.
B ird-D avid s thesis th at dem and-sharing, a p a rticu la r form o f nonrecip­
rocal exchange characteristic o f egalitarian foragers, eq u ally structures rela­
tionships am ong people, an d the relationship betw een people and the en vi­
ronm ent is fully su pported b y the H uaorani case m aterial. As discussed in
more detail in subsequent chapters, the H u a o ra n i, too, m ake demands on
people to share more— n o t to produce m ore— an d th ey differentiate shar­
ing from forms o f gen erosity based on ob ligato ry reciprocation. However, it
w ou ld be misleading to say in their case that “ the environm ent gives as a
generous parent” or that “ the forest is parent” (B ird -D a v id 1990:192).
H uaorani people are n o t offered, but d ecid e to receive, nourishm ent
from the past. In turn, th ey ensure the feeding o f fu tu re generations sim ply
by go in g about their lives, b y consum ing p rod u cts o f the forest day after
day. Past people are th ou g h t to provide in ab u n d an ce fo r their descendants,
but such abundance is n o t regarded as the o u tco m e o f m oral relations. T h e
i>2 Harvesting the Forest’s N atural Abundance

em phasis is on people’s d o m estic skills and p ractical know ledge, n ot o n a

m oral contract between past and present gen eration s or that between p e o ­
ple an d anim als (H u gh -Jo n es 19 9 6). H uaorani em p h asis on the role o f past
generations in m aking the forest a giving en viro n m en t is therefore d evo id o f
an y idea o f both ancestral o r spiritual sanction o r o f ancestral benevolence.
T h e forest is not appreh en d ed as a unitary ca teg o ry as it seems to be b y the
M b u ti, w h o establish a m etap h orical parent-child relationship betw een n a­
ture and hum an society.27 R ath er, specific parts o f the forest are k n o w n to
be the legacies o f the ev ery d a y lives and dom estic activities o f past dw ellers.
A g a in , w h at turns part o f the forest into a g iv in g en viron m en t, that is, an
en viro n m en t that gives p ro fu se ly w ithout askin g a n yth in g in return, is the
life activities o f past peop le. Past people que ‘d id ’ a n d hue ‘ lived’ in such and
such part o f the forest, a n d th eir activities “ h ave m a d e the forest grow ,” b y
w h ich it is m eant that su bsisten ce and cerem on ial activities have en c o u r­
aged the natural grow th o f useful forest plants. In sh o rt, the forest, w h ic h
stands as the historical record o f past hum an activities, is inseparable fro m
the peop le w ho have lived in it, and with it.

Trekking a n d H istory
In this chapter I have addressed the specific w a y s in w hich the H u ao ran i
in vo lve themselves p ra ctica lly w ith their forested en viron m en t and have
show n h ow these practices are intim ately co n n ected w ith a cultural c o n ­
stru ction o f the en viro n m en t as the dom ain o f n atu ral abundance,, p ro v id ­
in g them not only w ith fo o d and useful m aterials b u t also w ith the m eans
o f estab lish in g physical lin k s w ith the past. I h av e used the term n atu ral
abun dance to describe th e social practices b y w h ic h the H uaorani engage
w ith the forest and p articip ate actively in its b io cu ltu ral production and re­
p ro d u ctio n , and to express that, in their view , the forest, far from b ein g a
pristine environm ent, is the prod u ct o f the life a ctivities o f past generations
that h ave transform ed it in to an environm ent rich in resources. T h ese re­
sources can be tapped w ith o u t an y sanction o r m o ral obligation, and w ith ­
ou t an yth in g being asked in return.
W h ereas the previous ch a p ter linked trekking to the disruptions caused
b y vio len t death and w a rfare, w hich trigger cen trifu gal m ovem ents, d isp er­
sion , fleeing, and w a n d e rin g , this chapter has exp lo red the links betw een
trekking, congregation, a n d attraction to life an d natural plenty. T h e past is
encountered while c ru isin g in the forest, and h isto ry is m ade as part o f the
in tricate relationship betw een the dependence on ecological cycles, such as
Harvesting the Forest’s N atural Abundance p}

m assive seeding or fructification , and the cultu ral reco gn ition o f past activ­
ities, w h ich naturally increase forest resources. T h e past, however, is em i­
n en tly continuous w ith the present, fo r subsistence p ro c u rin g relies on the
tappin g o f natural resources perceived as being p le n tifu l and as having their
origin in the past.
H u aorani subsistence strategies are entirely a d a p ted to the historicity o f
the landscape. Trekking, a central activity b y w h ic h the forest is culturally
transform ed without fo llo w in g a preset design is in tim a te ly related to fo r­
aging in anthropom orphic forests. W hereas in tern al w arfare u n am bigu ou s­
ly belongs to a bygone past k n o w n through m y th ica l o r biographical narra­
tives, hunting, gathering, an d cu ltivatin g leave h u m a n m arks on the forest
that are continuously inscribed in the landscape. T h e past and the present,
as a result, are not easily distin guishable. A n d w h ereas vio len t deaths fu n c­
tion as m nem onics that fix p articu lar events to p a rticu la r places and ge­
nealogical ties to particular nam es, the reading o f h u m an activity in the
landscape encourages the naturalization o f social relatio n s, the forgetting o f
specific kinship ties, and the developm ent o f va gu e intergenerational asso­
ciations w ith monito m em eiri (our forebears).28
L o ci o f natural abundance to w h ich people p e rio d ic a lly return are at once
im p ortan t sources o f raw m aterial and food, an cien t d w ellin gs, and burial
sites. T h ese places thus lin k together, on the on e h an d ,.gen eration s o f dead
and livin g people, and, on the other, interlocking life processes. Th ese life
processes “tell” the n on violent and continuous h isto ry m aterialized in the
forest environm ent, beyond the short-lived g en ealo g ical and biographical
m em ory o f specific persons an d house groups.

C o m in g B a c k to the L on gh ou se

T T T ' T h en the N ih u airi decid ed to leave D ayu n o d e fin itiv ely (see
\ jL / ch a p ter 4) and to create the new com m u n ity o f Q u efiueire
T \ O n o alo n g a particular bent o f the Sh iripu n o R iv er, they
chose to b u ild th eir tw o longhouses w h ere the mother o f the old est broth ­
e rs w ife had liv e d h er youth. H er nam e w as bestowed onto m e d u rin g an
im provised n a m in g cerem ony, as a sign o f m y form al affiliation to one o f
the two h ouse g ro u p s form in g the n ew settlem ent.
A lth ou gh n o t located on hilltops a w a y from rivers, the tw o collective
dwellings ( n an ica bo onco) were built traditionally, as large A -fr a m e struc­
tures about 15 m eters lon g, 8 meters w id e , and twice the height o f an adult,
w ith a thatch p a lm r o o f reaching to the ground, and two d o o rs. I spent
m y first m o rn in g s in Q uehueire O n o collecting from the forest, w ith the
other w o m en o f m y h ou se group ( nanicabo , pi. nanicaboiri) , v in e ropes and
the long and flat m o ( Geonoma tam andua) palm leaves. M e a n w h ile, men
were fellin g trees (am o n g others, bagahue \Abutagrandifolia\, h u inem ecahue
\Brunfelsia gran dijlora var. schultesii ], o r m ancahue \Cecropia sp. Treciil])
and palm s ( om a q u eh u e [ Phytelephas macrocarpa\ or tepahue [Iriartea del-
toidea\) to m a k e h ou se poles. W om en tradition ally contribute v in e ropes to
attach the h o u se poles that men erect, as w ell as mb leaves to m ak e the
water-tight in n e r r o o f that lines the external palm ro o f w oven b y m en.
Back from th e g ath erin g expeditions, w e w ould w ork together at leveling
the grou nd u n d e rn ea th the great roof, d iggin g ou t all root rem ain s and
pulling ou t sto n es and debris. Each u n earthed bits o f clay p o t o r broken
stone axe w as d isco vered with great pleasure and excitem ent, an d precious­
ly kept b y the w o m e n . T h e y were the m aterial signs that m ono m em eiri (lit­
erally ‘our g ra n d fa th e rs’) had once lived here.
It is in th e tig h t com m u n ity fo rm ed b y these two lo n gh o u ses ( nani -
caboiri) th at I exp erien ced the livin g in tim a c y that constitutes the core o f
H uaorani so c ia lity an d that I came to understand the ways in w h ic h nani­
cabo ‘to getherness’ is expressed and co n tin u o u sly reasserted th ro u g h sharing
practices. T h is ch a p ter explores the fu n c tio n o f longhouses as places where
people co n verge a n d resources accu m ulate to be shared and co n su m ed . Fur­
therm ore, it discu sses the sociological im portance o f attachm en t and be­
Corning Back to the Longhouse

longing to d w ellin g places that escape death , desertion, destruction b y fire,

or decay w hile sh o w in g the link betw een residence and adaptation to a fo r­
est rich in plants an d other natural resources attributed to the activities o f

The Longhouse: To Belong and to Reside

O ne o f the tw o longhouses the N ih u a iri built was to shelter the old
Ñ am e, his w ife, Z h ir o , and their ch ildren. N a m e ’s younger brother, C u hu e,
was to dwell in the oth er w ith his w ife, H u a n e, and their children, as well as
Huane’s parents an d you nger siblings (see figure 5.1). A third brother had
stayed behind in D a y u n o with his w ife and children, his w ife’s brother’s
group, and w ith the three brothers’ old m other.
N am e’s and Z h ir o ’s house group, k n o w n as Ñ a m eiri ‘those o f N a m e ’ or
N am e onco ‘the h ou se o f N am e’ (literally his ‘ house-group’s dw ellin g place’)
for some, and as Z h iro iri or Z h iro onco fo r o th ers,1 included their unm ar­
ried adolescent son an d daughter, their tw o yo u n g children, their daughter,
Bebantoque, h er h u sb an d , and their six ch ildren ; their son, A m o , his wife,
C elia (she was n o t h ap p y to have jo in ed h er husband’s folks and longed to
return to her n ative house group), an d their two children; and N em o ,
daughter o f N a m e fro m a previous m arriage, her unm arried brother (he was
physically d isab led , yet an excellent h u n ter), her husband, and their five
children. T h is h ou se grou p thus n u m b ered a total o f nine adults, tw o ado­
lescents, and seven teen children. T h ere w ere fou r hearths (one fo r each m ar­
ried wom an), tw o that I used in d ifferently (Z h iro ’s and B eban toque’s), one
that I felt all rig h t u sing (N em o’s), an d one that I learned to keep clear o f
Eight adults, tw o adolescents, and fifteen children lived in the Second
longhouse. R e s id in g in the same h ouse as C u h u e, H uane, and their eight
children were H u a n e ’s mother, D ab e, an d her father, Yehua; H u an e’s un­
married adolescent b rother and sister; h er brother, D agaipe, his w ife, and
their two ch ild ren ; and her sister, H u iñ a , her husband, and their five ch il­
dren. A lth ou gh n o t the oldest m em bers o f their house group, C u h u e and
Huane were the ah uen e ‘ househeads’ (or ow ners o f the house), w h ich m eant
that D abe and Y eh u a were living w ith them rather than the other w ay
around. I f D a b e an d Yehua had headed the house group, there w o u ld have
been no co n n ectio n between the ow ners o f the two longhouses form ing
Quehueire O n o . It w as clear to everyone, how ever, that the co m m u n ity had
been created jo in tly b y the two brothers, Ñ am e and C u h u e, and that
3 _Q
<u s
Corning Back to the Longhouse 97

C u h u e’s in-laws, w h o had com e to live in h is h ou se, had jo in ed his an d his

b rothers com m unity.
A H uaorani longhouse generally co n tain s a p p ro x im a tely ten to th irty-five
residents, typically an older couple (often a m an m arried to o n e, tw o , or
three sisters), their daughters (with, w h en m a rrie d , their husbands an d ch il­
dren), and their u n m arried sons, w ith an a d d itio n a l few orphans, refugees
from killing raids, and m ore or less p e rm a n e n tly attached visitors. It is fairly
com m on for a y o u n ger brother to help an o ld e r b roth er establish an in d e­
pendent settlem ent, or cluster o f lo n gh o u ses, each cluster represen tin g a
com m unity o f extended kin or huaom oni ‘w e -p e o p le ’ that protects its in d e­
pendence and m ain tain s its isolation b y su rro u n d in g itself w ith a large
b uffer zone. In this case, N am e and C u h u e h ad p u t a safe distance b etw een
themselves and the broth er they had left b e h in d w ith their old d y in g m other,
Ehuenca. T h e split had infuriated the b ro th e rs w ife , w hose k in d red was
now, she felt, too reduced to m aintain a larg e m o d ern village w ith an airstrip,
a school, and a health center.
Soon O cata, N a m e ’s classificatory b ro th e r m arried to Z h iro ’s classifica-
tory sister, Q uem e, also left D ayuno to c o m e to live next to Z h iro an d N a m e
w ith his w ife, their unm arried adolescent so n an d daughter, and th eir three
you ng children. T h e n H u in a’s in-laws d e c id e d to m ove next do o r to C u h u e ’s
and H uane’s, w hich prom p ted her h u sb an d , O n to g a m o , to take h er an d the
children to live w ith his parents, M en g ato h u e an d C o n ta , and his y o u n g er
brother, Enqueri. B ecau se H uina and O n to g a m o are double cross-cousin s,
this change o f residence was not a shift fro m m a trilo cal to virilocal residence.
Instead, the two interm arried brother-sister p airs (brother-sister M e n g a to ­
hue and D abe m arried brother-sister Y e h u a an d C o n ta) lived n ext to each
other, each w ith on e m arried daughter, h er h u sb an d and ch ild ren , and
unm arried adolescents. T h is arrangem ent w a s strengthened a few years later
when D ab e’s and Y eh ua’s adolescent d au gh ter, M en g an ita , m arried C o n ta ’s
and M engatohue’s adolescent son, E n q u e ri, thus u n itin g the tw o houses
through a second d o u b le cross-cousin m arriage.
T h ere was far m ore visiting and resou rce p u llin g betw een N a m e -Z h ir o
and O cata-Q uem e houses (cluster A ), o n the on e hand, and b etw een
C uhue-H uane and M en gato h u e-C on ta h o u ses, o n the other h an d (cluster
B), than between, fo r instance, N a m e -Z h ir o an d M en g ato h u e -C o n ta
houses. Sim ilarly it w as not unusual fo r in d iv id u a ls belon gin g to the sam e
cluster to go o ff on a trek together for a fe w days o r to visit co m m o n rela­
tives in other settlem ents. B ut in d ivid u als fro m cluster A (or B ) w o u ld
rarely leave their house group to go on a tre k w ith individuals fro m cluster
p8 Coming Back to the Longhouse

B (or A ). N o one from either clu ster A or B ever returned to D ayuno, even
for a visit.
Soon the longhouses housed n ot o n ly people but also a gro w in g popula­
tion o f pets, alm ost as m any as there were children. T h e s e queninga ‘pets’
(literally ‘ it receives food fro m h um ans’), m ainly m o n k ey s2 and parrots,
were the su rvivin g offspring o f h u n ted animals, given b y hunters to their
children, w h o were responsible fo r feeding the orphans, at tim es assisted by
breast-feeding mothers w hen the captured baby an im als w ere too weak or
you ng to ingest mashed fruit.
N o m atter how transitory the longhouses o f the N am e iri and the
C u h u eiri on the Shiripuno w ere as physical structures, th eir nanicaboiri ex­
isted lo n g before I first m et th em , and, a decade later, th ey are still the same,
strengthened and enlarged b y the marriages o f the ch ild ren w h o have now
becom e adults and w ho are h avin g children o f their o w n . In the sedenta-
rized village they had left, N a m e and C uhue had been liv in g in nuclear fam ­
ily houses, com posite structures m ade o f planks and co rrugated iron. N o t
all the N a m e iri lived under o n e r o o f at the time, an d the C uhueiri were
spread in fo u r different houses, b u t they nevertheless fo rm ed two distinct
n eighborh ood clusters. A n d less than two years after th eir arrival in Q ue-
hueire O n o , as the settlem ent grew and as more fam ilies join ed the new
com m unity, the tw o longhouses fragm ented once m o re in to sm aller units;
the tw o enlarged kindreds had reform ed, as related n u clear families began
livin g in separate, yet clustered, houses.
T h e longhou se is the co m m o n dw elling place o f the nanicabo, literally
‘grou p’ o r ‘bunch’ , a term also used to refer to groups o f m onkeys and par­
rots, sch ools o ffish , or sw arm s o f bees.3 Longhouses d o n o t last and are often
rebuilt on new sites, but house grou ps remain fairly stable. T h e house group
is co m posed o f an older cou ple an d the couple’s follow ers. T h e older couple
“o w n s,” o r “ leads,” the n anicabo, b y w h ich is meant th at th ey have initiated
the m ove, the construction, o r the form ation o f the residential unit. T h e
nanicabo derives its identity fro m the old w ife’s m other, w h ose house, in a
sense, it rebuilds, and from h er husband, whose n am e, used in the plural
form , often serves as a referential term (but see note I to this chapter).
L on gh ou ses, as physical stru ctu res or as enduring n anicaboiri, em body
the u n ity o f house groups, serv in g as fixed points in the flu id ity o f nom adic
life, places w here one belongs an d to which one returns. T h e y develop as
clearings in the rain forest, a ro u n d hearth places w h ere fo o d and materials
are processed and transform ed, used or consumed. T h e y are residence units
that h usbands jo in , where ch ild ren are born and raised, to w hich pets are
Corning Back to the Longhouse pp

brought to be housed and fed, and to w hich orphans an d refugees attach

themselves. D espite how often on e goes on a trek or visits relatives living
elsewhere, on e belongs to one, an d o n ly one, longhouse. W h en dyin g o f old
age (this is especially true o f w id o w e d w om en), one sh o u ld decay within
and w ith the house, both the co rp se and the abandoned d w ellin g returning
to the rain forest.
People id en tify with a particu lar longhouse, regardless o f h ow often they
go on treks o r stay in their forest o r garden shelters, fo r the longhouse phys­
ically em b od ies the principle o f u n ity am ong its residents. H o w often, but
not h o w lo n g — it is this subtle differen ce wherein lies the unbreachable gap
between b ein g a longhouse resident and being a stranger. Stayin g away from
the lo n gh o u se should be tem porary. T h o se w ho sojou rn in a distant hunt­
ing lodge are not establishing n ew nanicaboiri, and visito rs eventually go
back to th eir ow n longhouses. T h o se w ho stay aw ay fo r extended periods
risk lo sin g their identity; they are in danger o f b ecom in g others. Far from
the great flu id ity observed a m o n g A frican egalitarian hunter-gatherers
(W oodburn 1968), we find here the sam e pan -A m azon ian suspicion o f
groups o th er than one’s ow n as the one found am on g the C u iv a (Arcand
1973) or, fo r that matter, the Jiv a ro s (Taylor 1985). B e lo n g in g to a nanicabo
im plies restricted visiting, especially for w om en, and sp en d in g m uch time
in residence. T h e longhouse is n ever left em pty or u n in h ab ited , even i f its
residents com e and go in turn. I f som e mem bers leave fo r good , either to
join an o th er nanicabo or to create a n ew one, they becom e others (huarant).
T h eir “so cial death” is signaled b y th eir taking on a differen t personal name,
as discussed in m ore detail below.

T h e Sharing Econom y
To be p art o f a longhouse m eans n ot to be from som ew here else, and co­
residence creates a form o f togetherness that is expressed an d continuously
reasserted through sharing practices. A s argued b y a n u m b er o f authors,4
sharing a co m m o n residence is a param oun t principle in o rd erin g relation­
ships in m a n y A m azonian societies. It is this m o rality o f social proxim ity
that I ex a m in e thoroughly in this section.

P erso n a l A utonom y
A b ew ild erin g aspect o f H u a o ra n i social life and, arguably, o f life in most
A m azo n ian societies (Rivière 19 84 ; O verin g 1993) is the u n iq u e com bina-
ioo Corning Back to the Longhouse

tion o f co m m u n a lity and personal autonom y. T h e act o f residin g creates a

definite sense o f identity and m em b ersh ip w h ile p ro m o tin g a h igh degree o f
individual free d o m .5 In d ivid u ality m akes sharing w ith in the nanicabo,
w hich also m eans ‘we live un ited , w e live like one’ (ayerom onqu i quehue-
moni), possib le. G ive n that W estern cultures have alw ays eq u ated difference
w ith asym m etry, and given that sin ce the 1830s these sam e cultures have as­
sim ilated in d ivid u a lity (d ifferentiatin g individuals b y a n y n u m b er o f char­
acteristics) an d individualism (d ifferen tiatin g on eself fro m the masses by
accentuating o r acquiring d istin g u ish in g traits and d e v elo p in g noncon­
form ist b eh avio r)6 to describe the H u a o ra n i relationship b etw een the indi­
vidual an d so cie ty adequately is p a rticu la rly difficult. I a ttem p t to do so here
by ex a m in in g the social recogn ition o f idiosyncrasies in oral expression,
child so cializatio n and prod uctive w o rk , and, finally, p a th o lo g ic al form s o f
“ C h a n tin g in the hom e” (a m o ta m in i) illustrates p e rfe ctly w ell w h at per­
sonal a u to n o m y m eans in H u a o ra n i society. People u su a lly chant several
hours a d a y w h en resting in th eir h am m o ck s or w hen b u sy w ith som e hom e-
based activity. In this form o f ch a n tin g, people talk a b o u t the m anual activ­
ities th ey are perform in g (for in stance, “ the twine I m ake, the tw ine I make,
the y o u n g p alm le a f is changed in fib rou s rope, the rope th at m akes the ham ­
m ock, the rope for the h am m ock . . . ,” etc.), som etim es p ra isin g their own
skilled p ractices (for exam ple “ I am a great hunter, w h at a great hunter I am,
I kill so m a n y m onkeys, they fall o f f the tree after just o n e blow , other men
are so b ad at it, they miss their target, m y darts never m iss . . . ,” etc.), or
elaborating o n the intrinsic characteristics o f the m aterials, ob jects, or plants
they are m a n ip u latin g (for exam p le, “ this is hardw ood, h ard w o o d I am carv­
ing, h ard w o o d I am carving . . . o h , w h at a hardw ood . . . ,” etc.).
T h e ch an ts refer to productive activities after they h av e been carried out
and as th e y relate to the life o f the n anicabo or to cra ft-m a k in g and other
dom estic tasks that are being execu ted . M elodies and b asic them es are stan­
dard, b u t the rest is pure im p rovization , as verses are en d lessly repeated with
small va ria tio n s. Som etim es p eop le decid e to sing in the w a y a departed co­
resident, a d ead parent, or a sib lin g w h o lives a long w a y a w a y is remem bered
to have su n g . C h a n tin g styles, lik e m an u factu rin g styles, or, fo r that matter,
in to n atio n s, voices, footprints, o r a n y other particular w a y o f d o in g som e­
thing, are id iosyn cratic features attrib u ted to specific in d ivid u a ls that can be
recognized, rem em bered, and im itated . A n oth er in terestin g feature o f am o­
tam in i ‘p erson al songs’ is that several people m ay ch a n t sim ultaneously
w hile in d ire c tly referring to the co n te n t o f one another’s so n g (for example,
Corning Back to the Longhouse jo i

s in g e r A chants about the ch am bira tw in e she is m aking, an d sin ger B chants

about h ow m u ch better than an o ld h am m o ck a new on e is), thus engaging
in a n ondialogical form o f co m m u n ica tio n (see R ival 19 9 2:34 8 —54).
Seeger (19 79 :378 , 390, 392; 19 8 7 ; 19 9 1) has stressed the m u sical em phasis
o f A m azonian social life and has argu ed that m usic, w h ich plays an active
role in the creation and life o f so cie ty itself, m ust be an alyzed as central to
the u n derstand ing o f A m azonian societies. In the H u ao ran i case, in d ivid u ­
als not o n ly com m unicate their feelin gs to co-residents in the co m b in ed ac­
tion o f ch an tin g an d m aking ob jects, b u t they also share w ith them their
personal interpretations o f H u a o ra n i sym bolism . A person expresses her
feelings, in n er thoughts, and ideas w h en ever she feels the need to do so
(even in the m id dle o f the night w h e n everyon e else is asleep!), and co-resi-
dents hear w ith o u t necessarily listen in g, fo r respect an d to leran ce o f indi­
vidual expression is what is expected, rather than reciprocal engagem ent
and response. In short, chants co m b in e technical en sk illm en t and m any
idiosyncratic versions o f the w ays person s com e to experien ce the w o rld . As
such, chants constitute a potent fo rm o f cultural kn ow led ge th ro u gh w hich
it is their v e ry personal autonom y th at co-residents co m e to share.
C h a n tin g also accom panies a favo re d h om e occu patio n , sim p ly relaxing
in one’s h am m o ck . In fact, som e p eop le seem to specialize in ly in g in their
ham m ocks ch an tin g gently, in a state o f perfect stillness, tran qu illity, inac­
tion, and “contentm en t” (huentey) .7 Huentey, the opposite o f activity and
m ovem ent, is a form o f “social w o rk ” that helps to restore h arm o n y in the
longhouse. A s such, huentey is con sid ered essential fo r p re ven tin g tension,
bad feelings, and the risk o f scission. W h en som eone is in a h u e n tey state,
tranquillity flow s outward from the person w h o is ly in g d o w n , an d every­
body feels it. It is thanks to h u en tey that internal disputes, co n trad iction s,
conflict, p h ysical violence, and d isco rd are prevented fro m d evelopin g
within the nanicabo.8
So far I h ave presented the H u a o ra n i’s great interest in , an d p ro fo u n d re­
spect for, in d ividu al differences as th ey are expressed in b o d ily m anifesta­
tions such as chanting and m akin g artifacts. T h e sam e is true m o re general­
ly o f w ork. A s m ight be expected fro m a society that values so h igh ly the
state o f huentey, w o rk is considered p ro d u ctive and creative o n ly in so far as
one engages in it freely. Self-reliance is a param ount valu e, b u t no one can
be forced to w o rk, not even by o n eself. W henever I tried, faith fu l to m y
Catholic u p b rin gin g, to prove that I w as a participant w o rth h avin g on­
board and co u ld , despite m y p h ysical w eakness and inability, cut firew ood,
clear the bush w ith a machete, or fell a tree, m y H uaorani frien d s an d teach­
102 Coming Back to the Longhouse

ers w o u ld sim ply ask m e to stop, sit down, and co o l o ff. In a sim ilar v e in , re­
lu cta n t children are n ever forced to work. T o help th eir parents or an yo n e
else, th ey first have to b e able to do so, and then th ey m ust volunteer their
help. H a rd w ork and to il, w h ic h are considered to lead to dangerous failu re,
are so cia lly disapproved o f, and tasks must be perfo rm ed w illingly an d e f ­
fortlessly. T h e b e lie f th at h arm on iou s social life sh o u ld be based on the full
respect o f personal exp ression and free choice to act corresponds to the fear
th at actions perfo rm ed u n d e r constraint result in social harm .9
Furth erm ore, the in d iv id u a tio n resulting from ch ild socialization enables
p erson s not so m u ch to b e independent and self-relian t but, m ore im p o r­
tan t, to be so in o rd er to interact in a prolonged an d intense w ay w ith c o ­
residen ts. W h en ch ild ren are “old enough to go on their own” (piqu'ena bate
opategocam ba), that is, w h e n they can walk, talk, an d eat meat, they are en ­
co u ra g e d to participate in subsistence activities a n d to carry back, in th eir
o w n little p alm -leaf b askets (oto), enough fo o d to share w ith their g ra n d ­
m o th ers, m others, o ld e r sisters, and other m em b ers o f their nanicabo (R iva l
19 9 6 a ). A s already stated , forest food is generally abu n dan t, easily o b tain ed ,
an d sim p le to prepare. M oreover, the rich natural environm ent is tapped
u sin g ind ividu alized m o d es o f procurem ent. N o t o n ly are food -gatherin g
a ctivities hardly d iffere n tia ted , as noted in ch ap ter 4, but people also tend
to h u n t, fish, and gath er alo n e or in small grou p s, as none o f these activities
requires cooperation. H u n tin g , in fact, is p e rfo rm ed m ore efficiently alone.
It can thus be said th at personal autonom y an d the sharing o f n atu rally
a b u n d a n t food are tw o sides o f the same coin. Fin ally, given that personal
a u to n o m y necessarily im p lies that individuals p ro d u ce or control en o u gh
fo o d stu ff, not sim p ly fo r th eir ow n consum ption b u t also to share w ith o th ­
ers, it is u nderstandable th at the extreme self-relian ce o f angry w arriors w h o
take to the w oods, live a lo n e w ith the trees, and su rvive on their o w n urin e
(see ch apter 3) is co n sid ere d pathological, fu n d am en tally antisocial, an d d e­
stru ctive. T h e ir in d ep en d en ce, born out o f grief, anger, fear, and anxiety, is
a b so lu tely antithetical to the personal au to n o m y and sharing sociality p ro ­
m o te d w ith in the n a n ica b o . K illin g becomes th eir identity, and to give and
receive death their d estiny.

D e m a n d in g a n d S h a r in g F ood
H u a o ra n i social life co u ld be sum m arized in on e short phrase: p ro cu re
alo n e and consum e together. T h e follow ing excerp t from m y field d ia ry il­
lustrates the practices th at constitute nanicabo fo o d sharing:
Coming Back to the Longhouse 103

The first impression one gets after a few hours inside any longhouse is that o f a
constant mutual giving away o f food.
Since her husband died o f pneumonia several years ago, Mima has lived with
her married daughter, her husband, and their two children, and with her un­
married adolescent daughter and son. Mima, her unmarried daughter, and her
son all cook on Mima’s hearth and prepare food for one another. The married
daughter has her own hearth on the other side o f the house, and she eats with her
husband and children. Food is continuously offered from one hearth group to
the other, but neither M im a nor her daughters would ever think o f saving time
and energy by taking turns to cook for the whole family on the same hearth.
When at home, each woman cooks all day long (sometimes the men cook) and
gives samples o f what she is cooking to whomever is around.

F ood sharing, the co n tin u ou s receiving and g iv in g aw ay o f food, is a core el­

em ent o f ongoing co-residence. Five or six h earths, each identified w ith a
m arried wom an and eq u a lly used by her h usban d an d children, occupy the
tw o longer sides o f the lo n gh o u se.10 H a m m o ck s are slung around the
hearths, generally one, tw o, o r three per hearth grou p , depending on the
n u m b er o f grown ch ildren . M en , w om en, or ch ild ren cook the food they
b rin g back, before sh arin g it w ith w hom ever h ap p en s to be around. C o o k ­
ing generally takes place on several hearths sim ultaneously, and food is
transferred back arid forth betw een hearth grou ps.
T h e sharing o f cooked fo od m ay be preceded b y the sharing o f un­
processed food, especially m eat. In this case, the person who brings raw
food to the longhouse m a y give part o f it to sp ecific co-residents, w ho are
free to use it as they please— co o k it for them selves and others or redistrib­
ute it further. I f som eone feels entitled to a share b u t has been ignored, that
individual m ay assert a claim by openly asking fo r som e gathered fruit or
hunted game. In this w ay, givers m ay be free to redistribute their catch ac­
cording to their ow n p riorities, but they also h ave to respond to co-resi­
dents’ claims.
Sharin g within the n an icab o is intense an d exch an ge with the outside
m inim al. To share is ebat'e ebate goro (ap p roxim ately ‘a path that goes
around and around’). T h e expression gorongame q u e ‘to help’ further illus­
trates this fact, as does the post-contact term fo r neighbor, which is “we
give/offer to he/she w h o exists so he/she m ay keep on livin g” (negorongame
quehuengd). A ll these expressions clearly convey the sense that living close is
about giving, the p rim ary con d ition for existence. T h e special terms quene
ba a n a n i ‘those w ho say th ey w ill not give any fo o d aw ay’ and pee gompoca
104 Corning Back to the Longhouse

‘a greed y person’ , that is, on e w h o does not w a n t to give food away, an o f­

fense considered far m o re serious than h id in g o n e ’s belongings out o f sig h t
so as not to be asked to give them away, furth er illustrate the sign ifican ce o f
g iv in g food away on d em an d . G enerosity ( bequi quen e gorocampa,litera lly
‘give aw ay food and d rin k ’) tow ard guirinani ‘co-residents and visitin g k in ’
is expected as a right to sam eness, w hich is the sam e as the right to live. B y
the sam e token, no fo o d o r d rin k is shared w ith those w h o are d iffere n t
(huaca), potentially h ostile others (huarani ), o r foreigners (cohuori ).
F o od sharing on d e m a n d is not based on reciprocity, for the act o f g iv in g
and receiving are to ta lly dissociated.” Social partners equally d isen gaged
fro m property relate to on e another by sh arin g fo o d in a w ay that creates
n eith er com petition n o r dependency. N o n re cip ro ca l relations p ro d u c e a
co llectivity (the n an icabo) in w h ich givers n ever becom e creditors, n o r re­
ceivers debtors. T h e in d epend en t co-occurrence o f these two social actio n s
is inscribed in the syn tax o f the language. T w o expressions, pono an d goro,
are used to mean “to g iv e .” W h en pono is used, the gram m atical su b ject (the
verb nom inative) receives som ething. T h e m o rp h em e po, w hich also exists
as a verb form m ean in g “ to co m e,” m ay be used to m ark a m ovem en t “to ­
w a rd .” Goro, w hich m eans that the speaker is g iv in g som ething away, is d e ­
rived from the verb go ‘to g o .’ T h e m orph em e go m arks a m ovem ent “a w a y
fr o m .” T o give is th erefore either “to give” o r “ to be given ,” an actio n ex­
pressed in the active rath er than the passive m o d e. G iv in g and receivin g are
conceptualized gram m atically as acts o f disp lacem en t. T h e focus is o n the
m ovem en t o f objects, not on w h o owns th em .
T h e generosity the H u aoran i people va lu e , therefore, is based m o re on
“ dem an d sharing,” to use Peterson’s (1993) felicitou s expression, th an o n
u n solicited giving. G iv in g away, to a H u a o ra n i, is not altruistic b eh avior,
fo r personal a u to n o m y is at least as im p ortan t as generosity. In d ivid u als a l­
w ays have the p o ssib ility o f feeding them selves. T h e ideal co m m u n al life
com bin es the ability to fin d food for o n eself w ith o u t help, eat w h en e ver one
feels hungry, and, in gen eral, rely on oneself, w ith the pleasure o f b e in g w ith
others and caring fo r them . A s a result, co-residen ts d o not feed th em selves
(this w ou ld be the logical outcom e o f p erson al autonom y) but o ffe r the
fo o d they have p rocu red to fellow co-residen ts, from w hom th ey receive
fo o d . In this way, in d ivid u als retain full co n tro l over what they d ecid e to do ,
in clu d in g eating. F o o d sharing, therefore, is structured by principles sim ila r
to those that order a m o ta m in i chanting an d , in d eed , other form s o f p e rso n ­
al expression.
Furtherm ore, H u a o ra n i food sharing is w h o lly consistent w ith pattern s
Corning Back to the Longhouse 10$

o f sharin g observed a m o n g egalitarian h u n ter-gath erers, w hich is by

dem and rather than by u nsolicited givin g and in w h ic h “ the w h ole em pha­
sis is on don or obligation an d recipient en titlem en t” (W oodbu rn 19 9 8 ).12
M oreover, the political im p lication s o f this fo rm o f exchange, in w h ich
dem and sharing corresponds to the assertion o f egalitarian principles and
by w h ich receiving does n o t b in d the recipient to recip ro cate, are iden tical.13
I f I stress this characteristic here, it is because H u a o ra n i sharing patterns
are strik in gly different fro m those fo u n d a m o n g A m az o n ia n groups for
w hich reciprocity constitutes the dom in an t p attern o f exchange. T h e
Barasana, w h o, according to Steven H u g h -Jo n es, th eir ethnographer, do not
barter but share food an d lend o r give their possession s freely w ithin their
ow n co m m u n ity or lon gh ou se, do so because, I q u o te, o f “the obligation o f
sharing am ong co-residents, w hich corresponds in fact to a tw o-w ay recip­
rocal com pelling duty” (H u gh -Jo n es 19 9 2:6 0 ; m y em p h asis). D em an d shar­
ing, a cultural characteristic com m on to m ost eg alitarian hunter-gatherers,
by contrast, is not m orally constructed as a reciprocal o b lig atio n to help and

C o n ju ga l P airing
T o a W esterner’s eye, H u ao ran i m arried life ap p ears intense and h igh ly
dem an ding. Husbands a n d w ives spend m ost o f th eir tim e w o rk in g togeth­
er and are alm ost inseparable, especially at the b e g in n in g o f their m arried
life. C o u p les spend far m o re tim e together than th ey d o w ith their ow n chil­
dren. A n d whereas ch ildren spend weeks w ith p e o p le o th er than their b io ­
logical fathers and m others, n ew ly m arried m en a n d w o m e n cannot spend
m ore than a few days aw ay from each other w ith o u t th is b ein g a source o f
co n flict and tension. T h is is p artly explained b y th e fac t that w hen a m an
and a w om an get m arried, all the husband’s b roth ers, as w ell as all the w ife’s
sisters, becom e a “spouse” (nanoongue) . T h e term nanoongue, w hich is gen ­
der neutral and sociocentric, defines classes o f p e o p le w h o are in a potential
spousal relationship to o n e another. T h e ir affinal p o te n tia lity is realized as
the extension o f the rights an d obligations con tracted u p o n m arriage to the
entire set o f siblings. N an oongue can sleep w ith each other, even i f they are
not liv in g together as h u sb an d and w ife. It is th erefore n o t surprising that
spouses m ust spend m u ch tim e together for the m arital relationship to ac­
quire its norm ally rem arkable degree o f strength an d stability.
In digen ou s discourses stress the reproductive fu n c tio n o f m arried life
w hen accounting for its reciprocal nature. T h e m arital relationship de-
ioti Corning Back to the Longhouse

m ands the rig o ro u s respect o f m utual obligation s because co n ju g a lity is,

first and fo rem o st, jo in t parenting. A s in m a n y Am azonian societies, post-
marital residence is uxorilocal, so m en m u st progressively in tegrate the shar­
in g eco n o m y o f th eir w ife’s house gro u p . W om en do not leave th eir native
house, but, as m e n tio n ed earlier, acqu ire their own hearth u p o n m arriage.
W h en sisters are m arried to the sam e m a n , each has her ow n h earth , and the
husband has eq u al access to both. T h e h earth symbolizes a n ew set o f rights
and ob ligation s, an d a new com p lem en tarity o f tasks, b etw een w ife and
husband, as w e ll as between the new co u p le and the rest o f the nanicabo.
T h e hearth also sign ifies that m arriage is abo u t producing ch ild re n , that is,
increasing the n u m b e r o f nanicabo residents. A s I have sh o w n elsewhere
(Rival 1998c), h u sb an d s and wives sleep together as part o f g ro w in g into an
organic u n it th at w ill eventually p ro d u ce children. Sexual intercourse is
overtly geared to w ard reproduction. H a v in g babies is not seen as a b y-prod­
uct o f sexual pleasure but as a reward in itself, for adulthood is ab o u t pair­
ing and g iv in g b irth to children (R iva l, Slater, and M iller 1998).
M arried co u p les, although em bedd ed w ith in the nanicabo sh arin g econ­
om y, are d istin gu ish ab le by the m ore ritualized w ay in w h ich th ey give to,
and receive fro m , each other. T h e m a n n er in which a man re tu rn in g from a
hun t throw s th e g am e at his w ife’s feet is distinctive. H e does n o t challenge
other w o m en k in w ith the same d a rin g expression w hen o ffe rin g them
gam e. W ith a fa in t sm ile o f pleasure, the w ife gets up and m ixes several
bowls o f b an an a d rin k which she h old s ou t toward him defiantly. A lready
lyin g in the h a m m o c k , he does not lo o k at her. T h e hunted gam e is hers; she
m ay give som e parts to her mother, dau gh ter, or sister, or prepare and cook
it right away. T h is ritualized recip ro city between husbands an d w ives is
hardly n oticeab le w h en they have been together all day in the forest. T h e y
put the fo od o n the floor, near the h earth , the man relaxes in the h am m ock,
and his w ife prepares a drink for them b o th . H e m ay go b ath in g righ t away,
or he m ay p rep are the game w ith his w ife and then go w ith h er to the river.
In their d a ily a ctivities, husbands an d w ives often w ork together, n o t side by
side but as p airs o f unm arried brothers and sisters do. B ro th ers m a y cook
som ething o n th eir m other’s hearth an d offer some o f their c o o k in g to their
sisters. It is far less frequent to see a m arried man cook and o ffe r fo o d to his
w ife. U n m arried m ale adolescents p la n tin g m anioc stalks o r ca rry in g m an­
ioc roots m a y o ffe r fo od to those p resen t, but I have never seen m arried men
do so. W h ereas m arried wom en on a forest trek set their o w n separate fires,
youths o f eith er sex and adult m en c o o k together on one b ig fire. In H u ao­
rani society, it is con ju gal activities th at are gendered.
Corning Back to the Longhouse 107

Reciprocal exch an ge between spouses is closely related to the co m ple­

mentarity o f th eir prod u ctive activities. M e n and w om en kn ow h o w to, and
can, do alm ost ev ery item o f their society’s cultural repertoire. I have never
heard o f a w o m an m ak in g blowpipes an d spears (or, for that m atter, any
wooden im p lem en t) o r o f a man m a k in g claypots or fishing nets, but
wom en use b lo w p ip es and men use clay pots. It is the m aking, not the
using, that is gendered . W h en m arried, h ow ever, m en and w om en tend to
specialize in certain activities. M an y activities becom e the regular task o f
one m em ber o f the con ju gal pair, alth ou gh this im plicit division o f labor
m ay vary from o n e cou ple to another o r fro m one longhouse to the next.
For example, in on e conjugal pair, the h u sb an d m ay be in charge o f ch o p ­
ping firew ood, in w h ic h case the w ife w ill fetch water, w hile in another it is
the w ife w ho collects firew ood and the h u sb an d w ho fetches w ater. T h e
same is true fo r tw istin g palm fiber in to strin g, w eavin g cotton w ristbands,
and m aking baskets o r ham m ocks. B u t a m arried w om an w ill n ot go hun t­
ing on her ow n w h ile her husband stays h o m e , and a m arried m an w ill not
prepare fruit d rin k s (he is m ore likely to c o o k m eat or foreign food) o r har­
vest a garden unless his w ife is ill or absent.
It is im portant to stress that conjugal d ivisio n o f labor and balanced re­
ciprocity are relaxed w h en the couple’s ch ild ren are all m arried. T h e n they
m ay sleep in separate ham m ocks and c o o k on their own hearths (this is the
only time that a m an has his own hearth). T h e old spouses are n o w equal
and independent n anicabo residents. T h e y no longer form an econom ic
partnership d ifferen tiated from the n an icab o sharing econom y. In sum , if
conjugal co m p lem en tarity introduces a certain division o f labor, it is not
normative in the sense that different d o m estic and productive tasks are
equally valued. D ifferen ce is not translated in to hierarchy, and general prac­
tice is not con verted into a rigid code o f co n d u ct.
A careful exam in atio n o f the w hole p ro d u c tive system highlights that the
am ount o f shared tasks m ore or less equals th at o f com plem entary ones. Bal­
anced reciprocity betw een husbands an d w ives ensures a real increase in
w ork output. M o reover, it ensures that fath ers and m others share equ ally in
the procreation process and the grow th o f ch ild ren . W hereas the association
o f autonom ous an d self-sufficient prod ucers sh aring their products form s a
suitable base fo r n anicabo sociality, it is n o t sufficient to bring n ew m em ­
bers into the w o rld . F o r this, m arried co u p les m ust turn into productive
units and work h arder, a fact continu ou sly stressed throughout the w edd in g
ceremony. T h is co n cern w ith equal p a rticip atio n in the procreation process
is obvious in the w a y H uaorani people talk abo u t the couvade as an expres­
io8 Coming Back to the Longhouse

sion o f m ens in vo lvem en t in the act o f b ea rin g ch ildren and p aren tin g (R ival
i9 9 8 e ).
To be m arried to o n ly one w om an o r to h er sisters as well m akes n o d if­
ference from the m an ’s view p o in t, except th at he m u st w ork harder a n d p ro ­
duce more. W h en a m an marries several sisters, o n ly the first u n io n is cele­
brated w ith a m arriage cerem ony. T h e d iv id in g up o f w ifely tasks am o n g
sisters also con tribu tes to increasing p ro d u c tio n output. T h e great ad van ­
tage o f sororal p o ly g y n y is that m ore sed en ta ry tasks (such as gard en in g,
carin g for y o u r b ab ies, and m an u factu rin g artifacts) m ay be co m b in e d
m ore easily w ith fo ra g in g activities. T h e m o st significan t division o f lab o r is
no longer that betw een husband and w ife b u t th at between the “sed en tary”
and the “foraging” w ife . It should be em phasized here that sororal p o ly g y n y
is m ost often in itiated b y you nger sisters, w h o see it as their rig h t to share
their older sister’s h u sb an d (he is, after all, lega lly their husband). T h e m ost
com m on reason cited fo r sororal p o ly g y n y is husband scarcity. S u c h scarci­
ty is induced b y the h igh valu e w om en attach to livin g with th eir m others
and sisters. T h e y v a lu e their native h ou se g ro u p above all an d w o u ld do
everything in th eir p o w er to remain there. In ad d itio n , it seems th a t the first
sons-in-law and th eir w ives’ parents b oth feel, albeit for d ifferen t reasons,
that the inclusion o f m ore in-m arryin g m en w o u ld be p o litically deleteri­
ous. I f husbands rein force their political p o sitio n b y m arrying several times
in the same hou se, th eir polygyn y is alw ays perceived as an act o f generosi­
ty, for they w ill h ave to w o rk harder.
A lth ough the co n ju gal pair form s a p ro d u c tive unit, each sp o u se rem ains
an independent fo o d sharer w ithin the n an icab o . C o n ju g ality d o e s n ot af­
fect the au to n o m y o f ind ividu al prod ucers; husbands and w ives h ave equal
rights to the p ro d u cts o f their co m m on , shared labor. For in stan ce, w h en a
m arried couple gath er and hunt together, th ey return to th e lo n gh o u se
equally loaded w ith hunted game and o th e r forest products. E a c h controls
w h at each carries an d is entitled to give so m e aw ay to any n a n ica b o m em ­
ber. T h is becom es p articu larly clear w h en guests are visiting. G iv e n the ux-
orilocal nature o f postm arital residence, m o st visits are for in -m a rry in g m en
or by m arried m en returning to their n ative nanicabo. It is m a rrie d men
w h o generally cater to their visitors. T h e y d o n ot expect their w iv e s to act as
a hostess to in d ivid u a ls w h o m they co n sid er huarani, that is, unrelated
folks, nonresident affines and non -kin .
T o sum up, co n ju g a lity m ay affect p ro d u c tio n patterns b u t n o t nanicabo
sharing or v isitin g patterns. In the shared life o f the nanicabo com m u n ity,
transactions b etw een husbands and w ives, u n lik e those practiced w ith other
Corning Back to the Longhouse lop

co-residents, are strictly reciprocal. Spouses g iv e to each other in response to

w h at they receive fro m each other. W h ere as co-residents tend to o b tain
fo od independently and then share it, m a rrie d cou ples engage in co m p le­
m entary activities, each reciprocating the o th e r w ith goods and services o f a
different kind. S h arin g in the longhouse, u n lik e m arital exchange, is n o t
based on reciprocity. A s giving and receivin g are en tirely dissociated, n o n ­
reciprocal relations prod uce a collectivity, the n anicabo, in w hich givers
never becom e creditors, nor receivers d eb to rs. So cial partners eq u ally d is­
engaged from p roperty relate to each o th er b y sh arin g in a w ay that creates
neither com petition n o r dependency. T h e so cial life o f the longhouse, o r­
ganized around the collective sharing o f fo o d in d ivid u ally produced, en ­
compasses reciprocal exchanges betw een sp ou ses. T h is is largely o w in g to
the fact that w hereas conjugal pairs form p ro d u c tiv e units, each spouse re­
mains an independent food sharer w ith in the lon gh ou se. M arriage o rgan iz­
es the production o f goods, not their circu latio n . H uaorani co n ju g a lity
therefore illustrates the lim itations o f C o llie r an d R o sald o ’s (1981) thesis that
marriage, a political contract at the core o f k in sh ip , organizes rights an d o b ­
ligations in such a w a y that, whatever its fo rm , it becom es a source o f social
inequality between m en and w o m en .14

The S h a rin g o f S u b sta n ce

People say that b y livin g in the same lo n g h o u se th ey gradually b ecom e o f
the same substance, literally “o f one sam e flesh” (aroboqui baon a n o b a in ).
Food sharing corresponds to the u n d ifferen tiated feed in g process, its e lf part
o f a wider organic process. T h e prin ciple b y w h ich people becom e related
and com e to share a com m on substance th ro u g h acts o f feeding is general:
Fathers feed sem en to fetuses, mothers b reast-feed infants, and n anicabo co ­
residents con tin u o u sly feed one another. T h e ph ysical reality o f ea tin g the
same food and sleepin g together builds u p in to a co m m o n physical essence,
regardless o f blood ties. B y continuously fe e d in g on e another, eatin g the
same food, and sleep ing together, people w h o live together develop a shared
physicality o f greater im port than that re su ltin g fro m genealogical b on ds.
Nanicabo m em bers share the same su b stan ce n ot o n ly because th ey feed
one another but also because they sleep, w o rk , live, and defecate together.
T h ey share illnesses, parasites, a com m on d w e llin g , an d a com m on territo ­
ry. Everyone partakes in everyone else’s care an d w ell-being, and the m ore
time people spend together, the more th ey b ec o m e alike. Sensual b o n d in g ,
as diffuse as food sharing, unfolds as o n e asp ect o f the pleasure o f liv in g in
no Corning Back to the Longhouse

one a n oth er’s com pany. Sen su ality is practiced not as the realization o f pri­
vate fantasies b u t as the b odily expression o f sharing. W h en H uaorani peo­
ple talk a b o u t sensuality, they m ean “w e live well” (huapon i quehuemonipa)-,
to them , sen su al pleasure, or p ro m iscu o u s well-being, is sim p ly one o f the
w ays in w h ic h the longhouse sh a rin g econ om y m aterializes.
T h e n eed fo r com fort and ph ysical contact is never con stru ed as sexual,
nor is the d esire fo r affection taken to be a desire for sex. B o d ies are social­
ized to exp erien ce diffuse, u n fo cu sed pleasures, and low -level sexual energy
in this cu ltu ra l context does not ap p ear to be caused b y the fear o f losing life
force o r o th e r vital substances th rou gh intercourse. In this society au­
ton o m ou s in d ivid u als do not b ecom e subjects through loss or through nar­
cissistic satisfactio n o f erotic desires, an d both sex and sen su ality are direct­
ed to the m a k in g o f other p eop le, not oneself. Sexu ality is never used in
H u ao ran i so cie ty to create pow er differentials or to transgress social norms;
it is em b e d d ed in the care o f rep ro d u ctio n . Sensuality, the physical pleasure
o f h arm o n io u s living, is neither caused nor expressed in sexual desire, nor is
it restrictive: A ll longhouse residents, w hatever their age, gender, or kin af­
filiation , b eh ave sensually tow ard one another. E ntirely en gulfed in the do­
m estic a n d its organicity, sen su ality is the art de vivre o f individuals w ho
have ch o sen to share a co m m o n residence. A gain, it is prom iscuous w ell­
being, o n e o f the ways in w h ich the longhouse sharing- eco n o m y material­
izes. (R iv a l, Slater, and M iller 19 9 8 ).15
T h e p rin c ip le by w hich p eop le becom e related th ro u gh com m on living
applies to d iet restrictions as w e ll. Relatedness m ay result from either con­
su m in g to geth er or avoiding fo o d together. In other w o rd s, relatedness re­
sults fro m th e fact o f collectively con su m in g or av o id in g fo od , and collec­
tive fa stin g also expresses sh arin g. It is not so m uch the k in d o f food eaten
that m atters, b u t the relation o f con sum ption it creates. W h en a m em ber o f
the lo n g h o u se residential gro u p is sick, all residents m u st respect the sam e
food p ro h ib itio n s to help th at person recover. T h e p atien t recovers his or
her g o o d health thanks to this collective, curative effo rt. B y contrast, cog-
natic relatives living elsewhere h ave no such restrictions.16
E ach n an icab o is know n to others under a co llective identity derived
from its co rp o reity and co m m u n al existence. M em bers o f a residential unit
are d escrib ed as having a certain sm ell, a certain w a y o f dividin g up the
w o rk a m o n g themselves, a fu n n y w a y o f cutting th eir hair. T h e y are said to
be taller— o r shorter— than th e n o rm ; their skin is d ark er or lighter than
the average; and so forth. O f cou rse, such m erging o f in d ivid u al selves w ith ­
in a sin g u la r collectivity is stereotypical. It is not in sign ifican t that residen­
Corning Back to the Longhouse in

tial solidarity, w hich social actors see as based on the m oral principles and
social practices attached to the experien ce o f togetherness, be represented in
organic te rm s.17
Finally, i f living together turn s people into the sam e substance, the
process is not irreversible. Som e p eop le m ay spend m ore tim e aw ay visiting
distant relatives and may b ecom e estranged from their o w n nanicaboiri.
P hysically distant kin, who have n o t interacted w ith o n e an oth er for a long
time, are socially distant, to the p o in t o f being “o th ers.” B y disengaging
from the intense econom y o f sh arin g , and by residing less constantly w ith­
in the n anicabo, they lose som e o f the com m on substance, and differences
surface. T h e sharing o f a co m m o n substance is not perm an en t and can be
discon tinued. It lasts only as lo n g as it is sustained through continuous shar­
ing practices. However, reversing the process is an extrem ely serious matter.
Individuals w h o leave one gro u p fo r another cease to be k in ; they may be­
com e “en e m y other” (h uaran i). T h e y undergo a change o f iden tity marked
by the ad op tion o f a different person al nam e and the acqu isition o f a new
spouse. H a v in g reverted to the separate condition o f otherness, they have
lost all poten tial for incorporation an d are, in fact, m o re h u a ‘other’ than
potential in-com ers. It is not even possible to return to the longhouse one
has left to visit form er co-residents, fo r they w ould see in the returning vis­
itor a “m alevolent spirit” (huene), w h ose sole purpose is to kill and devour
his fo rm er kin associates. So, fo r the H uaorani, it is n o t affines who m ay
turn in to dangerous “cannibal o th e rs,” but kin w h o live w ith “others.”
W h at I have tried to show in this section is that the lon ghou se, as a unit
o f sharin g, represents a m oral (in the M aussian sense o f the term) person
created th rough biosocial processes, that is, a series o f d om estic acrions in ­
volvin g the body. Sharing is the o rgan ic binding o f auto n o m o u s selves, and
substance sharing a process b y w h ic h em bodim ent creates collective identi­
ty. W hereas those w ho live togeth er becom e alike, those w h o live apart, no
m atter h o w closely related they are in genealogical term s, turn into “others.”
A lth o u gh lived intensively, the experience o f Substance sharing never be­
com es essentialized. Sharing is co m p rised o f acts o f giv in g in the present, by
which the fact that co-residents b ecom e one another has n o past or future.
There can be no m em ory o f sh arin g , fo r sharing exists in the lived m om ent,
in the im m ed iacy o f intimacy. T h is is entirely consequential w ith the thesis
that b odylin ess, “ in the sense o f participation in the life o f the body, is not
restricted to the individual body, b u t m ay involve the in d ividu al in direct
participation in the living b odies o f others, specifically others involved in
prod ucin g her or his own b o d ily existence, or w ith w h o m she or he is in ­
112 Coming Back to the Longhouse

volved in (re)p ro d u cin g the b od ily existence o f others” (T u rn er 1995:150).

Far from b ein g asociological (V iveiros de C astro 1992:9—12 ), th is fo rm o f so­
ciality is h ig h ly po litical, for it actively w o rk s at leveling p o litica l and eco­
nomic differences w ith in residential gro u p s while p rotectin g the bloom in g
o f true in d ivid u al differences. Idiosyn crasies are not on ly fu lly recognized
but are also h ig h ly appreciated.18

Affinal Pairin g and M aternal M ultiplicity

We have seen so far that relations betw een longhouse co-residents are
more intim ate, carin g, and close than those between blood k in liv in g in dif­
ferent lon gh ou ses, that gender and inter-generational d ifferen ces are played
down, and th at personal autonom y, egalitarianism , and lo n g h o u se sharing
are highly va lu e d , all o f w hich clearly indicates that livin g to geth er seems
more prized th an b eing related genealogically. In other w o rd s, residence
principles seem to be structurally far m ore im portant than k in sh ip . In fact,
the en d ogam ou s and cognatic nature o f H uaorani society a n d its stress on
co-residence m ak e it an ideal exam ple o f restricted exchan ge w ith elem en­
tary stru ctu res19 ordered by a lo gic o f ego-centered kin term s and cross­
cousin m arriage w ith in the kin dred (H u gh -Jon es 19 9 3 :114 ). In continua­
tion, and b efo re I outline the n a m in g system , I exam ine th e term inology
system, w ith its vagu e and allusive ch aracter as well as its o p en n ess to inter­
pretation, an d discuss one o f its properties that “genderizes” con san guin ity
and affinity.

P erson a l Use o f K i n Terms

H uaorani k in sh ip term inology is, to use H enley’s (1996) m o d el, D ravid-
ianate (see figu res 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, and 5.5). B u t, as Bourdieu (19 7 7 ) has dem on­
strated m ore th an three decades ago, kin terms are m ean in g fu l in the w ay
they are used. B ecau se people use term s strategically, to discu ss term inolo­
gy systems in the abstract is alw ays prob lem atic. In the H u a o ra n i case, the
most strik in g p ro p erty is the “reversin g” o f nonreciprocal k in term s, so that
the relationship is always envisaged fro m ego’s point o f view . F o r instance,
if I ask a m atu re m ale inform ant “ Is X y o u r child?” he an sw ers “ I am the fa­
ther o f X ” (boto huem po imopd), n o t “ X is m y child” (boto hu'i).
A n oth er rem arkab le feature o f this system is that it en co u rages diverse in­
terpretations. A m o n g m y in fo rm an ts, I foun d the greatest variatio n s to be
between parents and children, and a m o n g ten- to fifteen -year-o ld children,
Coming Back to the Longhouse 113

F IG U R E 5.Z Dravidian Nomenclature (after Dreyfus 1993 )


M ale Female M ale Female

G+2 1 (M ale) 2(Female)
G+l 3 .4 5 6
>Ego 7 8 9 10
<Ego 7’ 8’ 9’ 10’
G -l 11 12 — 13 14
G-2 15(M ale) l6(Fem ale)

f ig u r e 5.3 Huaorani n o m e n c la t u r e

[ m e m e i r i ^1

M ale F em ale M ale Fem ale

G+2 1 2 1 2
G+l 33’ 4 5 è .
(8) 10

7 9

<Ego 8’ (9 ’) • — —
G-l 12 14 13 15
G-2 16 16

who were en d lessly debating w ho, in the co-resident bilateral k in d red , was
“other,” “cross-co u sin ,” or “sibling.” T h e ir disagreem ent often related to the
fact that cross-cousin marriages im p ly th at consanguin ity is co n tin u o u sly
being transform ed into affinity, and a ffin ity into consanguinity. T h e H u ao-
rani kinship system is, in this respect, entirely consistent w ith A m azo n ian
kinship system s, particularly with th eir “ tw o-lin e” (D ravid ian) relationship
term inologies representing the alliance betw een two so cially d efin ed cate-
114 Corning Back to the Longhouse

FIG U R E 5.4 Huaorani K inT erm s

1. mèmè (huèmè) 9 . menga

2. ñéñé (huéñaña) 8’ bihui
3 . mempo (huempo) 9 ’ bihuinque (rarely used)
3 ’ maapo 10. menqui (huenqui)
4 . bara (huaana) 1 1 . mengui (huengui, miye)
5 . bé (huane) 12. huí (huínenani)
6. mentera (huentera) 13. minato
4 to 6. yaa 14. biyonè
7 . toniya 15. biyonga
8. mimo (rarely used) 16. nanomoco

FIGURE 5.5 Huaorani Nomenclature with Kin Terms


for m ale ego: S , B S, B D H U Í for m ale ego: Z S: M IN A T O , BIYO N GE
(huane) for fem ale ego : D , ZS, ZD : BIY O N G A , M IN A T O
Z D H U Í (huenga) for fem ale ego: B S M IN A T O , BIY O N G E
(qu era, children o f m on ato , biyonè
or b iyo nga)

Corning Back to the Longhouse us

gories, “self” and “o th er,” to use A rhem ’s (19 9 6 :18 7) elegant fo rm u lation ,
and w ith their kin term s, w h ich , neither en tirely sociocentric nor co m ­
pletely egocentric, are esp ecially vague, allusive, an d open to interpretation
(see figures 5.4 and 5.5).
In Q uehueire O n o, m o st people were defined as gu irin a n i, that is, as rel­
atives to w hom kin term s applied . However, som e m em bers o f cluster A (see
figure 5.1) continued to call m em bers from clu ster B , w ith w hom they co n ­
sidered to have no kin ties, huaca (singular) o r (plural).20 So m e
older villagers, for instance, insisted that, alth o u gh they lived in the sam e
village, Ñ am e and M en g ato h u e were not g u ir i b u t huaca ‘different’ , ‘other’ ,
‘w ith no known co m m o n forebear.’ T h ose w h o h ad direct genealogical ties
to Ñ a m e and considered them selves “true” in h ab itan ts o f Q uehueire O n o
tended to refer to M en g a to h u e as hua (im p lyin g that he was a kind o f m i­
grant or refugee, that is, n o t a native but Z h iro ’s an d Ñ a m e s protégé); those
w h o were genealogically related to M en g ato h u e tended to refer to the
Ñ am eiri as guiri-, Ñ a m e referred to M en g ato h u e as mempo ‘father’ , and
M engatoh ue referred to Ñ a m e as toniya ‘ b roth er.’
I foun d the same in d ivid u a listic and situation al use o f kin terms th rough ­
ou t H uaorani land, w ith p o ssib ly one general rule: w h ile “natives” tended to
call “refugees” hua, the latter tended to call the fo rm er gu iri. O n the w h ole,
those w ho are seen as “ in -co m ers” (refugees, o rp h an s, or affines o f affines
w ith no strong con n ection to the core group o f k in that makes up a partic­
ular settlement) use k in term s to refer to “a b o rig in es.” O n ce a kin term is
used fo r a particular p erson , and no rnatter h o w far-fetched, potential, or
actual the purported gen ealo gical tie is, ego an d his or her spouse apply the
D ravidianate term in ology system atically to all the relatives living in the clus­
tered longhouses. H ow ever, given that calling so m eo n e ^ K in or hua is largely
a m atter o f personal ch o ice , there is rarely con sisten cy between the w a y in
w h ich ego and ego’s cogn ates chart kin ties, especially in the large settle­
m ents where unrelated b an d s have interm ixed u n d er m issionary influence.
W h en asked by the an th ropologist to list th eir kin exhaustively, in fo rm ­
ants first mention p eop le w h o live in their h ouse, then those who live in the
sam e neighborhood cluster, then those w h o live in the same village, and
o n ly then, if at all, those w h o live elsewhere in H u ao ran i land. N u m ero u s
exam ples m ay be given to sh o w that genealogical reckon in g beyond the res­
idential unit is m in im al an d that people livin g together or close to one an­
other ju stify their p ro x im ity b y invoking con san gu in eal, rather than affinal,
ties. Cognates and co n san gu in es are defined in term s o f spatial p ro xim ity
rather than genealogical proxim ity. Som eone as close as a true sister m ay be
Ii6 Com ing Back to the Longhouse

o m itted i f she lives elsewhere a n d has not been in to u ch fo r som e years. In

fact, it so o n becam e clear th at in form an ts m en tion ed nonresident, spatially
distant co g n atic kin when th ey w ere thinking o f reestab lishing contact and
visitin g th em .
T h e re fo re , nonresident co gn ates and con sanguin es are not altogether
forgo tten . In fact, they are, to use a popular term in A m azo n ian anthropol-
ogy, “p o ten tial” kin, that is, k in w h o are sufficiently rem em bered as such to
m ake it p ossib le to reactivate genealogical con n ection s i f and when need­
ed .21 In o th er w ords, they are p eop le w ith w h o m it is possible to becom e
close again , both socially a n d physically. Interestingly, this “ i f and w h en
n eeded” m ost often corresponds to a search fo r spou se. In fact, links b e­
tween nonresid en t kin are m o st often reestablished to co n tract marriage al­
liances. Potential kin, th erefore, are at the sam e tim e potential affines.

P a ir in g a n d G en era tive P ro p erties

F ig u re 5.4 shows that, w ith the exception o f m aa po , kin terms for G + 2
and G + i co m e in a “ dou ble se t,” w h ich has led S I L lin gu ist C atherine Peeke
(1973) to speak o f a term -set fo r address and one fo r reference. Like Peeke, I
have fo u n d that although p eop le say, for exam ple, bara w hen they talk to
their m o th ers and mempo w h en they talk to th eir fath ers,'th ey refer to th eir
m o th er in conversation as b u a a n a and to their fath er as huempo. In m y ex ­
p erien ce, however, néné an d m êm e are used tod ay b oth as terms o f reference
and address. A n d because, in everyday conversation , people tended to a d ­
dress o n e another using th eir personal names, rather than terms o f address,
I co u ld n ot establish fo r sure w h eth er be and m entera, am on g others, w ere
exclu sively terms o f reference. It is possible, a lth o u gh I do not have en ou gh
evid en ce to substantiate th is in tu itio n , that referen ce term s, which all start
w ith the root m orphem e Am (lite ra lly ‘alive’ o r ‘sen tie n t’) express the idea o f
a v ita l, organ ic link b etw een cogn atic kin. T h is w o u ld explain w h y a m o th ­
er’s sister is, like the m oth er, referred to as huaan a, w hereas a father’s b ro th ­
er is n o t huem po, like the father, but maapo.
Peeke (1973:128) fu rth er notes that a nu m b er o f k in terms either d erive
fro m dem onstrative an d possessive pronouns o r are always used in c o n ­
ju n c tio n w ith them. F igu re 5.6, w hich sum m arizes the pronom inal system
as describ ed b y Peeke (19 7 3 ), illustrates its d istin ctive plural form s and th eir
close association w ith the kin sh ip term inology. S u b je ct, dem onstrative, and
relative pronouns can be sin gular, dual inclusive, m u ltiple, or dual ex clu ­
sive. O f particular interest is that the d u al-exclu sive type, which has h o n -
Corning Back to the Longhouse ny

f i g u r e 5.6 H u ao ran i Pronom inal System (after Peeke 1 9 7 3 )

f i g u r e 5. 6A Subject P ro n o u n s



[I] boto monato m onito mono

(you] bitò minato m inito mind
[she, he] tome tomena tom enani tomena

FIG U RE 5.6 B D e m o n s tr a tiv e P ro n o u n s (ego- c e n t e r e d , e m p h ;a tic p o ssessio n )



[m y very own] tomemo tomemona tom em oni tomemo

[your very own] tomemi tomemona tom em oni tomemo
[her, his very own] tome tomëna tom enani tomena

f i g u r e 5 .6 c H u ao ran i Pronom inal System (after Peeke 19 7 3 )



[m y kin_] boto mona m oni mono

[your kin _J bito mina m in i minò
[her, his kin _] nano nana n an i nana

o rific connotations, m ust alw ays be used w h en ad d ressin g or referring to

one’s m oth er or gran dm other; the correct form fo r “m y m o th er” is tomemo
h uaan a, not boto bara. T h e dual-inclusive type, h ow ever, is typically used
betw een “m ale cross-cousins” (menqut), that is, p o ten tial brothers-in-law ,
an d, b y extension, to address o r refer to relatives b e lo n g in g to the affinal bey
mentera, biyone,and biyonga categories. Finally, the plu ral-m u ltiple set is
typ ically used between fem ale affines w h o refer to, a n d address, one a n o th ­
er in reciprocal terms, fo r exam ple, m engui ‘sisters-in -law ’
A lth o u gh this is rather conjectural, I w o u ld lik e to propose that the
p ro n o m in al system and its use in conjunction w ith k in term s m ay be su g ­
n8 Coming Back to the Longhouse

gesting that w h erea s m en create pairs o f affines, wom en are m atern al and
m ultiple. W h ere as n o collective kin term derives from the “ m ale affin al”
pronouns, tw o (m onocaya and nanacaya) derive from the “m o th er-so u rce”
pronouns, an d fo u r (nanicabo, huaom oni, g u irin a n i and hui'nenanit) from
“ m other affin al” p ro n o u n s. Fem ale affinity, m ultiplicity, and ab u n d an ce are
interrelated, a n d m o th e r as genetrix is th ou gh t o f as a source, o r a root
stock, like the w o m b (huinegancoo ‘the place where children m u ltip ly ’). I f
there is no H u a o ra n i term for the n uclear fam ily or even, as in a n u m b er o f
A m azonian lan g u a g e s, fo r the hearth gro u p , there is a special term , te hue,
to talk about a m o th e r and her children. M oreover, while the first chonta
palm to gro w fro m a planted seed is called “m other” and the sh o o ts “chil­
d ren ,” the c lu m p th ey form is know n as te hue. A ll this tends to suggest that
w om en are asso ciated w ith “source,” “ generation” and “m u ltip licity,” no­
tions that u n d o u b te d ly color H uaorani ideas about uxorilocal residence and
m ust relate to th e fact that nanicaboiri b u ild their longhouses at the “ m oth ­
er’s m other-life p lac e” (ino dube du b 'e n an ii fiene huecantapd). A n d it is per­
haps because o f th eir “ m other-source” q u a lity that maternal foreb ears tend,
in m y experien ce, to be rem em bered m ore often than paternal forebears.

P erson a l N a m es: P riv a te K n o w led g e a n d P u b lic Use

A s in the rest o f A m azo n ia, D ravid ian kin ship term inology is o n ly one o f
the co m pon en ts m a k in g up the kinship system (Viveiros de C a stro and
Fausto-19 9 3 :14 4 ), the n am in g system p lay in g at least as im p o rtan t a role. I f
in m any parts o f th e w o rld the anth ropolo gist, like other “ lo n g-term out­
side associates,” is considered socially integrated when referred to and ad­
dressed b y a k in term , this happens a m o n g the H uaorani w h en an in d ivid ­
ual is nam ed a fte r a dead kin .22 Personal names carry som e genealogical
inform ation, fo r nam es are given b y the grandparents to th eir gran d ch il­
dren, either d ire c tly o r indirectly, via the parents (personal n am es m ay be
passed on to o n e ’s sons and daughters fo r future use in n a m in g th eir o ff­
spring). G ra n d m o th e rs nam e granddaughters, and gran dfathers name
grandsons. A s sh all be discussed in greater detail in the next ch apter, grand­
parents arrange th e m arriages o f their nam e bearers. In fact, th e im plicit
rule is that o n c e a w o m a n or a m an has allocated all her or his n am es to her
or his g ra n d ch ild ren , and once these grandchildren marry, she o r h e should
die. A g ra n d p are n t is not supposed to live past the birth o f the first great­
T h e n a m in g system , however, is alm ost as imprecise as the k in sh ip ter­
Corning Back to the Longhouse up

m inology system , fo r the same nam e m a y be inherited from entirely unre­

lated grandparents. T h e w ay D ahua’s b a b y received his nam e (N am e) is il­
lustrative. D a h u a is a daughter o f N a m e an d Z h iro , w ho lives w ith her hus­
band and p aren ts-in -law in a distant settlem en t, w hich is quite unusual. In
this particular case, N am e, a N ih u airi w ith fifteen different nam es, chose to
give his pu b lic n am e to his nonresident grandson . H ow ever, the personal
name “ N am e” is also part o f M en g ato h u e’s nam e stock. T h erefo re, M enga-
tohue, a B aih u ari w ith twelve names w h o has no obvious o r recent kin ties
to Ñ am e ( Z h iro ’s husband), m ight also call one o f his grandsons N am e.
Today, h uaran i ‘unrelated’ children b earin g the same H u aorani personal
name (but d iffere n t Spanish names) live in the same village and go to the
same school. T h is w o u ld not have o ccu rred in the past, as the greatest care
would have been taken to ensure that n o o n e livin g close w as kn ow n b y the
same public n am e. In the same w ay as tw o children m ay end up w ith the
same name, o b tain e d from com pletely differen t and unrelated gran dfa­
thers, it is alm ost certain that N am e an d M en gatoh ue received their N am e
name from en tirely unrelated forebears.
I f the in fo rm atio n contained in a sin gle n am e is too am biguous to con ­
vey useful gen ealo gical inform ation, su ch is not the case for the w hole
name-set. B y co m p a rin g their entire nam e-sets, people w ho have never met
before are u su ally able to trace genealogical connections existing between
them. K n o w led ge o f entire nam e-sets, how ever, is very restricted. I was
never able to ch art a com plete nam e-set, given that such private in form a­
tion may on ly be o b tain ed with som e accu ra cy from the person herself. A n ­
other interesting characteristic o f the private/pu blic stru ctu rin g o f nam e
stocks is that p e o p le (especially men) w h o change residence change their
public name as w ell. I f very few people in Q uehueire O n o kn ew that one o f
M engatohue’s n am es was N am e, ev ery b o d y kn ew that before he jo in ed the
S IL m issionaries in T ih u en o, and w h en he w as still living in the C o n o n aco
with the “dow n river folk” (enomenant) , M engatoh ue was called G o m o .23

The D ialectics o f Incorporation and Separation

So far I have em phasized the centrality o f biological reproduction fo r the
constitution o f social relations w ithin the nanicabo. N orm al social inter­
course is characterized by “ heightened m u tu al interaction,” to use T u rn er’s
(1995:152) in sp ired phrasing. Persons an d com m un ities, or the sharing b o d ­
ies o f auton om o u s beings, are conceptu alized as processes that u n fo ld in
time, through the cum ulative experience o f livin g side by side, day after day.
120 Coming Back to the Longhouse


C o m p a r is o n o f M a r r ia g e A llia n c e s in F iv e C o m m u n itie s



Double Cross (6) (3) (1) (5) (7) (22)

Cousin 23.07% 15.78% 2 .7 0 % 27.8% 50% 19.30%
Bilateral Cross (5) (3) (15) (3) (1) (27)
Cousin* 19.23% 15.78% 4 0 .5 4 % 16.7% 7.14% 23.7%
Intermarrying (5) (3) (2) (3) (0) (13)
sets o f cross-sex 19.23 15.78 5.4 0 % 16.7% 11.40%
Intermarrying (3) (4) (4) (1) (5) (17)
sets o f same-sex 11.53 21% 10.81% 5.55% 35.71% 15%
Repeated alliances (8) (7) (6) (4) (5) (30)
in the same 30 .7 6% 35% 16.21% 22.25% 35.71% 26.40%
B/Z + BB/ZZ(8)
Unrelated single (3) (6) (9) (6)** (1) (25)
alliances 11.53% 31.6% 24 .3 2% ) 33.33% 7.14% 22%
Marriages with (4) (0) (6)*** (0) (0) (10)
non-Huaorani 15.38% 16.21% 8.8%
Total alliances 26 19 37 18 14 1 14

* M o s t b i la t e r a l c r o s s - c o u s i n m a r r i a g e s a r e b e t w e e n “ r e a l” b r o t h e r s a n d s i s t e r s ( i .e ., o f t h e s a m e m o t h e r a n d f a ­
th e r).

* T h e m a j o r i t y o f b i la t e r a l c r o s s - c o u s i n m a r r i a g e s a r e b e t w e e n B S a n d Z D .

** M o s t o f th e se m a r r ia g e s a r e w it h p a r t n e r s fr o m th e C o n o n a c o ( i n f o r m a n t s c la im th a t C o n o n a c o p e o p l e a r e u n ­
r e la t e d t o Y a s u n i p e o p l e ) .

* ** T h r e e o f th e se s ix a llia n c e s c o n c e r n t h e t w o d a u g h te r s a n d s o n o f t h e “ t rib a l c h i e f ” D a y u m a . S h e a r r a n g e d th e
t h r e e o t h e r a ll ia n c e s b e t w e e n s o m e o f h e r H u a o r a n i a n d Q u i c h u a “ g o d c h i l d r e n . " ( D a y u m a f le d f r o m h e r p e o p l e
w h e n s h e w a s f o u r t e e n a n d s p e n t m a n y y e a r s in a Q u i c h u a c o m m u n i t y . )

C onsanguinized co-residence, however, c a n n o t entirely negate the role

played by m arriage an d affinity in social rep rod u ctio n . H u ao ran i so ciety is
high ly en dogam ous, an d m ost m arriages are uxorilocal and take p lace be­
tween cross-cousins (see table 5.1). A s I sh all n ow argue, house g ro u p s and
the forest groves in w h ic h they dwell are m u tu a lly constituted th ro u g h the
com plem entary processes o f in corporation an d separation. D e a th in old
age, o r the progressive transform ation o f an abandon ed lon ghouse, an d ux-
orilocality, or the grad u al incorporation in th e w ives’ house g ro u p s o f m en
Corning Back to the Longhouse 12 1

w h o start their m arried careers alm ost as stran gers, epitom ize each o f these
two processes.

D eath in O ld A ge
W hen an old person dies, she is said to d ie “ fo r no good reason” (o n o n qu i
[hueigam ba\hueni).24 Such death is co n trasted w ith h om icid e, w h en a killer
spears his victim to death or causes h er o r h is death through disease, acci­
dent, snake bite, an d so forth. O on onqui h u en i, in fact, im plies th at the
death was suicidal25 in that it was w ille d b y th e v ic tim herself, w h o w as fin d ­
in g herself sim u ltan eously forsaken b y h e r liv in g relatives and “called ” by
long-dead kin. In the usual scenario, an o ld w o m a n 26 is left b eh in d in a de­
caying longhouse, w h ile the rest o f her h o u se g ro u p m oves to a n ew lo catio n
w here a new house is built. She is a b a n d o n e d b y m u tu al con sent; she can
h ardly w alk or see an d chooses to stay in h er h am m o ck , w here she dies o f
starvation. Several m onths later, the h o u se gro u p treks back to the— by
now — entirely decayed house structure, w h ic h , reclaim ed b y the forest, is
invaded by all kinds o f weeds and sap lings. T h e skeleton is w rap p e d in the
ham m ock where it w as found, in a fetal p o sitio n . It is then b u ried facin g
east in a shallow grave at the center o f w h a t used to be the lo n gh o u se, and
the house and h um an rem ains are set o n fire. T h e intimate, co n n e ctio n be­
tween com m unal livin g and solitary d eath in old age is then m an ifested in
the wealth o f useful plants found in fo rm e rly in h ab ited parts o f the forest—
especially hilltops, as discussed in the p re v io u s ch apter.27
In Q uehueire O n o , the old Aca, w h o d ie d sh o rtly after one o f m y visits,
w as not left behind, given the new circu m stan ces and influences p re vailin g
in contem porary H u aoran i villages. O v e r th e years I had seen h er trek less
and less and becom e increasingly b o u n d to the house, lo o kin g after her
youngest grandchildren and their pets. T h e o ld e r she grew, the m o re seden ­
tary she became, fo rm in g almost an o rg a n ic w h o le w ith the house. Sh e had
refused to feed h erself fo r about a m o n th b efo re her eventual death, alleg­
in g, in response to the pleas o f her son, d au gh ter-in -law , and o th er co -resi­
dents, that dead relatives she was n a m in g as i f they w ere still alive h ad al­
ready given her p len ty to eat and d rin k . W h e n the old A ca w as b uried ,
facing east, in the v illa g e s cem etery o n a h illto p , her kin aban d o n ed the
house in which th ey had lived with h er a n d b u ilt a new one closer to the
airstrip. D u rin g a subsequent visit I asked h e r gran dchildren (aged fo u r to
nine) where she w as. A lth ou gh they k n ew p e rfe ctly w ell the location o f A c a s
grave, they u n an im ou sly pointed to the o ld ab an d o n ed house. A s this ex­
122 Com ing Back to the Longhouse

ample illu strates, old d w ellin g sites are also burial sites, b o th physically and
In terestin g parallels m ay be d raw n between the burial o f a victim speared
by the e n e m y (as discussed in ch ap ter 3) and that o f a p erson dyin g o f old
age. F irst, in b o th cases the so cio lo gical significance o f k illin g is m ore on the
side o f the v ic tim than on the side o f the killer, or, put a n o th er way, dying is
more sig n ific an t than killing. F u rth erm o re, both deaths are seen to involve
in tentional h u m an agency ca u sin g the separation o f p a rticu la r individuals
from d o m estic groups. B u t w hereas the former is caused first by a furious
w arrior a rm ed w ith a spear an d then by com passionate k in w h o suffocate
the m o rib u n d victim , the latter is caused by the v ictim s o w n determ ination
to cease all eatin g and m o vem en t once she has been ab an d o n ed by those
w ith w h o m she shares a co m m o n substance. Stories, m y th s, and memories
tend to associate each o f these tw o form s o f death and b u rial w ith a partic­
ular gender. W hereas m en are m ore com m only represented as dyin g w ar­
riors b u ried alive w ith a ch ild b y their kin, old w om en are thought to end
their lives b y b ein g left alone to die in rotting houses. In b oth cases, how ev­
er, death is associated w ith the co n tin u ed existence o f certain plants and an­
imals, in p articu lar chonta p alm groves.

M en , W om en, a n d U x oriloca lity

P arents, w h en ever they are asked w h y their sons live in such and such lo­
cation— an d not w ith th em —-in v a ria b ly answer nano mentera hueca ‘be­
cause th is is w h ere his w ife’s m o th er lives.’ B y this th ey m ean that a married
man takes u p residence w ith his w ife in the longhou se w h ere her mother
lives, fo r m oth ers and d au gh ters (hence sisters) are n o t to be separated.28
T h at w o m e n rem ain in th eir n ative nanicabo, how ever, does not mean that
their statu s does not change u p o n m arriage. A s was p o in te d ou t in an earli­
er section , b y acquiring her o w n hearth a young bride starts a new econom ­
ic p a rtn ersh ip w ith her spouse an d has a new role w ith in her house group.
M a le adolescents start d ista n cin g themselves fro m th eir natal house
groups ju s t after the ear-piercin g cerem ony (Rival 19 9 3). Far from being the
hopeless bachelors described b y C o llie r and Rosaldo (19 8 1), they continue
to be active and ind epend ent producers. T h ey slin g th eir ow n personal
h am m o ck s aw ay from that o f th eir parents and siblings, an d m ay even build
a sm all d w e llin g beside the lon gh ou se, where they sleep an d eat w ith co m ­
pan ion s. E ven w hen they still live w ith their parents an d sisters in the sam e
house, the fact that they h ave m oved their h am m o ck s aw ay from the
Corning Back to the Longhouse 12}

parental hearth, and that they spen d m uch time aw ay h u n tin g or visiting on
their o w n , introduces a certain ph ysical distance that turns them into part-
time co-residents. D isengaged fro m the nanicabo sh arin g econ om y by their
constant g o in g and com ing, th eir fo o d contribution is n o w targeted to their
m others an d sisters. It is at th is p o in t that brothers an d sisters pair them ­
selves fo r specific productive tasks (fo r exam ple, garden in g) and engage in
co m p lem en tary econom ic activities as i f bound b y co n ju ga l reciprocity.29
C o n ju g ality , the long-term association o f a w o m an w ith an in-com ing
man w ith in a house group, lasts as lo n g as the two m arriage partners live and
w ork together. M arried m en en d up belonging to the grou p where they
reside w ith their wives, and cease to be affines (R ival 1998c). In Huaorani
society, like in other A m azo n ian societies, uxorilocality does not result from
bride service. T h e in -m arrying h u sb an d does not w o rk fo r his in-laws; he has
no debt to repay. H e w orks fo r the new unit he and his w ife constitute, and,
p articip atin g in the nanicabo sh arin g econom y, he g rad u ally becom es part o f
his w ife ’s h ouse group.30 U xo rilo cality, as practiced b y the H uaorani, con­
cerns the dom estication o f m ale others and their in corp o ration w ithin uxori-
m atrifocal kindreds. W h at u xo rilo cality does is to attach individuals to
groups. T h e political relation b ein g articulated here is n o t one o f dom ination
but o f balan ced reproduction. U xo rilo cality is so h igh ly prized that, it w ould
seem, m en have little choice b u t to accept their grad ual consanguinization
and progressive transform ation into mem bers o f th eir w ives’ m atrikin. A
m ature m a n , in his role as h u sb an d and father, eventu ally becom es the head
o f his w ife ’s native longhouse, an d he achieves full kin status by giving his
nam e to the nanicabo or even to the huaom oni grou p. A llie d w ith wom en
(their w ives and sisters), m en b ecom e respected leaders, an d their longhouses
increase. T h e y have m etaph orically taken root in affin al land.
A fte r m arriage, men’s v isitin g patterns, focused on the partnerships they
have fo rm e d w ith their sisters, con tin u e alm ost u n ch an ged. G iven the uxo-
rilocal n ature o f postm arital residence, men’s visiting rights are m ore exten­
sive than those o f their sisters. B ecau se uxorilocality forces m en to separate
them selves, one b y one, fro m fem ale-associated collective groups (their na­
tive n an icabo iri) in order to reattach themselves to o ther groups (their
wives’ n anicaboiri), men n o t o n ly separate themselves fro m their brothers
but also enter into open co m p etitio n with them. T ie s between brothers,
w ho are either com peting fo r the sam e bride or m arryin g into different nan­
icaboiri, are weakened. In o th e r w ord s, uxorilocality, w h ich makes broth­
ers-in -law close, causes the relations between brothers to be particularly
fraught w ith am bivalence.
124 Corning Back to the Longhouse

Another con sequen ce o f u xo rilo cality is that it makes sisters so close and
structurally equ ivalen t that they o ften m arry the same m an, or, à défaut, the
younger sister m arries a substitute o f h er sisters husband, his brother. A n ­
other aspect o f this asym m etry is th at ch ildren o f sisters are considered to be
“more the sam e” (anobain huaponi) th an children o f brothers. A lth ough
both are tech n ically classificatory sib lin g s, children o f b rothers are not as
similar as ch ildren o f sisters because “ th ey grow in separate houses and their
mothers are d iffere n t.” A n d , because the continuous practices lin ked to do­
mesticity, shared residence, and freq u en t o r prolonged visitin g turn people
into the sam e shared substance, strin g e n t restrictions exist o n fem ale visit­
ing and feeding so as to m aintain a clear-cu t boundary, b oth p h ysically and
socially, betw een consanguineal w o m e n , w h o are close and solidaristic, and
affinal w om en , w h o are absolutely d ifferen t.
Gender asym m etry, therefore, is lo cated neither in the h u sb an d -w ife re­
lationship nor in age hierarchies a m o n g siblings but results fro m the post-
marital residence rule, which affects a ll sib lin g relationships. A n d were it
not for the lin ks m en m aintain w ith th eir sisters, m others, and m ale kin,
self-sufficient residential units fo rm ed around con san gu in eal wom en
would stand as unconnected forest islands.

Brothers, Sisters, a n d A ffinity

U xorilocal residence causes real differen ces not only b etw een husbands
and wives b u t also between brothers an d sisters. It is the b ro th er w ho leaves
the natal n an icab o ; it is the h u sb an d w h o m ust slow ly gain his place as a
true and tru stw o rth y kin w ithin a n e w house group. I f u xo rilo cality makes
sisters closer an d separates brothers, the division betw een b rothers is never
as absolute as it is between sisters-in-law . For one thing, brothers m ay end
up as allies a b o u t as often as th ey b ecom e potential enem ies avo id in g each
other. T h e form ation o f Q u eh u eire O n o around the tw o brothers N am e
and C u h u e an d their separation fro m their younger bro th er w h o remained
in D ayuno is a good example.
H uaorani oral history, presented in chapter 3, is filled w ith references to
groups o f b rothers w ho allied again st elders and potential in -law s, destroyed
matrifocal gro u p s, abducted w ives, w ip ed out entire h ou se groups, and
adopted su rvivin g orphans. W h e n brothers decide to aven ge their fathers
death, th ey in vo k e vengeance to e x p la in their madness an d rage, and to jus­
tify their agn atic residential allian ces. B y forcin g their w ives to m ove away
from their m atrikins, they also escape the uxorial d ictate.31 T h e lives o f
Corning Back to the Longhouse 12$

refugees, particu larly w om en, fo rced to flee o r to co m m it su icid e, becom e

precarious. W bereas wom en, as m o th ers and daughters an d as y o u n g er and
older sisters, form the core o f lo n gh o u ses and ensure th eir co n tin u ity
through m ain tain in g reciprocal ties w ith their brothers an d h usb an d s, such
ties m ay be broken by men w h o do n o t consent to reciprocal con tracts w ith
wives and sisters, refuse their in co rp o rate d status, and b eco m e vio len t and
destructive. T h e alliance between broth ers creates asy m m etry betw een two
categories o f inhabitants, legitim ate residents and d ep en d en t refugees.
H ow ever, these alliances are alw ays unstable and sh o rt-lived , an d broth ­
er-sister alliances reform ed in the w a rrio r s generation its e lf o r in that o f
their o ffsp rin g . W hereas b rother-b rother alliances lead to vio len ce, conflict,
and chaos, the alliance o f brothers an d sisters is safe. It lim its the p ro lifera­
tion o f affin al ties, and favors m arryin g-clo se strategies. A n d w h en groups
o f brothers an d sisters interm arry an d live close, u xo rilo cality gives w a y to
neolocality, like in Q uehueire O n o .
T h e process by which brothers an d sisters becom e p o ten tial affines and
the best allies under an uxorilocal regim e is as gradual as the process trans­
form ing h usbands into kin. W h en a b ro th er and a sister su ccessfu lly m ove
into an affin al relationship (by m a rry in g another b rother-sister p air or by
giving each other one or two ch ild ren in m arriage), the relation ship be­
tween broth er and sister is exactly reflected b y that b etw een h u sb an d and
wife. T h e sym m etry becomes p erfect i f tw o o f their ch ild ren m a rry each
other, thus com pleting the cycle o f tran sform ation fro m a ffin ity in to con­
sanguinity a n d consanguinity in to affinity. D oub le-cro ss co u sin m arriage
represents the delayed reunion o f a sister and her b rother v ia th eir descen­
dants. A great advantage o f this type o f m arriage is that sisters-in -law are
drawn into close affinity, for one’s h u sb an d is the other’s brother. M oreover,
they are poten tial co—m others-in-law . M o re significant, the d iv isiv e effects
o f u xorilocality are tempered because the; parents o f one brother-sister pair
often decide to m ove in with their daughter, hence creatin g an am bilocal
situation an d realizing the ideal o f huaom on i endogam y. B rother-sister al­
liances are h ig h ly significant in th at th ey b ring about the right social and
physical distance— not too close, n o t to o distant— w h ich enables society to
exist and last (Rival 1996b).32
M arriage betw een cross-cousins (especially double cross-cousin s) is high­
ly valued, an d the interm arriage o f sets o f sam e-sex o r cross-sex siblings is
com m on (see table 5.1). O f course, grandparents do n o t expect all their
grandchildren to replicate their o w n m arriage, but the o ccu rren ce o f ju st a
few such alliances in each generation is en ou gh to realize the ideal. Such
I2Ó Coming Back to the Longhouse

p references are co n seq u en t w ith the fact that the o n ly units to be u n am ­

b ig u o u sly exogam ic are th e longhouses and, m ore generally, with the fact
th at H u a o ra n i society is h ig h ly endogam ous and autarkic. In this con text,
th ere is n o m arriage p rescrip tion but rather a gradation o f strongly p ro h ib ­
ited to stron gly a p p ro ved m arriage alliances a p p ly in g to both m en an d
w o m e n . D o u b le cross-cou sin marriage is not prescriptive but preferred, fo r
it b alan ces ou t the fath er’s w ish to m arry his d au gh ter to his sister’s son an d
the m o th er’s w ish to m a rry her daughter to her broth er’s son.33
A n u m b er o f authors h ave m entioned that, in A m azon ia, sets o f siblings
re-create themselves d o w n through the generations, fo r exam ple, the Panare
(H e n le y 1982) and the P em on (Thom as 1982.), to cite just two. In H u ao ran i
society, this process in vo lves not only the regulation o f marriages w ith in en ­
d o g a m o u s kindreds th ro u g h brother-sister alliances but also the m ain te­
n an ce o f a n th ro p o m o rp h ic patches in the rain forest that bring abo u t the
m aterialization o f the cru cia l lin k between past, present, and future gen era­
tio n s o f huaom oni p eop le. W h en social dynam ics lead to the disappearance
o f a particu lar h uaom o n i grou p , their peach palm grove, for exam ple, no
lo n g e r m aintained, d isap p ears as well.

A G ap in the C a n o p y
T h is chapter has h ig h lig h te d the w ay an th ropogen ic forests result fro m
the do m estic activities o f h ou se groups w hose relative perm anence gives its
m e m b ers a strong sense o f shared identity. T h e longhouse is the place par
excellen ce o f sociality an d dom estic reproduction, a place in w hich ev ery ­
d a y dom esticity is creative o f sociality. T h e lon gh o u se, the sym bol o f h ar­
m o n io u s dom esticity, is the site where people w h o live together d evelo p ,
th ro u g h the cu m u lative experience o f livin g side b y side, day after day, a
sh ared physicality o f greater im port than th at resulting from genealogical
b o n d s.
A great deal has been w ritten on A m azonian m odes o f recruitm ent to g e­
n ealogies, and, in p articu lar, on the com m on occurrence in the region o f
D ra v id ia n term in ology system s.34 T h e H u aorani m aterial I have presented
h ere further confirm s the existence o f a stro n g correlation betw een g eo ­
g ra p h ic and genealogical endogam y, bilateral cross-cousin m arriage, v e ry
sh o rt cycles o f re cip ro city (between brothers and sisters w ho becom e affin es
b y exchanging th eir ch ild re n in marriage), an d D ravidian ate term inologies.
H e n le y (1996) has a rgu ed that Am azonian D ravid ian ate kinship system s are
p rim arily found in the m argin al areas o f low p o p u latio n density. T h e H u a o -
Corning Back to the Longhouse 127

rani case supports his thesis, w ith the corrective add itio n that low p o p u la­
tion density and sp ou se scarcity are neither n atu ral givens nor historical
phen om ena to be taken at face value. For one th in g, and as we saw in chap­
ters 2 and 3, political ch oices, particularly the ch o ice o f fierce isolation and
the refusal to exchange, result in scarcity. M oreo ver, the determ ination o f
m a n y you ng sisters to m a rry their older sisters’ husban ds, resulting in so-
roral polygyny, is also best interpreted as a p o litica l choice, the choice o f
lim itin g the num ber o f m ale outsiders w ith in nanicaboiri. T h e H u ao ran i'
are conscious o f the d em o grap h ic consequences o f their preference fo r a
particularly drastic fo rm o f endogam y, and often rem ark that they could
have been “as n um erous as an ts,” like the N a p o R u n a s or the Shuars are.
It has also been sh o w n in this chapter that the social w orld o f the lo n g­
house interacts d y n a m ic ally w ith trekking, w h ic h is conceptualized as a
tem porary and partial m ovem en t away fro m the com m un al dw elling. A
trek w ou ld have a v e ry d ifferen t m eaning i f w a lk in g in the forest was n ot or­
ganized as a m om ent before returning to a base w h ere the food procured in
the forest is consu m ed, an d w here other raw m aterials are used and m an u ­
factured. T h e lon gh o u se, the place where ch ild re n , m en, refugees, and pets
are progressively in co rp o rated , is inscribed b oth in the natural and the soci­
o logical landscape. T h e m ore tim e people sp en d together, the more they be­
com e alike, but con su b stan tiality through ab so rp tio n is n ot irreversible nor
is consanguinity fixed o r genetically based. H o w ever, the estrangem ent o f
co-residents w ho leave is defin itive. I f forest cam p s are deserted on and off,
longhouses, w hich m a terially em body the co rp o real u n ity and collective
id en tity o f house gro u p s, are never left u n o ccu p ied . Longhouses are always
u n der the guardian ship o f old people w h o feed the pets, look after the
y o u n g children, an d keep the bad spirits at bay. Pets,35 w hich are rarely
taken on treks, co m p lete the process by w h ich longhouses are turned into
feed in g places that ca n n o t be abandoned or left em pty.
Finally, I have tried to sh o w the conn ections in H uaorani thought be­
tw een dw elling in the forest, trekking, death in o ld age, and natural abu n ­
dance. O ld age so m ew h at contradicts the ideal o f n anicabo shared auton­
o m y and adds anoth er d im en sion to the d ialectics betw een incorporation
and separation. It is h ard fo r old persons (p iq u ën a n i) to assert their self-
su fficien cy and co n tin u e to navigate between person al auton om y and shar­
in g, individual p ro d u ctio n and collective co n su m p tio n . W ith old age, p o ­
tential dependencies b ecom e increasingly real. O ld people do not expect
their children and gran d ch ild ren to keep th em alive; they do not expect to
live past their age o f p ro d u c tiv e self-reliance. O ld age starts w hen a m arried
128 Corning Back to the Longhouse

couple no lon ger prod ucing ch ild ren starts to grow ap art. W h en a husband
and w ife cease to function as a co n ju gal pair, each co o k s fo o d separately on
a d ifferen t hearth and shares w ith the other as w ith a n y o th er co-resident.
Instead o f w eavin g the co n ju g a l h am m o ck jointly, each n o w weaves his o r
her o w n h am m ock. N o w con sid ered “parents” to all the adults in their
huaom oni grou p, and “gran d p aren ts” to all the ch ild re n , they tend to live
apart, on a h ill, alone or w ith a m arried son o r dau gh ter, often visited b y
their o th er children and gra n d ch ild ren , w h o b rin g th em fo od . T h e y gradu­
ally h u n t, gather, fish and eat less, and have alm ost n ever enough food to
give away.
T ra d itio n ally old people w ith m arried gran dchild ren abou t to becom e
parents w ere considered too o ld to go on livin g an d avo id ed decadence b y
co n sen tin g to being ab an d o n ed and left to die.36 B u t as lo n g as one’s spouse
is still alive and shares in the sam e house, one is “ n ot really o ld ” (p iq u ep iqu e
inga). V e ry o ld age is associated w ith w id ow h oo d — m o re precisely, w ith the
co n d itio n o f solitary, w id o w e d , o r abandoned agin g w o m e n . Ideally, and as
already m en tion ed , m en d ie in w arfare, whereas w o m e n are im agined to
su rvive m en and die alon e in a decrepit and deserted h ouse.37 H uaorani
burial practices thus ind icate th at i f the dom estically created, naturally ex ­
isting, co n tin u o u s and tim eless abu ndance discussed in chapter 4 is at all re­
lated to the power and en e rgy supposedly released b y death (Bloch and
P arry 19 8 2), this is the case o n ly in a m ediated an d delayed form , as aban ­
d o n ed co m m u n al d w ellin g sites, before turning in to m an aged forest groves,
becom e places where old p erson s d ie.38

E em e Festivals: C erem o n ial Increase

an d M arriage A llia n ce

he previous ch ap ter on the lon ghou se presen ted a fam iliar p ictu re

T in A m azonia o f a “ residential society,” in w h ic h society is b asi­

cally coterm in ous w ith the grou p o f p e o p le liv in g together. B u t,
as elsew here in A m azon ia, this house society o p en s its e lf fo r festivals and cel­
ebrations, during w h ich autarch y is tem p orarily b reach ed . In chapter 4 I
exam in ed festivities that take place in ancestral p a lm groves, and here I
explo re the other m ajor type o f festival: m an ioc d rin k in g cerem onies (eeme).
I present ethnographic d ata on the m anioc d rin k in g festival, exam ine the
relation between m arriage an d social distance, an d discuss the fact th at
w hereas the longhouse fu n ctio n s as an exogam ou s u n it, the feasting g ro u p ,
in w h ich marriages take place, should ideally b e the en d o gam o u s one.
T h e prospect o f p a rticip atin g in an eeme is v e ry ex citin g , and people aw ait
the d a y impatiently, as opportu n ities to meet p e o p le o th e r than co-residents
and fam iliar visitors are in frequ ent. In fact, d rin k in g cerem on ies are the o n ly
occasion s when otherw ise isolated and dispersed h ou se grou ps congregate.
G o in g to an eeme is in variab ly thought o f as sy n o n y m o u s w ith h avin g a
g o o d tim e, even if, as discussed later, eeme regu larly en d in bloodshed. T h e
excitation , even exh ilaration, linked to such events is co n veyed in the expres­
sion used to talk about th em , h uap o n iah u aqu im ba h uatape toca inte (liter­
ally ‘w e drink-dance w ell an d a great deal, w e are h a p p y ’). H u apon i, one o f
the m ost com m on w ord s in H u aorani, expresses the feelin g o f con ten tm en t
generated by togetherness an d abundance, th at is, b y d rin k in g and eatin g
plenty, and dancing and sin g in g w ith m any p e o p le .1
A s briefly exam ined in chapters 3 and 4, it is in a social context m arked
by fierce isolationism and structured by the o p p o sitio n between huaom oni
‘us’ an d huarani ‘they’ that the togetherness ex p e rien ced in drin kin g cere­
m onies leads to m arriage. C erem on ial d rin k in g co rresp o n d s to the m o m en t
in social life when togetherness becom es as essen tial fo r survival as fligh t
and self-segregation. It is the m om en t w hen relation s an d alliances betw een
nanicaboiri are renegotiated, and w hen in d ivid u als are ritu ally paired. M a r ­
riage, o r the celebration o f a n ew tie betw een tw o y o u n g adults belon gin g
to d ifferent nanicaboiri b u t part o f the sam e h u a o m o n i gro u p and m ature
en ou gh to have children o f their ow n, m ust take p lace w h en m utual in ter­
action is heightened and norm al social intercourse su bstan tially intensified.
130 E em e Festivals

M arriage does n o t represent the mere u n io n o f two individuals b u t rather

the alliance o f tw o n a n icab o iri, for tw o in term arryin g house gro u p s neces­
sarily becom e h u a o m o n i. Conversely, h ou se groups disagreeing o n a m ar­
riage alliance are lik e ly to becom e enem ies. M arriage therefore p lays a p iv­
otal role in the m a k in g an d rem aking o f boundaries between en d o gam o u s
u nits, and in d e fin in g the h uaom oni-h uarani configuration.
In the ideal an d trad itio n al representation, marriages are celebrated every
year in the h u a o m o n i-c la im e d chonta p a lm groves.2 It was m e n tio n ed in
chapter 4 that su ch m arriages typically u n ite sets o f brothers an d sisters or
the children o f a b rother-sister pair. A n d , as discussed in chapter 4 , house
groups w h o rarely see on e another d u rin g the rest of-the year co n verge in
palm groves d u rin g the season o f plenty to eat fru it as it ripens an d to spend
tim e together o n the sites where th eir forebears lived and died . T h ese
groves, lasting lo n g e r than hum an lives, are a source o f security an d rejoic­
in g, the concrete an d m aterial sign o f con tin u ity.
It is m y u n d e rsta n d in g that d rin kin g cerem onies in palm gro ves w ere-
and still are-m ore in fo rm a l and gradual th an m anioc festivals. T w o o r three
related house g ro u p s w o u ld camp for u p to six weeks together in the groves,
harvesting ripe fru it an d cooking it in great quantities to prepare d rin k s for
im p rom ptu s in g in g an d dancing sessions. H u n tin g and gatherin g activities
w ere alm ost e n tire ly suspended, as p alm fru it becam e the staple fo o d fo r as
lo n g as it lasted, after w h ich people g ra d u a lly left the groves a n d m oved
b ack to their resp ective hunting territories an d longhouses. T o d a y plan tain ,
a-staple grow n to be eaten before it is rip e as a vegetable w ith m eat o r fish,
or, w hen ripe, as a k in d o f soup (peene b iq u i), plays a sim ilar role. I f too
m an y plantains rip en at once, closely related house groups in vite each other
to un plann ed d r in k in g parties in w h ic h the staple is overcon sum ed rather
than being left to w a ste.3 In a way, H u a o ra n i feasting in palm groves or in
plantain p lan ta tio n s m a y be com pared to the feasts organized b y the K w ak-
iutl or any o th e r N o rth w e st Coast In d ia n s, i f these Indians had decid ed to
hold their b ig cerem o n ies in the late sp rin g alo n g the coast, in lets, an d river
shores w here th e y w ere catching salm o n , instead o f preserving great q u an ­
tities o f salm o n fo r th eir w inter cerem on ies, and spending the su m m e r in­
land, h u n tin g a n d gathering in small b an d s.

A huene-. T h e Tree Couple

A m an ioc d r in k in g festival takes p lace at the initiative o f a particular
hosting co u p le, a h u en e (literally ‘those o f the tree’).4 A huene w as also trans­
Eeme Festivals 131

lated by m y in form an ts as los dueños d e la fiesta ‘the owners o f the feast.’ T h e

couple typically leads a nanicabo that has m oved to a new house at the edge
o f its h un tin g territory, even perhaps in to the stretch o f forest separating its
land from the lan d o f an enem y group. E ém é drin kin g festivals are also or­
ganized w hen a house group has just replaced the ro o f o f its longhouse.
T h rou gh vario u s m eans and w ith the collaboration o f kin and allies, the
group has stocked enough m anioc stem s to replant in a collective garden
whose size depend s on the num ber o f guests it intends to invite. T h e clear­
ing o f the garden patch, the planting, an d the subsequent w eed in g are all
tasks undertaken collectively by the n an icab o and executed in a festive and
anticipatory m o o d , signaled by the w e arin g o f a sim ple le a f crow n (pu g an -
to). T h en the cou p le, w ith its co-resid in g kin and allies, undertake the
building o f the feasthouse, which, on ce the cerem ony is over, becom es their
new longhouse (nanicabo onco). B y su p ervisin g preparations for the m anioc
drinking festival, the ahuene do m ore than act on b eh alf o f their house
group; they in itiate the event. It is th eir organ izin g talents, energy, and skills
that galvanize th eir co-residents into co llective action and m otivate allies to
participate as guests. A n d , as in m any o th er parts o f A m azonia, p eop le jo in ­
ing the con stru ction team are, de facto, p led gin g allegiance to the ahuene or
house “o w n ers,” thus confirm ing the p olitical com plem entarity o f leader
and follower roles.
W hen the m a n io c is h a lf grown, a delegation that includes at least one di­
rect consanguineal kin to an individual liv in g in the huarani (enem y-other)
group is sent to renew contact, talk a b o u t m arriage, and issue a fo rm al invi­
tation to p articip ate in the fo rth co m in g eem e.” W hen the m an io c roots
have grow n to the desired size (six to n in e m onths after plan tin g), they are
dug out. T h e harvest is transported, u n d e r the leading w ife’s su pervision , to
the feasthouse, w h ere she, along w ith h er husband and their helpers, pre­
pares several hearths to roast slightly the unpeeled m anioc roots over em ­
bers, as w ell as pits in w hich to stock them between thick layers o f green
leaves for abou t tw o w eeks. O nce stored in the pits, the m anioc is ready for
“gestation,” an d so are the leading h u sb an d and wife, w ho rem ain alone in
the feasthouse, ly in g in their respective h am m o cks, where they diet, sleep,
and sing until the roots are “done.” T h e y m u st sleep apart, each in his and
her own h am m o ck , and restrain from all h u m an contact and fo rm o f w ork.
T h ey m ay not bathe. T h e y m ay on ly leave the house to releave them selves,
and no one is allow ed to visit them, excep t to bring the fo od they are al­
lowed to ingest. T h e diet, consisting o f b o iled m anioc and m an io c broth, is
stringent. B u t th ey are in a huentey state, a state o f perfect in action and con ­
i}2 Eeme Festivals

tentm ent, w hich is con sid ered essential for the roots to becom e sw eet w it h ­
out rotting or being in fested w ith insects o r fu n g i. A n inform ant to ld m e:
“ T h e ahuene live h a lf dead in ther h am m ocks, as sick people do. T h e y
mustn’t eat, drin k o r sp eak for som e days. I f th ey do, the m anioc fills w ith
blood, rots away, an d there is no eem e.” W h en I tried to prepare “o ld -tim e
sweet m anioc” d u rin g the sum m er o f 19 9 7 w ith the help o f m y a d o p tive
m other and her h u sb an d , I realized how h azardous the operation is, as the
roots easily becom e in fected w ith num erous plagues, m old, and larvae.
G reat care and talent are indeed required to en su re that m onths o f e ffo rt d e­
voted to grow ing an d h arvestin g a large m a n io c plantation, as well as b u ild ­
ing a new longhouse, result in feast food an d n ot rotten supplies.5
T h e m anioc is read y w h en it smells “stron g an d sw eet,” at w hich tim e the
w om en com e to h elp peel the roots and the m en go on a big hunt. T h e re­
sulting mash is stored in large clay pots m ade especially for the o ccasio n .
T h e w ay people talk a b o u t the transform ed m a n io c (“ It is so juicy, so fleshy,
so sweet and p e rfu m e d ,” etc.) reveals that it is no longer seen as a ro o t, but
as a fruit. People even say that when extracted from the pits, the m a n io c is
“as sweet as a fru it,” w h ic h I interpret as b ein g consistent with the fact that
the couple w ho lo o ked after the m anioc is called “o f the tree” (ahuene), as i f
they had been u n d e rg o in g the organic processes b y w hich trees c o m e to
bear fruit. In this sense, i f cerem onial d rin k s are always fruit d rin k s, sweet
m anioc drink is n o excep tio n . W hen the festival is about to b egin , there is
no trace o f hearths in the feasthouse; h am m o ck s have been ro lled u p or
taken away, and the dan ce floo r is kept free o f the usual dom estic clu tter. In
one corner only are there large clay pots, so m e filled w ith m anioc m ash and
som e w ith water, an d a n u m b er o f gourd d rin k in g bowls (ohueta). T h e cou­
p le (and not the tw o separate individuals fo rm in g it) hosting a m a n io c
drin kin g festival in the feasthouse em pty o f dom estic life sym bolizes, as an
indivisible unit, a tree u n dergoin g the slo w biological process le a d in g to
m aturation and fru itin g , w hich is no d ifferen t from the process b y w h ic h a
couple perform s the cou vade; bearing a b ab y (gestation) and b ea rin g fruit
(fruiting) are con ceptu alized as identical processes (Rival 1998c).
In sum , w hereas cerem onies in peach p alm groves are gen erally sm all-
scale affairs u n fo ld in g over several weeks an d in volvin g close relatives, eem e
festivals do not last m o re than a day and a n ig h t (often just one n igh t). T h e y
are not organized w h en e ver there is ab u n d an ce o f fruit but require careful
planning, calcu latio n , and great d ip lo m acy; to initiate new allian ces be­
tween groups and start u p new cycles o f sp ou se exchange is one o f th eir stat­
ed purposes. People p lan t m anioc w ith the explicit intention o f u sin g it for
Eeme Festivals 133

diplom atic and A m p h itry o n ic purposes. A n d instead o f being occasio n s

during w hich a m arriage m ight be celeb rated , m an io c drin k in g festivals are
organized for the v e ry purpose o f c o n so lid a tin g a m arriage agreem en t be­
tween house gro u p s w h o are now v isitin g each oth er after a p e rio d o f h av­
ing no contact.

The Hum an Birds

I f the couple responsible for o rgan izin g an eem e is sym b o lically a ssim i­
lated to a fru itin g tree, the participants are liken ed to birds g o rg in g th em ­
selves during the fru itin g season. T h ro u g h o u t the n igh t, people ch a n t en d ­
lessly about birds gathered on a tree co ve red w ith ripen in g fru it. T h e v iv id
descriptions insist o n the colors, noises, a n d m ovem en ts o f the fly in g crea­
tures, as well as the sweetness and a b u n d a n ce o f the juices that co m p elled
them to congregate. W h en no fruit is left, th ey all leave and fly aw ay, each
bird going back to its ow n business. T h e fo llo w in g is one verse repeated
twenty times o r m ore by the dancers:

tomemo behuenqui ponga abi

tomemo behuenque bamenenga abi
eemo amina bamenguina amina
mintairi nani tehueninque
mintairibai nano tebeninque
huenomene cahui namo tebeninque
tomemo behuenque bamenenga abi

T h e approxim ative translation reads: “ 'OC^hen a tree is heavy w ith rip e n in g

fruit, birds o f all species gather on it. T h e y sin g o u t o f joy, and th ey sin g to
call more birds to partake in the feast. W e tru e h u m an s are like b ird s, w e
drink fruit and en jo y abundance. A n d w h e n no fru it is left, w e p e o p le , lik e
birds, leave separately, each one goin g h is o r h er ow n w ay.” 6
T h e festival starts w ith wom en (led b y th e lead in g w ife) and m en (led by
the leading husband) alternately ch a n tin g the above verse and d an cin g.
W h en the w o m en p erform , the men are th e au d ien ce, and vice versa. T h e n
the two groups ch an t sim ultaneously, b u t n o t in un ison , in their tw o d iffe r­
ent styles. T h e w o m e n , solem n and restrain ed, dance in com pact ro w s, en ­
tw ining their hands. T h e ahuene w ife is in the center o f the first row. T h e
men dance in a qu eu e, the ahuene h u sb an d in the lead, each w ith his h ands
on the shoulders o f the m an in front.
134 Eeme Festivals

B etw een each session o f ch a n tin g and dancing, the singers are offered
bowls o f d r in k b y the ahuene h u sb an d , w h o serves w hile his w ife (or wives)
mixes the m a n io c paste w ith w ater. A s the festival u n fo ld s, the m ens and
w o m en s g ro u p s m ove on to p e rfo rm their sim ultaneous sin g-d an ce, danc­
ing back an d fo rth from the tw o ends o f the room toward th e center where
they m eet b efo re m oving back again . Because they sing at the sam e time but
in a d ifferen t style, the two grou ps are, in a sense, “ talking past each other”
(see ch ap ter 5).
In one festival fo r which I have extensive field notes, m o re than one hun­
dred son gs w ere chanted betw een 6 :0 0 p . m . and 7 :0 0 a . m . the follow ing
m orn in g. T h e chants covered seven topics. T h e wom en o f this house group,
w h o had ju s t recently relocated ou tsid e their territory, sp en t the first quar­
ter o f the ce rem o n y chanting a b o u t fin d in g the skulls o f th eir forebears and
about liv in g together, living apart, an d then reuniting. T h e n th ey sang about
m arriage an d conjugality. W h e n exam inin g all the ap p ro xim ately one
hun dred so n gs as a corpus, it b ecom es clear that one th em e predom inates
for b oth ge n d e r groups, the m e etin g o f m any different types o f birds on a
fru itin g tree. T h e chants in this to p ic invariably ended w ith the line, “ W e
h um an s are like these birds, w e e n jo y celebrating together an d then w e leave,
each o n e o f us go in g about his ow n business. In this w a y lived ou r grandfa­
thers, an d so d o w e” (tomento behuenque bamertenga ab i, m onito memeiri
ano bain ).
In this representation o f them selves as a feasting g ro u p , feast goers stress
their in d iv id u a l freedom and in dependence. T h e feasting gro u p is no more
than a m o m e n ta ry collectivity m ade up o f free and in d ep en d en t in d ividu ­
als w h o sh are n o m ore than the transient pleasure o f co n su m in g abundant
food together. T h e only th in g th at binds them together is the pleasure o f
c o n su m in g abu n dan t and d e licio u s food. N o obligation s o r rights m ake
them d e p en d en t on one another. People chant for hours ab o u t the vivid col­
ors o f feath ers and fruit, the so u n d s em itted by, and the m ovem ents of, the
flyin g creatures, as well as the sw eetness and abundance o f the juices that
have b ro u g h t them all to con gregate. T h e message o f these endless sensuous
descrip tio n s is that no o b lig ation s o r rights bind feast goers together. T h e y
are in d ep e n d en t, indeed unrelated-sim ilar to many d ifferen t birds species. I f
fo od is a b u n d a n t, there is con g reg atio n and sharing.
E em e fo o d sharing, how ever, is n ot com parable to th e d aily practices o f
n an icabo fo o d sharing d escrib ed in chapter 5, w h ich is characterized by
repetitive acts o f giving aw ay th at create bonds o f shared substance. Feast
goers, w h o through the p e rfo rm an ce o f dance and so n g transform them ­
Eeme Festivals 135

selves in to birds gorging on a fru itin g tree, do not share fo od ; rather, they
jo in tly con su m e from a n atural source, a tree. Feast sh arin g stands in con­
trast to longhou se sharing, a n d each relates to a d ifferen t construction o f au­
tonom y. Feast sharing is not really sharing at all; rather, it is the partaking o f
n aturally abundant food fro m a treelike source. “ H u m an birds” are unilat­
erally co n su m in g from a naturalized source (a tree-couple), in total freedom
and independence. N o th in g b in d s them to the source o r to each other, ex­
cept the gregarious pleasure o f con gregating and celebratin g. B y contrast,
w ithin the longhouse, each p erson is in turn receiver an d giver; the daily
practices o f this particular fo rm o f fo od sharing, characterized by repeat­
ed— b u t n ot reciprocated— acts o f givin g away, create lasting bonds o f
shared substance, crystallized in en d u rin g social units.

Birds and W ild Boars

A n im p ortan t aspect o f a n y d rin k in g cerem ony is th at it ritually creates
gender groups. C on trary to ev ery d a y life, proper eem e co n d u ct demands
gender solid arity and cross-gen der avoidance. W h ereas in everyday life
m en an d w o m en belonging to the sam e longhouse are in close contact and
hardly differentiated in gender term s, they now avoid on e another and stand
apart th roughou t the night. C onversely, w om en fro m different house
groups, w h o w ou ld norm ally n ever visit one another, sp en d the whole fes­
tival together. M en form a co m p ac t grou p, in fact a b aw d y pack. M en stomp
their feet on the floor, rub th eir chests on their n eighb ors’ backs, tread or)
their heels, laugh loudly, and gen erally behave in an extroverted manner,
b ecom in g increasingly noisy an d excited as the festival un folds. M en and
w om en are ritually differentiated not only by their gen eral behavior and
avoidan ce o f the opposite sex b u t also through b od ily d ecoration and their
d an cin g and chanting styles.
M e n an d w om en , w hether h osts o r guests, spend m u ch time adorning
them selves w ith tooth necklaces, b righ t feather crow n s, bracelets, woven
cotton arm bands, body p ain tin gs, scented plants on arm s and hair, and
other item s too num erous to cite h ere.7 These, as w ell as flutes and rattles,
are m ade o f jungle plants, b ark, fiber, seeds, and leaves; they must all be
thrown aw ay at the end o f the cerem ony. Bachelors w e ar a loosely coiled
bundle o f ready-m ade h am m o ck strin g across the chest to indicate that they
are lo o k in g fo r a spouse. A d o lescen ts m ake themselves beau tifu l to attract
the o p p o site sex.
W hereas gender differences are blurred in the everyd ay context, they are
136 Eeme Festivals

meant to co n stitu te the single m ost sign ifican t sociological differen ce du r­

ing d rin kin g cerem onies. In the feasth ou se, the norm ally p o w e rfu l opposi­
tions b etw een kin and non-kin, o r co-residents and un related visitors, are
played d o w n . In preparin g their b od ies fo r a drin king cerem on y, p arty goers
remove all sm ells and traces o f the in tim a c y and body sh a rin g th at goes on
within the n an icab o . C leanliness an d the use o f scented p lan ts signal that
the surface o f the b o d y becom es a social filter, to u se T e rry T u rn ers
(1995:149) felicito u s expression. U n lik e the K ayapo, how ever, the H uaorani
are not co n cern ed w ith filtering cu ltu re ou t o f nature. It is p u b lic appear­
ance that b ecom es filtered out o f h o m e intim acy, as a n ecessary step before
en coun tering n on fam iliar, potential affines.
Each in vited m an m akes four to six spears that he o ffers to the leading
husband, w h o in turn redistributes th em to his male co -resid en ts after the
cerem ony.8 O n th eir w ay to the feasth ou se, invited m en a n d w o m en find
scented plan ts and beautiful, sh in y leaves w ith which to a d o rn themselves.
Tradition ally the m en arrive at the feasth ou se chanting fo rc e fu lly and hold­
ing long m a ca w feathers in the h an d n ot carrying the spears. B efore enter­
ing, they th ru st the spears in a b an an a tru nk prepared fo r this effect.9
W om en a rrive sin gin g as well, and h o ld in g long, shiny m o p alm leaves nor­
m ally used to lin e the lon ghou ses in n er r o o f (see chapter 5).
From th e start o f the cerem ony (at dusk), until its en d (w hen all the
m anioc d rin k has been con sum ed), participan ts are d iv id e d into w om en’s
and m en’s gro u p s. E veryone w ith in each gender group b eh aves uniform ly
(in strik in g con trast to ordinary b eh avior, w ith its stress o n in d ividu ality
and id io syn cratic expression), sings in unison , dance the sam e steps at the
same tim e in h arm ony, and gen erally im itates w hat the so n g-d an ce master
and m istress d o. M oreover, w h ereas sam e-sex relationships are norm ally
accom pan ied w ith m ore physical reserve than cross-sex o n es, the exact
opposite o ccu rs in the ritual co n text. H ere, wom en (esp ecially affines and
cross-cousins), w h o usually m ain tain a cold distance o fte n tainted with
overt h ostility, d isp lay exceptional kin d n ess and quiet a ffe c tio n toward each
other, u n ited in a new kind o f co m p licity. Sim ilarly m en exh ibit a tight
“o n e-for-all” esprit de corps colored w ith sexually su ggestive gestures. M en
affines ( p a rticu la rly cross-cousins) som etim es hold h an d s an d caress affec­
tionately. T h e m ore gender so lid a rity grow s, the m ore m en and wom en
avoid each other. H usbands and w ives, o r fathers and d au gh ters, w ho are
usually in tim ate , refrain from ad d ressin g o r looking at each other. T h ese be­
havior pattern s contrast w ith co-residen tial intim acy a n d w ith cross-sex
jo k in g d u rin g visits. B ein g part o f the w o m an s group d u r in g eeme events,
Eémé Festivals 137

and h o ld in g hands w ith w om en w h o , b eing m y classificatory cross-cousins

(:m engui ), h ad always avoided m e an d treated me extrem ely c o o ly w hen I
happened to visit their n anicaboiri, I felt a real w arm th , a m ix o f frien d li­
ness an d solidarity. In other w ord s, I never felt as accepted an d befriended
by the w o m e n as I did during an ee m e ,” as i f being a w o m an m attered m uch
more th an being a cohuori. B y co n trast, m en w ho w ere alw ays o p en toward
me an d w ith w hom I norm ally felt com fortable, now avo id e d o r ignored
As far as I know, despite the fact th at m en perform three d ifferen t styles
o f d a n cin g and wom en a fou rth style, there is a sin gle expression for
“dance,” anhua (o r pancaraniyan huanga perant). W hereas w o m e n s singing
is called toripe , m en’s is called am otam ini. A s described earlier, in the first
part o f th e cerem ony the two gender grou ps act alternatively: O n e watches,
the o th er perform s. T h en they start facin g each other in the cen ter o f the
longhouse, m ovin g sim ultaneously backw ard and fo rw ard in tw o sym m et­
rical tidal m ovem ents. In som e o f the eem e in w hich I p a rticip ate d , toward
the en d o f the cerem ony (that is, arou n d 4 :0 0 or 5:0 0 a . m . ) , the w om en
started b eh avin g m ore and m ore like birds (their chants b eco m in g like
yohue, a k in d o f parrot), as the m en w ere increasingly b e c o m in g lik e w hite-
lipped peccaries (ure ).
Finally, I should m ention that gen d er avoidance cu lm in ates in stro n g pro­
hibitions against sexual encounters, in m arked contrast to the erotic char­
acter o f d rin k in g parties in N o rth w e st A m azo n ia.10 T h ro u g h o u t the entire
eem e,” m en and wom en do not lo o k at each other, nor do th ey sp eak to each
other directly. Falling asleep before the end o f the d rin k in g ce rem o n y is not
perm itted, except for young c h ild re n .11 A ccordin g to tw o in fo rm an ts, in
form er tim es flutes were played w h ile festival goers aw aited the sunrise. Sex­
ual in tercou rse between feast p a rticip an ts, although stro n g ly disapproved
of, does occu r. T hrou ghou t the n igh t, couples discretely leave the feasthouse
and fin d privacy for their m arivaudages at the edge o f the forest. G irls tease
boys, an d vice versa, asking for b o d y decorations or sim p ly rip p in g them o ff
those th ey fancy. Cross-sex in teractio n , particularly sexual en coun ters, are
strongly disapproved of, for, as I w as told, m en and w o m e n sh o u ld stay in
their respective group; as one in fo rm a n t put it, “ T h is is w h a t the eeme is
for.” S exu al license occurs privately, n o t as an expected, ritu alized, an d erotic
part o f the drin kin g festival, as it does in A m azonian societies that eroticize
affinity. In the H uaorani context, sex is, first and fo rem o st, reproductive;
lauded in w ed d in g songs, it is erased as a m ark o f difference fro m the androg­
ynous ah u en e couple.
i;8 Eeme Festivals

A ll this indicates that w ith the ritual creation o f gender groups, m en an d

w o m e n lose their in d ivid u a l identities as kin, affines, friends, or enem ies,
o ld o r y o u n g .12 A s new so cia l distinctions are fo rm in g , and old ones b ein g
erased, o n e type o f social d ifferen ce predom inates, that between tw o basic
catego ries o f people, m en a n d w om en . In short, the feast group is sexually
d im o rp h ic , and sexual d ifferen ce cuts across differences betw een us
(.hu aom oni ) and others {h u a ra n i). T h e fusion o f m ale an d fem ale w ith in the
ah u en e cou ple, w h o sy m b o lic a lly becomes a fru itin g tree, and the g ro u p in g
o f p articip an ts are in tu rn m ad e possible by the overall dom inance o f sexu ­
al d im o rp h ism over all o th e r differences.
It is w o rth noting at th is p o in t that H uaorani gen der sym bolism , as ex ­
pressed either in co sm o lo gical b e lie f or ritual behavior, lacks the sexual an ­
ta go n ism foun d in m a n y A m az o n ia n societies, as v iv id ly described in M u r ­
p h y an d M u rp h y (1974) a n d Kensinger (1995), a m o n g others. Rather than
an expression o f h ostility b etw een the sexes, gender here is being used ritu ­
a lly as a m eans to overco m e potential conflict and transform social d ivisio n
in to necessary com plem en tarity. A n d , as I u nderstand it, i f the co sm o lo gi­
cal an d ritual com plex is satu rated with sexual an d other bodily im ages, it is
so as an expression not o f m ale suprem acy but o f the im portance o f o rg a n ­
ic life , fertility, and b io lo g ic a l reproduction.13

T yin g the Knot

T w o -th ird s through the cerem ony, if a- m arriage celebration has been
p la n n e d , the elders, w h o som ew hat secretly plotted the alliance, th ro w
them selves on the b rid e an d bridegroom to be, m ake them sit in a h a m ­
m o c k , seize their an kles, an d firm ly tie their feet together w ith the sam e
p a lm fiber cord used to m ake ham m ocks. T h e H u ao ran i term co rresp o n ­
d in g to w h at w e call “ m arriage” is hua nod im b a (literally ‘ it is a go o d th in g
th at th ey should sleep to geth er in the same h am m o ck ’). A m id great excite­
m e n t an d co m m o tio n , th e grandparents, parents, m arried aunts, an d m a r­
ried uncles o f the n e w co u p le assemble arou n d the ham m ock and start
sin g in g w eddin g son gs as lo u d ly as they possib ly can . Like du ring the ear-
p ie rcin g cerem ony,14 th e son gs stress the necessity o f hard w ork. T h e n ew ly
fo rm ed couple is u rged to h elp their parents, to listen to their older relatives,
an d to be generous h osts; th ey w ill spend m ost o f their tim e in each o th er’s
c o m p a n y and be fa ith fu l. T h e songs describe ad nauseum the w ays that
p airs o f macaws (m iin ta ), epitom es o f the m arried couple, fly together, care
fo r each other, feed each other, and never separate.
Eeme Festivals 139

A s the last song en d s, a short silence, pregn an t w ith danger, ensues. I f the
alliance is agreeable to all, the festival resum es, and bowls o f cerem onial
d rin k are offered to the stupefied new lyw eds. I f the b rides m other has not
been consulted and looks on the alliance d isapprovingly, she m ay run aw ay
w ith her daughter.15 A n y participant w ho feels despoiled by the m arriage
arrangem ent m ay v o ic e his or her anger. H u a o ra n i oral tradition is full o f
stories o f outraged m en resorting to their spears and turning m arriage cele­
brations into blood sh ed . Such outcom es are characteristic o f alliances
across regional b ou n d aries, as m entioned in ch apter 3, but, as w e saw in
chapter 5, these tragic failures are avoided w h e n grandparents u n ite the
ch ild o f one o f their sons to the child o f one o f th eir daughters. A n o th er w ay
to avoid such failures is n ot to invite those w h o m igh t oppose the m arriage
and face them later w ith the fait accom pli.
T h e new spouses co n tin u e to chant and d an ce w ithin their respective
gender group until the festival ends. T h e m arriage is truly consum m ated
the follow ing day, w h e n the bridegroom , w h o has gone hun tin g fo r his
bride, receives from h e r a bowl o f banana d rin k (peene) or any other fru it
drin k in exchange fo r gam e. T h e new cou ple is n o w ready to leave and trek
back to the bride’s n ative longhouse, where the b rid e makes her ow n hearth,
separate from her m o th e r’s. Both parties m u st con sent to m arriage, an d, if
the yo u n g couple refuses to perform the ritu al that marks their eco n o m ic
com plem entarity, the alliance is aborted. E ith e r the bride or b ridegroom
m ay precipitate the term in ation o f the m arriage b y n ot engaging in the re­
ciprocal giving o f co m p lem en tary food. A lth o u g h m arriage is a collective
affair, initiated by m em b ers o f the grandp arent generation, and p u b licly
sanctioned, it m ust be agreeable to all parties. M arriage occurs if, and o n ly
if, the collective and the individual are in accordance. T h u s it follow s that
m arriage as a process, th at is, as the progressive u n fo ld in g o f the con ju gal
bond, the most c o m m o n pattern in A m azo n ia (K en sin ger 1984), starts after
the marriage alliance has been celebrated, an d after husband and w ife have
ritually agreed to b ecom e econom ic partners.
H uaorani m arriage, therefore, m ay not be explain ed as public recogn i­
tion o f sexual partn ersh ip. Q uite to the con trary, pu b lic recognition in the
form o f a w edding ce rem o n y engenders the social space in w hich con ju gal
intim acy develops. B y agreeing to the co n ju g a l econom ic contract, the
yo u n g husband and w ife proclaim their a d u lth o o d ; they are n ow m ature
enough to bear ch ild ren . Finally, it should be n oted that w ed d in g cere­
m onies o f the kind ju s t described are o n ly celeb rated for the first m arriage
(that is, for the first sister a m an marries), b u t i f a m an leaves his w ife ’s nan-
140 Eeme Festivals

icabo and jo in s a new group, he w ill be wedded in his n ew residence in ex­

actly the sam e w ay as he was in the previous o n e .16

C erem onial Drinking, “ W ild ” M arriages,

and Social Distance
M arria g e alliances create so lid arity and unity b etw een longhouses ex­
ch an gin g m arriage partners. It m ig h t be said, in a sense, that m anioc d rin k ­
in g festivals are organized in the hope that people w h o w ere huarani before
the eem e becom e huaom oni after, thus succeeding in u n itin g their house
gro u p s, as w ell as their ch ildren , in marriage. A lth o u g h no m arriage rule is
ex p licitly stated, a good m arriage is generally d efin ed indirectly w ith the
precept: “ I f the mothers are d ifferent (i.e., not sisters), the children m a y
m arry.” A n o th e r im plicit co n d itio n is that a w o m an m u st not m arry her
yo u n g er o r older brother n o r a m an o f her parents’ generation. T h at the
b ride an d bridegroom m ust co m e from different lo n gh o u ses was so ob viou s
to m y H u ao ran i friends and teachers that they d id n o t even m ention it.
M a rry in g som eone from o n e’s longhouse w ou ld be tan tam o u n t to brother-
sister incest.
A n o th e r condition is that grandparents should arran ge marriages. T h re e
m ain ideas kept recurring in m y older inform ants’ exp lan ation s. First, it is
legitim ate to take an interest in the m arriage o f o n e ’s nam e-bearers and to
decide w h ere they w ill live an d w ith w hom . T h is is w h y nam ing and m ar­
ry in g grandchildren are tw o grandparental prerogatives. Second, gran dp ar­
ents are best positioned to th in k about m arriage allian ces and to make go o d
m atch es, that is, those that w ill satisfy m ost p eop le (all m arriages u n avo id ­
ab ly cause som e unhappiness and anger). A n d th ird , i f the you ng were left
to m ak e th eir ow n choices, th ey w o u ld run o f f w ith th eir lovers, and then
w h a t d ifferen ce w ould there be between the H u a o ra n i an d collared pecca­
ries (am o)\
L ik e in so m an y societies aro u n d the w orld , H u a o ra n i m arriage transac­
tion s in vo lve entire social gro u p s. D espite their de facto right to refuse to be
w e d d ed to a particular person , o r their freedom to risk elopem ent, the b rid e
an d brid egroom have little say in marriage arran gem en ts, w hich are gen er­
ally treated as delicate and co m p lex political m atters to be handled by e ld ­
ers. G iv e n the general in fo rm a lity o f H uaorani p o litics, m arriage is general­
ly n o t preceded b y form al negotiations. Interested parties sim ply visit allies
to u n co ver their expectations and views. In d ivid u al aspirations (especially
those o f the prospective b rid e, brid es m other, an d bridegroom ) are taken
Eeme Festivals 14 1

in to accou nt and balanced against the co n strain ts o f the overall allian ce

co m p le x w hich dictates th at m arriage exchan ge b etw een longhouses in a
g iven generation be rig o ro u sly reciprocal.
Finally, m arriage w ith so m eon e too distant (an d h en ce an enem y) is h ig h ­
ly dangerous and should be avoided at all cost. In an ideal w orld , h uaom on i
‘w e-p eo p le’ stay together, feast together, m a rry en d ogam o u sly, and a vo id
m eetin g huarani others’ (or enem ies’). W h e n sets o f in term arryin g b ro th ­
ers and sisters continue to live close to each oth er, fo rm in g the core o f fes­
tive groups, and “ keepin g” their children fo r each other, bilateral cross­
co u sin m arriage, from th e ideal norm , becom es a c o m m o n practice. T h is
practice ensures that the p rin cip le o f balanced recip ro city, equivalence, an d
sy m m e try found in con ju gal intercourse eq u a lly in fu ses m arriage alliances.
A s discussed in the last ch apter (see table 5.1), a sig n ific an t pro p o rtion o f
co n tem p o rary marriages are double cross-cousin m arriages, and m an y m a r­
riages are still uniting, in sequence, pairs o f b ro th ers a n d sisters.
D istan t marriage, that is, m arriage w ith a h u a ‘u n related other’ person, is
con sid ered “w ild ” (h uin e h u in e huaquim ba, lite ra lly ‘th ey are not b eh avin g
lik e true hum ans’), even w h en kin ties have b een re ac tivate d .17 It is w o rth
n o tin g that those w ho to o k the tim e to converse w ith m e on this m atter d id
n o t condem n “w ild ” m arriages on m oral g ro u n d s, in the w ay they, fo r in ­
stance, strongly disapproved o f incestuous b ro th er-sister marriages. A m a r­
riage w ith an unrelated m an o r a cross-cousin liv in g in a different regional
g ro u p is neither p roh ib ited n o r approved of: It is s im p ly extrem ely d an ger­
o us. A n d the possibility o f m arryin g a n o n -H u a o ra n i w as, until recently;
h ard ly thinkable at all, fo r they were defined as d an gero u s cannibals. In
practice, however, m arriages do occur betw een h u a ra n i house groups that
h ave tried to establish a lin k betw een the future sp o u se s, expressed as tom en-
g a m ona huenquicaya im p a (literally ‘he is p o te n tia lly m y brother-in -law
[cross-cousin ]’), >vho, i f the m arriage is su ccessfu l, b ecom e h uaom on i.
H ow ever, these alliances are said to be unstable a n d sh o rt-lived , unless su b ­
seq u en t brother-sister alliances rapidly ensue a n d stren gthen the ties be­
tw een the two exchanging longhouses.
B ravin g the potential risks o f forging alliances w ith a huarani group, the
H u a o ra n i, w h o live today in Yasuni Park, su cce ssfu lly renew ed contact in
the 1980s w ith those w h o live along the C o n o n a c o R iv e r (see map 1.2). B e ­
fo re then, the three C o n o n a c o groups and the tw o Y a su n i groups were ene­
m ies, and a large no-m an’s land separated th eir resp ective territories. N o
on e in the C ononaco kn ew exactly the position o f th ose in the Yasuni, and
vice versa. Each regional g ro u p dichotom ized th e in tratrib al social space
142 Eeme Festivals

in to huaom oni ‘w e -p e o p le ’ and huarani ‘enem y-others’ and suffered fro m a

lack o f suitable m a rria g e partners for their y o u n g members. O n e day, forced
b y a severe sh ortage o f potential spouses, Q u em p eiri and his cross-co usin ,
M en ga, both b e lo n g in g to the C o n on aco h ou se group “con stellatio n ,” jo u r­
neyed N orth to re n ew contacts in the Y asu n i. M en ga wanted to rem in d In-
ihua (o f the Y asu n i gro u p ) that they w ere k in (gu irin an i).
W h en som eon e in M e n g a s group referred to som eone in In ih u a ’s grou p
as huaca other’ , h e m ean t that there w as no com m on nam e b etw een this
person’s nam e-set a n d his. Ju st as grandparen ts give their n am es to their
grandchildren, th is reference indicated a lack o f genealogical co n n ectio n
betw een him an d th is person. By the sam e token, he also im p lied that his
parents and gra n d p are n ts, and this person’s parents and grandparents, lived
in distinct parts o f H u a o ra n i land and th us probably never m et. T h e dual
opposition h u a o m o n i-h u a ra n i is not categorical but results fro m w h a t I
w o u ld call a statistical effect. C o gn atic k in livin g in nonallied lon ghou ses
reactivate their ties w h en ever spouses are scarce or when social disru p tio n s
caused by w arfare are to o acute. But this consanguineal link, recogn ized and
reactivated b y ju s t a fe w individuals, m u st be accepted by all as th e basis for
alliance, w ith o n e m arriage reconfiguring huarani into h u ao m o n i. M en g a,
unlike most o f th e peop le in the h u aom o n i group, recognized In ih u a as a
relative and referred to him as boto g u ir i ‘m y close kin.’ It is o n this legiti­
m ate ground th at h e decid ed to visit the Y asu n i nanicaboiri. T h e o p eratio n ,
w hich was d an gero u s and could have en d ed in bloodshed, w as successful.
T h e Yasuni an d C o n o n a c o nanicaboiri celebrated several eem e together,
and a num ber o f interm arriages have taken place between the tw o regional
groups since. H o w e v e r, and as discussed in chapter 3, not all m arriage al­
liances are “success stories” (loin s’en fa u t). H ere I shall explore so m e o f the
reasons w h y th is sh o u ld be the case.
M arriage fo rm s an integral part o f allia n ce politics, that is, o f gro u p for­
m ation p o litic s.18 M arria g e, like death, constitutes a m om ent in social life
w hen in d ividu als can affect the course o f social reproduction. E ach m ar­
riage and each d e a th affects the bo un d aries between allied an d n onallied
house groups, g iv e n the negotiable an d open character o f h u ao m o n i-
huarani clu sterin g form ation s. O n one level, marriage politics an d the pol­
itics o f group fo rm a tio n revolve around the question o f reciprocity. In m any
w ays, what m ak es a m arriage w ith an “o th e r” a “w ild” m arriage is that the
group w ho is “ g iv in g ” the spouse cannot tru st that a spouse w ill be given in
exchange; in o th e r w ord s, the “spouse givers” cannot k n o w w h eth er this
first marriage w ill in d eed begin a new cycle o f exchange or, rather, m erely be
an isolated ex c h a n g e advantaging o n ly the “spouse takers.” 19
Eeme Festivals 14}

To in term arry n ot only implies social closeness, w hich in turns implies

trust, but it also im plies finding a so lu tio n to the thorny issue o f w here and
with w hom the n ew couple will reside. ’W hile probing in form an ts as to why
marriages w ith h uaran i are dangerous, it b ecam e clear that the p o in t o f con­
tention was postm arital residence. M e n w h o , like M enga, in itiate contact
with an u nrelated house group are n o t p ro p o sin g to give a yo u th in mar­
riage but are d e m a n d in g a w ife or h u sb an d fo r their unm arried children or
grandchildren'. In other words, as n oted above, they are spouse takers, not
spouse givers. A s m y inform ants saw it, the m ain problem w ith m arryin g a
distant kin is th at the w ife is expected to leave her native n anicabo and to
accept virilocal residence.
M arriage im p lies the absorption o f o n e spouse into the other’s family,
and wom en o n the w h ole refuse to m a rry “o u t” and leave their native nani-
caboiri. A s w as th orou gh ly discussed in the last chapter, uxorilocal residence
means the progressive tam ing and in co rp o ratio n o f in -m arryin g m en into
matrifocal lo n gh o u ses. A s was also discu ssed, sororal polygyny, w h ich is fre­
quently initiated b y the w ife’s you nger sister(s), reinforces the uxorious na­
ture o f the m arital bond. O ther form s o f polygyny, w hich are m u ch rarer,
also reflect the p o litics o f exchange. M e n w ith m any sisters m ay end up tak­
ing several w ives to ensure that all th eir sisters get m arried, and m ale or­
phans, w ho fin d it particularly d ifficu lt to find a spouse, m ay actually
m ount raids to captu re wives, usually m a rry in g several at o n ce.20 U xorilo-
cality thus in tro d u ces an asym m etry in a relation that should be sym m etri­
cal and reversible. Parents w ho w ant to retain their sons enter into conflict
with parents w h o d o not want to give th eir daughters away, except w hen the
two sets o f p arents are neighbors an d thus part o f the sam e huaom oni
group. In the e n d , m arriages are said to be “w ild ” not so m u ch because they
violate recip ro city (a spouse is taken w ith o u t one being given in exchange)
but because th ey violate uxorilocality (the w ife, rather than the husband,
has to leave h er kin to live w ith her affin es). From the w a y they are talked
about, one can also guess that “w ild ” m arriages occurring d u rin g an eeme
with huarani fu rth e r im ply that the gu ests are spouse givers and the hosts
spouse takers, w h ic h exacerbates the laten t antagonism betw een hosts, who
norm ally are th ose w h o give, and guests, w h o norm ally are those w ho re­
ceive and con su m e.
Interestingly en ou gh , marriages betw een H uaorani m en and Q u ich ua
(Naporuna) w o m e n are not considered “w ild .” In a fascinating reversal o f
the definition o f a proper marriage, several yo u n g men also told m e that
they could n o lo n g er m arry H u aorani w o m e n anyway, fo r all H uaorani
were cousins sh a rin g the same surnam e; G o d was against such h uin e huine
144 Eeme Festivals

“w ild ” marriages. A lth o u g h I do not have d ata on marriages b etw een

Q u ich u a men and H u a o ra n i w om en, w h ich in a n y case are far less freq u en t
than marriages b etw een H u a o ra n i men an d Q u ic h u a w om en, I v e n tu re to
guess that they, too, are considered “w ild .” 21
It is striking that H u ao ra n i-Q u ich u a m arriages are, w ithout ex cep tio n ,
virilo cal, w ith the in -m a rry in g w ife u n am b ig u ou sly livin g in and b e lo n g in g
to her husband’s n an icab o . M ixed H u a o ra n i-Q u ic h u a couples are u su a lly
q u ite content w ith th eir con ju gal life. Q u ic h u a w ives say that life in H u a o ­
rani land is relaxing a n d peaceful, and that th ey do not have to w o r k v e ry
hard. T h e y feel w ell tre ate d b y their h usbands (w h o do not drin k, are g e n ­
tle, and do not beat th em o r the children) an d respected by th eir in -law s.
T h e y particularly e n jo y th eir husbands’ excep tion al hun tin g skills, as w e ll as
the abundance o f a n im als and forest products in H u ao ran i land. M o reo ve r,
H u ao ran i men are gen ero u s w ith the m o n e y th ey earn from to u rism or
from their w ork in o il com p an ies, w hich is lavish ly spent on new clo th es fo r
th eir wives and ch ild re n , and other co n su m er good s. H uaorani m en say
that Q u ich u a w o m en are m ore reliable, m ore obedien t, w ork harder, and
do not sleep around w h e n their husbands are away. T h e y are excellen t gar­
deners, m anage the h ou seh o ld well, and sp eak Span ish . A n d , above all, they
do not resent livin g w ith their parents-in-law.
U ndoubtedly, fro m the Q u ich ua po in t o f view , such in tereth n ic m ar­
riages correspond to a strategy o f social re p ro d u ctio n through p ro gressive
incorporative exogam y, characteristic o f p o litica lly and d em o grap h ically
do m in an t p o st-C o n q u e st A m azonian societies (H enley 19 9 6 :7 1 n. 2.2).
From the H uaorani p o in t o f view, however, it is the virilocal n ature o f such
m arriages that m akes th em both “good” a n d acceptable. M oreover, in co n ­
tem porary H u aorani society, these in tereth n ic m arriages m ay sign a l a shift
from “w ild ” m arriages contracted du ring eem e festivals to distant m arriages
w ith outsiders as the necessary com plem en t to the policy o f m a rry in g close,
that is, o f m arryin g cross-cousins w h o are at on ce classificatory a n d ge­
nealogical kin.

T h e A sym m etry Between H osts and Guests

Insight into the relation sh ip o f au to n o m y an d unilateral feed in g betw een
feast goers (birds) an d the couple (fru itin g tree) w h o has taken resp o n sib il­
ity for organizing th e d rin k in g cerem ony is ga in ed by exam in in g the term
fo r “guest” (ne enaca, ‘the one w ho is b o rn ) an d the term fo r “ h o st” (ne
ocoinga, ‘the one w h o is at hom e’). H osts are in the house, or o f th e house,
Eeme Festivals 14$

and, as such, are required, unilaterally a n d on request, to g iv e to their

guests. A host, b y g iv in g to the guest w ith o u t exp ectin g a n yth in g in return,
is like a reproductive couple, a n u rtu rin g paren t, a tree. A gu est, o n the
other hand, is a pure consumer, just lik e a n ew b orn baby. M o reo ver, the
eeme is lived and represented from the va n ta g e p o in t o f guests (receivers),
w ho sociologically take precedence o ver th e hosts. T h e latter, ritu a lly re­
duced to a single cou ple, disappear alto g eth er in botanical im agery. T h e
ahuene are not represented as generous giv ers, o r as social actors w h o have
coordinated the collective production o f fo o d surplus for the feast, but as
naturally p rod u cin g trees. There is g ro u n d , therefore, to co n ten d th at their
role establishes a sym b olic equation b etw een the biological processes b y
w hich trees prod uce abundant fruit a n d the d aily prod uctive activities o f
dead people w h o encouraged the gro w th o f trees w hose ab u n d an t fru it is
n ow harvested and consum ed by the liv in g . A n u m b er o f factors p e rtain in g
to host-guest relations echo further this fu n d am en tal con n ection betw een
trees and past h um an activities.
For a start, it is w orth m entioning th at m a n io c cultivation in presen t-d ay
sedentarized villages, w h ich, as explained in m o re detail in the n ext chapter,
structurally correspond to feast groups, is still in d irectly lin ked to a festive
com plex. T h at m an ioc is now grown o n a larg er scale and used alm o st d aily
is in great part because village life in tensifies visitin g , and hence the regular
consum ption o f “ fo od drinks.” Fam ilies m an ag e to evade n ew o b lig ation s
and constraints b y trekking away from the v illag e arid its school as o ften as
possible, and by m ain tain in g a sharing system b y w h ich one h o u seh o ld p ro ­
duces m anioc for, on average, five h ou seh o ld s. C o n seq u en tly the m a jo rity
are still behaving as “guests” in relation to a m in o rity o f “ h o sts,” thus sus­
taining the antiprodu ctivist vision o f an a b u n d a n t, g iv in g w o rld .
Guests are exogenous to the nanicabo th ey visit, but they w o u ld slow ly
becom e part o f it w ere they to prolong th eir visit. T h e rule o f d e m a n d -sh ar­
ing m entioned in the last chapter entitles visito rs to an yth in g th ey see and
w ould like to have. B u t i f they stay on p ast o n e day, visitors m u st start g iv ­
ing away as m uch as th ey receive, thus e n te rin g the am b igu ou s ca teg o ry o f
“ half-visitor, h alf-refugee residents.” V is itin g creates tension an d un easi­
ness, because guests are suspected o f w a n tin g to p ro lo n g their visit w ith the
intention o f shiftin g allegiance from o n e lo n gh o u se to another o r to fin d
refuge there after a raid. T h is may explain w h y affines are gen erally n o t vis­
ited outside form al attendance at d rin k in g cerem onies. V isitin g con n ects
close kin w h o, h aving ceased to live togeth er, n o w partake in the sh arin g
econom y o f different longhouses. T h e c o n n e c tio n is never betw een the v is­
6 Eeme Festivals

itor and a ll th e m em bers o f the visited longhouse. T h e visito r, rather, is the

guest o f o n e , or, at m ost, tw o o r three, longhouse m em bers.
To u n d e rstan d this point fully, w e need to go back to the issue o f gender
asym m etry resu ltin g from postm arital residence. G iven the uxorilocal na­
ture o f p o stm arital residence, the visitin g patterns o f m arried m en and
w om en are asym m etrical. V isitin g is especially restrictive fo r w o m en . Since
men live w ith th eir in-laws, th ey freq u en tly visit their m o th ers and sisters,
thus c o n tin u in g the partnerships th ey form ed with their sisters before m ar­
riage. A s a resu lt, m ost visitin g in volves m arried men go in g b ack to their na­
tive n an ica b o iri. N o t on ly are m en ’s visiting rights m o re extensive than
those o f th eir sisters, but w o m en ’s relatives tend to be con cen trated in one
or two lo n g h o u ses, whereas m arried m en’s are dispersed in a n um ber o f
them. F u rth e rm o re, it is m ore acceptable for brothers to visit their sisters
than vice versa. A s a result, m en are w elcom ed guests in m o re longhouses
than th eir w iv e s, w h o , considered h u a ra n i ‘unrelated o th ers’ , m ust stay out­
side and w a it fo r a child to o ffer them a drink. W hen no ch ild is available or
w illin g to h elp , a fem ale affine goes to the door and holds o u t a bowl full o f
drink, sile n tly and looking in the oth er direction. T h e social distance sepa­
rating th e tw o w om en is thus clearly indicated. Even w h en visiting kin,
w om en ten d to rem ain close to the door, as i f forbidden to penetrate fully
in the lo n g h o u se.
H osts g iv e fo o d to kin w h o v isit, that is, in most cases, to m ale visitors,
w ho share it w ith their a cco m p an y in g kin. C hildren, w h o are generally con ­
sidered k in , feceive food d irectly from the hosts, as w ell as fro m their fa­
thers. W iv e s, b y contrast, o ften assert their independence and self-suffi­
ciency b y g iv in g the food th ey h ave received from th eir h usbands to their
children in stead o f eating it an d b y overtly m un ch in g on a piece o f meat
they h ave b ro u g h t along or so m e fru it they have gathered o n the way. U n ­
less th ey h ave m arried a bilateral cross-cousin, wom en h ave ve ry little to do
with th eir in -la w s.22 M ore generally, female affines rem ain distant and
aloof. B o u n d a rie s between m atrifocal house groups are m aintained by
w om en w h o are the absolute affines. A s Taylor (1983; 19 9 4:9 5) rem arks, the
sister-in -law relationship is the o n ly relationship that can n o t be consan-
In his discu ssion o f C u b eo d rin k in g parties, G o ld m a n (19 63:202) appro­
priately rem arked that “ leadership com es from g ivin g an d subordination
com es fro m receivin g.” 23 A m o n g the H uaorani, visitin g is h igh ly restricted
in order to lim it the asym m etry o f pow er that is built in to the host-guest
relation sh ip , w h ich can too easily turn into a ieader-follow er relationship,
Eeme Festivals 147

especially du ring an eeme, in w h ic h hosts are in fact w ife takers w ho pledge

to in itiate a new cycle o f exchanges. Everything in the H u ao ran i ritual co m ­
p lex is m ade to stress that allian ce is about celebrating abun dan ce together.
In th eir perform ance as birds g o rg in g on a fru itin g tree, eem e participants
blur the distinctions betw een hosts and guests, leaders an d follow ers, spouse
takers an d spouse givers, k in an d affines. T h eir perfo rm an ce, w hich creates
the co n d itio n s for social in tegratio n at a higher level than that o f the lo n g­
h ouse, form s a part o f the process b y which the circu latio n o f young adults
ensures social reproduction. T h e distinctions b etw een hosts and guests,
how ever, far from being erased, resurface as the o p p o sitio n between life
givers an d life takers, w h en th ose w h o refuse to give a spouse kill and de­
stroy, leavin g, in place o f the feasthouse, an open grave (see chapter 3).

A lliance and Residence: A Com parative Perspective

In m a n y ways, the d rin k in g cerem onies exam ined here confirm the fu n ­
dam en tal ethos o f H uaorani society. Eem e b ring together people, w ho are
n o rm a lly distant, to celebrate the generous forest as the here and now,
w h ich can be reaped w ith o u t h avin g been sown. It is n o t h um an labor but
the afflu en t physical en viro n m en t that appears to gu aran tee the future and
that m akes possible the togetherness o f so m any d istin ct people, as if they
w ere o n e big, enlarged n an icab o . Furtherm ore, eem e com m ensality, the
tran sform ative force that fuses hosts and guests in to one large grou p
th rough chanting and d an cin g, an d shifts the visible division s from groups
o f “ us” an d “others” to gro u p s o f m en and w om en , creates the right co n d i­
tions fo r marriage. In d ivid u al producers/consum ers are transform ed into
sets o f gendered reproducers w h o w ill com plem ent each other in their re­
ciprocal w o rk exchange but w ill, in an y case, rem ain p rim arily consum ers o f
naturally abundant food. D rin k in g cerem onies are alw ays, at least po ten ­
tially, w e d d in g cerem onies as w ell. A lliance presupposes n ot on ly the co m ­
ing to geth er o f two in d ep en d en t-—albeit allied— lo n gh o u ses but also ab u n ­
dance, w h ich makes m arriage acceptable. M arriage, a k ey m om ent o f social
rep ro d u ctio n , calls, in real term s, fo r reciprocal o b lig ation s and exchange
but is ritu ally experienced as a short-term com m itm en t, the freedom o f the
present, and the pleasure o f sh ared , conspicuous, an d im m ed iate con su m p­
tion o f naturally and a b u n d a n tly occurring fruit. T h is explains why, co n ­
trary to w h at seems to o ccu r in oth er A m azonian societies, where the co n ­
cept o f cem enting the affinal b o n d w ith a single ritual has been described as
en tirely foreign (Kensinger 19 8 4 ), H uaorani m arriage is bro u gh t into b ein g
148 Eëmë Festivals

b y a cerem ony. M a n io c drinking festivals are unm istakably p u b lic celebra­

tions o f the affin al bon d and, in d eed , the on ly elaborate ritu als found in
H uaorani society.
To recapitulate, and to introduce a com parative d im en sio n , ëëm ë drink­
ing festivals are best understood as cerem o n ial events that b o th create and
celebrate increase as a necessary c o n d itio n for the exch an ge o f people in
marriage an d , ultim ately, social re p ro d u ctio n and su rvival. Furtherm ore,
there is gro u n d to interpret the ëëm ë n o t o n ly as a ritual o f a llian ce but also
as the final p u b e rty rite m arking th e m o ral and physical readin ess fo r par­
enting, d irectly lin k ed to the ea r-p iercin g ritual briefly m e n tio n e d in chap­
ter 4, w h ich is perform ed w ithin the lo n g h o u se on adolescent b o ys and girls
b y their gran d fath ers and visiting patern al uncles. H o w ever, u n like A m a­
zonian rites o f passage,24 which u n am b ig u o u sly focus on th e gro w th , m at­
uration, and eventual dissolution o f the bodies o f in d iv id u a l m em bers o f
the society, the ëëm ë is a marital ritu al that celebrates the m a tu ration o f a
young w o m a n an d a young m an b y p a irin g and w ed d in g th em together.
T h eir b o d ily transform ation and c o u p lin g is both preceded an d elucidated
by the ritual transform ation u n d ergo n e b y the ahuene co u p le, the owners o f
the cerem ony, w h o becom e one ge statin g b od y or fru itin g tree, in fact, the
cosmic tree o f life (Rival 1997b). In fu sin g biological re p ro d u ctio n and so­
cial rep ro d u ctio n , as well as increase, replacem ent, an d replication , the
ëëmë, w h ile celeb rating the collectivity, is thus sim u ltan eo u sly concerned
with the co n stru ctio n o f persons, th e ir ch an gin g social statu s, a n d the con­
stitution o f social groups.
Instead o f acknow led ging the n ee d fo r an “other” to act as a catalytic
agent in the transform ation effected in ritu al, and instead o f recognizing re­
lationships o f alterity as essential fo r in d ivid u al and co llective reproduction,
the ëëmë seem s to strengthen the en d o ga m o u s ideology a n d its prem ise that
huaom oni g ro u p s are perfectly self-su fficien t, self-sustain in g, and capable
o f m anaging en d o gam y so as to en ab le m arriageable categories o f persons to
be co n tin u ally available. E n d o g a m y is achieved, first and fo rem o st, by m ar­
rying close, w h ic h , whatever the fo rm , entails the d irect, reciprocal ex­
change o f m arriage partners b etw een people w h o live clo se b y (the ideal
type b eing a sister and a brother b r in g in g tw o o f their ch ild re n together in
m arriage). W h e n this is not feasib le, there is the a ttem p t to incorporate
more d istan t in -m arryin g spouses, a lo n g w ith the pledge th at y o u n g adults
belonging to distant groups be circu late d fairly and that an in itial marriage
exchange b e b o th reciprocated an d lea d in g to subsequent exchanges. Ideal­
ly, how ever, such marriages sh ou ld rem ain rare occurrences corresponding
Eëmë Festivals 149

to extrem e situations when n o o th e r o p tio n is available. M oreo ver, the po ­

litically sensitive issue o f postm arital residence needs to be solved. C o n flicts
arise fro m the contradiction betw een the favored rule o f uxorilocal resi­
dence an d the expectation that w h en m arriages are arranged w ith huarani,
ëëmë guests are not mere spouse p ro vid ers but w ife givers.
W h y sh ou ld uxorilocal postm arital residence be the real p o in t o f co n ­
tention b etw een potentially allied nanicaboiri? M y an sw er to this question
is that H u a o ra n i marriage p olitics is not a politics o f exch an ge as such but
one o f p la c in g , that is, a process b y w h ich one belongs to a gro u p through
the body. W hereas wom en rem ain w ith their m others an d sisters attached
to the n an icab o where they w ere b o rn and w ill die o f o ld age alone and
abandoned, m en leave their n ative n anicabo as part o f th eir developm en t
cycle, m atu ration , and grow th, to be progressively in co rp o rated in the n an­
icabo o f th eir w ife or wives, w h ic h th ey leave upon death fata lly w o u n d ed
by the e n e m y as fathers. A ffin ity therefore bears the p ro m ise o f closeness,
that is, o f potential consanguinity, an d even o f recon san guin ization o f dis­
tant kin , n o t unlike the Wari system o f general cogn atio n discussed by V i-
laça (1992). A ffin ity, as the closing distance between a m an an d the gro u p in
which he m arries, corresponds to the expectation o f sh arin g substance and
becom ing alike. Alterity, or pu re difference, w h ich characterizes the un-
breachable distance separating fem ale cross-cousin, or, in o th er w ords, the
n onrelationship between sisters-in-law , also characterizes the im p ossib ility
o f alliance w ith cannibal predators (cohuori). T h is, to m e, is a clear in dica­
tion that affinity, far from b ein g d efin ed as the pure d o m a in o f alterity
(Viveiros de C astro and Fausto 19 9 3, V iveiro s de C astro 2.001), is, rather,
stressed as the dom ain o f potential rapprochem ent and sim ilarity. In this
sense, it is akin to the French n o tio n o f affinité, w h ich , acco rd in g to m y
Petit B ord as dictionary, has been used since the tw elfth ce n tu ry to m ean
neighborh ood .
To co n clu d e, H uaorani en d o gam y is defined as the safe distance o f cross-
siblingship. In other words, a ffin ity corresponds to the safe distance be­
tween sisters and brothers, and betw een m en and w o m en b o rn o f sisters and
brothers. T h e Huaorani m arriage system , w ith its clear p referen ce fo r sym ­
m etric exchange and for m arriages th at renew alliances, u n am b ig u o u sly be­
longs to the A m azonian draviniate system s, w hich H e n le y (19 9 6 :46 ) char­
acterizes as corresponding to the sp arsely populated settlem ents fo u n d in
headwater areas. T h e H uaorani m arriage system , how ever, p o in ts to a m iss­
ing elem en t in H enley’s correlation o f m arriage preferences w ith po pu latio n
densities, th at is, the rule o f postm arital residence. In the H u a o ra n i case, i f
i$o Eëmë Festivals

en d o g a m y means liv in g close, as well as m a rry in g close, it is ultim ately ux-

o rilo ca lity that is resp on sib le for reducing th e social field. T h is co n firm s
Peter R iv ière s (1984) a rg u m e n t that postm arital residence is a key variable
in lo w lan d South A m e ric a n political econ om y o f control and that u xo rilo -
c a lity is a m uch m ore cau tio u s and in w ard -lookin g p o licy than virilocality,
w h ic h poten tially a llo w s fo r a much greater d evelo p m en t o f alliances.
A rh e m (1987; 19 8 9 ; 2 0 0 1), w h o notes that the M ak u n a are despised b y
th eir decent-oriented a n d virilocal Tukano n eighb ors for co-residing w ith
th eir affines, has also fo u n d that most m arriages am on g the M ak u n a take
place betw een close affin es w ith in the local g ro u p o f adjacent longhouses, a
fo rm o f m arriage th at h e calls “gift m arriage.” M arriages that occur o u tsid e
the en dogam ous u n it m a y o n ly be achieved b y direct exchange (less th an 30
percent) or capture (less th an 15 percent), lea d in g in the form er case to ux-
o rilo ca l residence, a n d in the latter to virilocal residence. T h ere are strik in g
parallels between th e M a k u n a and the H u a o ra n i form s o f m arriage ex­
ch an ge. W hereas M a k u n a gift marriages lo o k structurally iden tical to
H u a o ra n i double cro ss-co u sin marriages, th at is, to the “sharing” o f ch il­
d ren in m arriage b y a “ reproductive” brother-sister pair, M aku n a direct sis-
ter-exchange is sim ila r to the H uaorani system o f interm arriage b etw een
sib lin g groups. F in ally, M ak u n a “ bride cap tu re” shares m any traits w ith
H u a o ra n i “w ild ” m arriages between huarani grou p s, starting w ith the ritu ­
alized expression o f a ffin a l hostility and distrust, the instability o f such m a r­
riages, and that th ey lead to virilocality. A rh e m ’s (1989) analysis focuses on
the structural tra n sfo rm a tio n s between G u ia n ese, M aku n a, M a k u , and
T u k a n o m arriage a llia n ce system s. F ollow ing H o n b o rg (1988), A rh e m co n ­
clu des that sy m m e tric alliance is “a fu n d am en tally dynam ic and u nstable
stru ctu re offerin g a w id e range o f logical possibilities w hich m ay be realized
n o t o n ly in differen t societies, or in the sam e society over tim e, but in the
sam e society at the sam e tim e as parallel o r alternative social m odels, c o n ­
scio u sly elaborated a n d operative in particu lar social contexts” (19 8 9 :20 ).
H o w ever, like B arn e s (19 9 9 :6 7), I am read in g A rh em ’s eth n ograph y and
analysis as a c o n firm a tio n o f Tylor’s (18 8 9 :26 7, 258; as cited in B arn es
19 9 9 :6 7) ob servation th at endogam y is a p o licy o f isolation and that captu re
is incom patible w ith m atrilocal residence. C o n se q u en tly what is so in te r­
estin g in A rhem ’s co m p ara tive analysis is th at the M aku n a, w h o m a rry b y
captu re, in a w a y c h o o se (or are forced) to b eh ave like the Tukanos b y e m ­
p h asizing both v irilo c a lity and the unity o f co-residential agnates, in stead o f
stressing, like the o th e r M ak u n a, the alliance b o n d and the u n ity o f co -res­
idential affines re su ltin g in a cognatic, en d o gam o u s, and uxorilocal system .

Husband and wife

hunting with a

,»'•> v*;: v
t;* .V v - .

■..ST' Mit*.
p la te 6 Huaponi quehuemoni (We live well).
p la te 7 Father and son.
p la t e 8 M othering, singing, and weaving.
p la t e ii Pipeline along the via Auca.
p la te 12 Oil fields in the heart o f Huaorani land.
p la te 14 Dayuma and Moipa at a general meeting o f the Huaorani nation.

Eeme Festivals />/

Huaorani eem e d rin k in g festivals an d the ensuing “w ild ” m arriages are part
o f a sim ilar political strategy that places brother-brother alliances above
brother-sister ones, and favors v irilo c a lity over uxorilocality.
A further an d final point needs to be pursued in order to understand
H uaorani m arriage alliances fully; it concerns the practical and sym bolic
correlation b etw een m arriage form s an d subsistence activities, or, said dif­
ferently, the precise correlation b etw een endogam y, uxorilocality, and hunt­
ing-gathering, as opposed to exogam y, virilocality, and m an ioc cultivation.
It is rem arkable that while gathered fru its, and the ch on ta palm in particu­
lar, are associated w ith the m ost en d ogam o u s forms o f m arriage, m anioc
cultivation is stron gly related to m ore exogam ic form s o f m arriage ex­
change.25 W h e n com m en ting on the difficulties o f m arryin g outside the
huaom oni g ro u p , people occasionally referred to the fact that neither m an­
ioc gardens n o r alliances forged w ith distant relatives last, thus im plying
that, by co n trast, marriages celebrated w ith in the huaom on i grou p during
chonta p alm d rin k in g festivals are stable and lasting unions.
As discussed earlier in the b o ok , the H uaorani, in differen t cultivators
who open sm all gardens th roughou t th eir territory, regardless o f the sea­
son— and n o t every year— tend to keep m anioc as an exception al crop for
cerem onial purposes. T h e A m p h itry o n ic function o f ch on ta palm groves is
similar in m a n y w ays to that o f m a n io c gardens. But w hereas ch on ta palm
fruit celebrates the seasonal en coun ters o f endogam ous regional house
groups, m a n io c is used to forge n ew p o litical alliances. T h e tw o plants, with
their co ntrastive practical and sy m b o lic qualities, enable the fo rm ation , or
the renew al, o f very different types o f alliances. T h is differen ce in use is re­
lated to the fact that m anioc and ch o n ta palm grow at d ifferen t rates (see
Rival 1993). M a n io c , like all garden crop s, is fast-grow ing and short-lived.
C honta p a lm , lik e m ost tree fruit, com es from a slow -grow in g plan t whose
bounty turns the forest into a giv in g en vironm ent. M an io c, full o f vital en­
ergy, is h ig h ly productive and m ay be cultivated at an y tim e o f year, almost
anywhere. H o w ever, m anioc fails to reproduce in situ. N ever planted twice
in the sam e p lace, it migrates th ro u g h o u t the forest, at the m ercy o f hum an
alliances. C h o n ta palm groves, b y con trast, grow slow ly and con tin ue to
give fruit in the sam e place, year after year, as long as house groups care for
them. T h e slow -grow in g legacy o f past generations, the ch o n ta palm pro­
vides the p erfect fru it to drink an d celebrate entre nous.

Schools in the R ain Forest

had no idea w h en I first set o f f to do fieldw ork that state sch oolin g

I was to b eco m e a m ajor focus o f m y doctoral research. B u t the role o f

p rim ary sch o ols in producing cu ltu ral form s that seem ed to under­
mine the H u a o ra n i w a y o f life in creasingly caught m y attention an d forced
me to reflect o n the w ays in w hich in stitu tio n s structure social p raxis and
condition identity.
Between 1989 an d 19 9 1 I slept in m a n y houses and observed a large num ­
ber o f children g e ttin g ready to go to sch o o l. A t dawn (around 5:30 a . m . ) ,
when the sky is still d ark blue, people g ra d u a lly wake up, an d ch ildren do
their h om ew ork w h ile breakfast is b e in g cooked. T h ey read in a lo u d and
hesitant voice b y the light o f bits o f can d le, generally stan d in g in a tight
group around the b o o k holder seated o n a stool or in a h a m m o ck . T h en
they put their u n ifo rm s on or sim p ly give them a good shake i f th ey have
slept w ithou t u ndressing. A fter b reakfast, they sw iftly w a lk tow ard the
schoolhouse th ro u g h the forest and a lo n g paths criss-crossing b an an a and
manioc plan tation s. Trails around villag es, now built on flat lan d along
rivers, are h eavily used and alm ost alw ays m uddy. C h ild ren , w h o com e
from far aw ay an d w h o , after a w alk o f an h ou r o r more, arrive at the village
center w ith d irty legs, hastily rinse th em in puddles before p u ttin g their
school u niform s b ack on. H avin g ap p ro ach ed the school sh y ly an d quietly,
they go to the lavatories to w et and co m b their hair over the sin k . O n S u n ­
days they u n d ergo the civilizing ritual alo n g w ith adults w h o h ave com e for
the church service, w h ich is usually h eld in a classroom. O n th is occasion,
as they go th ro u gh the last grove before the airstrip, men, w o m e n , and chil­
dren wash th eir feet in puddles before p u ttin g on running sh o es o r plastic
sandals, and w o m e n slip on a new, fresh ly washed dress.
C hildren, w ith com bed w et hair an d legs, feet, and hands left sh in y by
the soapy w ater, lin e up in front o f the E cu adorian flag, w a itin g fo r the bell
to ring. It is 7:4 5 a . m . A t the sound o f the bell they fall in to fo rm separate
age and gender grou p s. T h e next fifteen m inutes are spent m o v in g their
erect bodies at the com m ands shou ted b y the head teacher: “ H e a d s to the
left! Turn to the right! A rm s up! D o w n ! T w o steps to the right!” a n d so forth.
As they enter th eir respective classroom s, they go to the shelves w h ere their
Schools in the Rain Forest 153

individual toothbrushes, plastic cu ps, a n d toothpaste lie u n der th eir nam e

tags. Sch oolw ork does not start before this last cleansing rite is p e rfo rm ed .
In fact, I often th ou gh t that all this b o d y care was w h at sch o o lw o rk w as re­
ally about.
M ath, reading, an d w riting lessons u n fo ld th roughou t the m o rn in g . T h e
teaching style is authoritarian. Teachers d iscip lin e and order, p e rh a p s usin g
coercion to reaffirm their cultural an d m o ra l superiority, even w h e n there is
no apparent need fo r it. As soon as H u a o ra n i children are p laced in the
schooling context, they becom e shy, q u ie t, an d reserved. T h e y sm ile a great
deal at their teachers but never in so len tly; rather, they seem to e n jo y being
at school and b ein g ordered about. I n ever calculated the p ercen tage o f
teaching tim e spent in uttering c o m m a n d s, b u t it m ust be h igh . T h in k in g
that schoolchildren understand better, a n d hence con form m o re readily, if
ordered in their ow n language, som e teach ers have invented a w h o le set o f
imperatives, such as p on am ai (‘stay w h e re y o u are’ , literally ‘d o n ’t c o m e ’) or
anam ai (‘don ’t ch at’) .1 Such expression s h ave n o m ean in g o u tsid e the
school context, as they represent n o n v e rn a cu la r developm ents b u ilt o n the
suffix -ram ai (here phonem ically realized as -n a m ai), w h ich does n o t n o r­
m ally express orders but is used to c o m m u n ica te verbally the w ish to in ­
volve som eone in the fulfillm ent o f o n e s needs (see chapter 5). R a th e r, they
pertain to a new school dialect expressin g p o w e r asym m etries. M ild co rp o ­
ral punishm ent is also a com m on p ra ctice. C h ild re n , w h o h ave n o t w o rk e d
well or have forgotten som ething, h a v e th eir ears o r hair p u lled . T h e y are
castigated fo r not p ayin g sufficient a tte n tio n o r fo r not listen in g to w h a t is
said. In the teachers’ m inds, such p ractices are necessary, fo r m e n ta l w o rk
and intellectual developm ent cannot o c c u r w ith o u t physical d isc ip lin e.
Schoolchildren are clearly not a fra id o f th eir teachers; to the co n trary,
they seem to en jo y the latter’s d isp lay o f authority. In this n o n co n fro n ta-
tional atm osphere, teachers order an d s m ilin g children co n fo rm , d eligh ted
to learn b y co m m an d and standardized task perform an ce, and eager to per­
form rote-learning exercises to acqu ire o r retain know ledge. VCTicre I saw
pedagogical devices contributing less to the acqu isition o f m ental sk ills than
to the creation o f a social context in w h ic h hierarchical co n tro l, a u th o rity
legitim ation, and collective norms tak e preceden ce, there w as as w e ll, as I
realize now, a definite w ill on the p art o f sch oolchild ren to co n sen t to their
“acculturation” an d to accept the p o w e r a n d kn ow led ge o f teachers.
In this chapter I discuss the fact th at H u a o ra n i villagers a c tiv e ly resist
and m anipulate form al schooling, an alien social form w hich th ey recognize
as a source o f pow er and whose in flu en ce th ey h ope to contain. T h e in d ig e­
i$4 Schools in the Rain Forest

nous n o tio n s o f “civilized” and “savage,” partly exp lo red in m y doctoral

w o rk (R iv a l 1992), are discussed here as part o f the tran sform ative process
b y w h ic h insiders are turned in to outsiders, and vice versa. Finally, I exam ­
in e the role schools p lay in social reproduction w ith in a context broader
than the o n e offered by classroom ethnographies o r discussions in ed u ca­
tion al sociology. I show th at the sociological im p lication s o f the cerem onial
c o m p le x discussed in the last chapter, in particular the lin k betw een m an ioc
c u ltiv a tio n and decreased m ob ility, increase o f scale, an d the redefinition
o f p ro d u c tio n and co n su m p tio n , equally apply to the con text o f form al
sch o o lin g .

Schooling, Identity, and Cultural Politics

B e fo re leavin g for the field, I had prepared m y s e lf to w o rk on eth n icity
and n ew form s o f ind igen ou s p olitics in the E cu ad o rian A m azo n . I was par­
tic u la rly interested in the p o litical integration o f th e “ H u ao ran i nation ali­
ty” w ith in the C O N F E N I A E (Confederación de las N acion alidades In d í­
genas d e la A m azonia E cu a to rian a , the C on fed eratio n o f the Indigenous
N a tio n a litie s o f the E cu ad o rian A m azon), which, in 19 8 7 , had launched an
in te rn atio n a l cam paign in su p p o rt o f the H uaorani p e o p le’s land rights and
rig h t to self-determ in ation. A s m entioned earlier, th e cam p aign resulted in
th eir b e in g granted the largest indigenous territory (9 6 0 ,0 0 0 hectares) in
E c u a d o r on A p ril 10 , 19 9 0.
W h ile I was in the field, the Ecuadorian ind igen o u s organizations in ­
crea sin g ly focused their activities on educational p o licie s, w h ich at the tim e
alm o st superseded land rights, self-governance, and co n tro l over natural re­
sources as the m ain arena fo r eth n ic activism (R ival 19 9 7 a ). Indian leaders
and e th n ic activists dedicated all their efforts to tra n sfo rm in g the percep­
tion o f m ass state ed u cation fo r Indians. From a p rim a ry m echanism to
ach ieve m odernization and b rin g about econom ic g ro w th , it was to becom e
the p rin c ip a l device for ach ievin g a national, bilin gu al, an d intercultural ed ­
u ca tio n fo r all. W hereas the fo rm er objective was to p ro vid e skilled laborers
and m o d ern citizens freedom from ignorance, b ack w ard religious beliefs,
an d d iv isiv e ethnic allegiances, the new goal was to valo rize Indian c o m ­
m u n itie s an d their cultures, an d to secure their co n tin u ity w ith in a m odern
and d evelo p ed , but also m u ltilin gu al and pluralistic, E cu a d o r.2
In th e H u aorani villages w h ere I worked, children sp en t h a lf their days in
sch o o l (159 days per calen d ar y ea r b y law), during w h ic h tim e they were ex ­
posed to h igh ly repetitive socialization drills. T h e se learn in g experiences
Schools in the Rain Forest itf

lasted th roughou t their p rim a ry education, that is, six or seven years. Peo­
ple v a lu e d the state o f b ein g civilized, and atten din g school was definitely
the w a y to becom e gente c iv iliz a d a ‘cultured, civilized p eo p le.’ A s a result,
habits created by school rou tin es w ere lived as a qu est fo r modernity.
'OCTiat struck me m ost at the tim e, however, w as that the newly intro­
du ced school institution w as creatin g around itse lf a co m m u n ity in which
social relations, subsistence activities, the very m o d e o f existence and iden­
tity w e re being restructured in w ays that u n derm in ed the reproduction o f
core lo cal, kin-based social fo rm s and cultural m ean in gs. Schools were not
ju st a b o u t education; they w ere sites o f struggle, w h ere the view that educa­
tion is necessary to h u m an progress, em ancipation , and democracy was
rein terpreted and where c o m p e tin g interests, valu es, and pow er relations
w ere expressed. M ore than m ere educational in stitu tio n s, schools formally
lin k ed H u aorani villages to the state, sim u ltan eously integrating nuclear
fam ilies an d individual citizen s w ith in the national society. Furthermore,
teachers w ere assum ing the role o f com m un ity leaders an d rural developers.
A s a result, school issues w ere inseparable from so cio eco n o m ic develop­
m en t (R ival 1992, chaps. 5, 6). S ch o o l villages, as I called them (i.e., schools
and the villages they created aro u n d them), were places w here relationships
betw een fam ily, com m un ity, an d the state were articu lated and negotiated.
T h is led m e to see in p rim ary ed u cation a central in stitu tio n o f the Ecuado­
rian state, and in education p o licies the reflection o f con flicts over political
representation , legitim acy, cu ltu ral identity, and nation alism .
O b se rv in g the introd uction o f state schools in H u a o ra n i settlements was
a fascin atin g exercise. I w as w itn essin g the penetration o f a W estern institu­
tion an d observing its regu larized practices in a social environm ent com ­
p lete ly different from that im agin ed by, for instance, A lthusser, Foucault, or
B o u rd ieu . T h e sim ple fact o f separatin g children, w h o w ere learning how to
read, w rite, and count, fro m the rest o f the com m u n ity, a m easure so alien
to H u a o ra n i ideas about socialization and the transm ission o f culture and
k n o w led ge, w ell illustrates the type o f clashes that exist betw een indigenous
and W estern types o f ed u catio n . I concluded that sch o o lch ild ren in villages
an d ch ildren raised in lo n gh o u ses in the forest acqu ire a different knowl­
edge o f th eir culture because the learning activities th ey engage in take place
in co n trastive environm ents (R iv a l 1996a; 1996c).
M y focu s was on the w ays th at culture is externalized fo r political ends, a
process w ell illustrated by the H u aorani experience o f state schooling as the
in stitu tio n al context o f cu ltu ral transm ission. C o n seq u en tly, rather than d i­
rectly addressing the issue o f m u lticu ltu ral education an d b ilingual curricu­
Schools in the Rain Forest

lum d esign , w h ich form the b u lk o f w ritin g on the role o f education in

Latin A m e ric a n societies, I lo o k e d at the functions fu lfille d b y schools in the
w ay ed u cato rs and psychologists d o , that is, as organ izatio n s that developed
h istorically to provide the su p p o rtin g environm ents necessary for the ac­
q u isition o f “ hard-to-learn,” decon textualized system s o f representations
that require deliberate and o ften lo n g and difficult lea rn in g , as well as fo r­
mal teach in g. B u t i f all ch ild ren b ecom e com petent adults by acquiring
m etarepresentational in fo rm a tio n , the cultural tran sm issio n o f such in fo r­
m ation o ccu rs in m any societies w ith o u t the help o f in stitution alized teach­
ing. S o I also analyzed the fo rm a l transm ission o f k n o w led g e as a political
process, sh o w in g that if, at th e n ation al level, p rim a ry schools sym bolize
ethnic resistance, at the local level th ey have pow ered, b y the force o f habit,
new so cial fo rm s that u n d erm in e ind igenou s k n o w led ge an d practices, and
restructure the H uaorani so cie ty an d sense o f identity.
A lth o u g h I do not disagree w ith this conclusion today, it n ow appears to
me as la c k in g an indigenous perspective. T h e m ech an ism s b y w hich the
school, a catalyzer o f m od ern influ ences articu latin g all kinds o f changes
into a co h eren t system, w h ic h then becom e institu tio n alized and repro­
duced as a persisting co n figu ra tio n , are fascinating in th eir ow n right. B u t
they sh o u ld n ot detract the an th ro p o lo gist from the task o f understanding
w hat is particu larly A m azon ian in the H uaorani’s eagerness to send their
children to a state school a n d settle m ore or less p erm an en tly around it.
R ath er th an b ein g unduly im p ressed b y the h egem on ic p o w er o f centralized
and im p erso n al institutions, I w o u ld pay m ore a tten tio n today to the fact
that local p eop le use schools as part o f their lon g-term strategies to ensure
the re p ro d u ctio n o f their k in d red s and alliance n etw orks.

Legacy o f the Sum m er Institute o f Linguistics

It is im p ossib le to un derstan d con tem porary H u a o ra n i society w ithou t
referring to the Sum m er In stitu te o f Linguistics (S IL ), w h ic h “pacified” the
H u ao ran i in the early 19 6 0 s. A s m ention ed in p re v io u s chapters, before
their “ p a cificatio n ” fo llo w in g the death o f five N o rth A m erican m issionar­
ies in 19 56 (R ival 1994; Stoll 19 8 2 ; W allis 1965), p eop le lived in highly dis­
persed, sem i-autarkic, and tra n sien t collective d w ellin gs located on hilltops
aw ay fro m rivers. Each o f these self-sufficient and disp ersed residential units
fo rm ed stro n g alliances w ith tw o o r three other on es, w h ile avoiding co n ­
tact w ith all others. In this w ay, allied houses form ed region al groups w ith ­
in w h ic h m ost marriages to o k place. A s noted in ch a p ter 3, H uaorani co n ­
Schools in the Rain Forest iff

ceptualization o f society-in -history is based on the co n trast betw een, and

the seq u ential repetition of, tim es o f w ar and times o f peace. W e have also
seen in ch apter 6 that “peace” is associated w ith larger an d m ore perm anent
longhouses o r longhouse clusters, as y o u n g m arried m en m a y choose to live
neo-locally o r virilocally, and h ou se grou ps tend to g ro w and settle togeth­
er instead o f fragmenting. Peace, stability, dem ograph ic increase, and in­
tensification o f both cultivation an d host-guest relations are therefore close­
ly inter-related.
T h e relocation from the m id -19 6 0 s to the m id -19 7 0 s o f a large p ro p o r­
tion o f the H uaorani po pu lation on the m ission-base in T ih u e n o corre­
sponded w ith the progressive in tro d u ctio n o f new gard en crop s, shotguns,
dogs, an d W estern medicine, as w ell as the intensive use o f air transport and
radio contacts. T h e fun d am en talist C hristians ve h em en tly advocated
m onogam y, sexual modesty, an d p rayin g, w hile stro n gly d isco u rag in g feasts,
chants, an d dancing. R elocated som etim es hundreds o f kilom eters aw ay
from th eir traditional lands, lo n g -feu d in g bands had n o ch o ice but to coex­
ist and interm arry. I f the “m ix in g ” o f traditionally an tago n istic groups and
the h igh n u m b er o f m onogam ou s m arriages betw een fo rm er enem ies put
an en d to w arfare, it also severely underm ined the lo n g established b o u n d ­
aries b etw een endogamous grou p s. T h e S IL did m ore th an trigger changes
in traditional alliances, subsistence activities, and residence patterns. It
h abituated converted H uaorani to lead a sedentary existence in co m m u n i­
ties u n der the guidance o f p o w e rfu l outsiders, w h o , th ro u g h their ability to
“attract” large flows o f free m an u factu red goods, w ere able to secure social
unity an d stability (Rival 19 9 2 :15 —22). Let us exam in e in m ore detail the
im pact o f m issionary w ork on social organization, su bsistence patterns, and
interethnic relations.
In the late 1950s and early 19 6 0 s R ach el Saint and E lizab eth E llio t (sister
and w ife , respectively, o f two M A F [M ission ary A viatio n Fellow ship] pilots
killed in 1956), accom panied b y a few H uaorani w o m e n , in clu d in g D ayu -
ma, w h o h ad left H uaorani lan d after a particularly in tense perio d o f inter­
nal w arfare, regularly made th eir w a y to a site on the river T ih u en o , w here
their cam p w as visited for in creasin gly longer periods b y D a y u m a ’s relatives
(Elliot 19 6 1). T h e site was m ore o r less h a lfw a y betw een an o ld settlem ent
o f D ay u m a ’s native group (the G u iq u etairi) and the Q u ic h u a village where
she had fo u n d refuge and lived for m an y years, and w h ere the m issionaries
were also based. A s most o f the m en had been killed, the G u iq u eta iri band
essentially com prised wom en an d children at the tim e.
A n ew com m unity, T ih u en o , em erged from these regular gatherings,
i$8 Schools in the R ain Forest

w h en D ayu m a fin a lly decided to stay an d live perm anently w ith A ca h u o ,

her m other, and G u iq u e ta , her m other’s brother, w hose son, Q u im o , she
m arried soon after. D a y u m a , however, d id n o t com e w ithout R a ch el Sain t
(her sister in “ peace after revenge” ), B e tty E llio t (the “w ido w ed spouse
refugee” ), and V alerie, the latter’s three-year-old daughter. To this day, the
H u ao ran i trace the legitim ate presence o f evangelical m issionaries w ith in
their com m u n ities to the lifelong relationship betw een D ayu m a, the H u a o ­
rani w om an w h o h ad lived for m any years w ith the cohuori— an d hence
taken for dead— an d the N o rth A m erican m ission ary Rachel S a in t, a rela­
tion ship sealed, as th ey see it, in the death o f their tw o brothers. D a y u m a ’s
b rother speared R a c h e l’s brother to death and was injured b y a bullet
R a ch el’s brother sh o t before dying. H e died from the in jury abo u t a m onth
I f it is w ith R a ch el th at D ayum a even tu ally cam e back to live a m o n g her
people, it is also w ith h er that she led the n ew C hristian co m m u n ity where
the rules, as su m m arized one day by Q u im o , w ere “no m ore k illin g , one
w ife only, foreigners’ fo o d eating.” For R ach el Sain t, the creation o f T i-
h uen o was a m issio n a ry victory, the triu m p h o f the C hristian co m m an d ,
“ T h o u shalt not k ill,” w h ic h she once expressed in the follow ing term s: “ For
us to be w illin g to live w ith them cut straigh t across the pattern o f revenge.
T h e y killed o u r m en . D ayu m a’s brother h ad killed m y brother. Y et w e were
askin g to, live w ith th em instead o f ta k in g revenge” (Stoll 1982:2.89). O f
course, such a versio n o f the events om its that her brother, too, had k illed, a
fact still vivid in H u a o ra n i memory. It also leaves out the fact th at the w el­
co m in g o f w o m en , w h o have wandered fo r m onths in the forest fo llo w in g
the k illin g o f th eir b roth ers, fathers, or h usb an d s, is com m on practice. Fur­
therm ore, in the H u a o ra n i understanding o f the sequence o f even ts, D a y u ­
m a cam e back to live w ith her m other in h er m other’s longhouse, w h ich is
cu sto m ary and leg itim a te, and her classificatory sister, N em o (R ach el Saint
w as nam ed after D a y u m a ’s younger and deceased sister), w as tolerated
m ain ly because o f th is special connection.
A fte r som e years o f h ap p y endogam ous livin g in T ih u en o , the G u iq u e-
tairi (the “c o m m u n ity o f believers,” as th ey w ere know n in m issio n ary cir­
cles) were jo in ed in 19 6 8 b y enemy ban ds, in particular, 10 4 B a ih u ari. T h is
rapprochem ent, w h ic h ’ Rachel Saint an d D ay u m a engineered and orches­
trated, follow ed con san gu in eal lines betw een m others and dau gh ters, on
the one hand, a n d betw een brothers an d sisters, on the o th er (Rival
19 9 2 :17 —19). N everth eless fear and the desire to leave T ih u en o so o n threat­
ened the stab ility a n d u n ity o f the C h ristian com m unity, now m ad e o f two
Schools in the Rain Forest 159

enem y bands o f equ al size. T h eir cohabitation w as fin ally secured u n der the
twin leadership o f R ach el and D ayum a, w h o celebrated num erous w e d ­
dings between new -com ers (Bahuairi) an d old -tim ers (G u iq u etairi), and
w h o urged everyone to fo llo w the two fu n d am en tal rules o f no m ore spear­
in g and m on ogam ou s m arriage. T h ese in te r-b an d w edding cerem onies
were celebrated both in the Christian w ay (w ith a church service an d the
consum ption o f special food , such as ca n n ed pears in syrup and w e d d in g
cakes) and accordin g to H uaorani tradition (w ith the bride and gro o m
seized by their relatives d u rin g a drinking cerem on y, seated in a h am m o ck ,
and tied together).
A s discussed in ch ap ter 6, mistrust and m u tu a l h ostility can o n ly be over­
com e by m arriage. In T ih u en o in-com ing m e n , an xious to legitim ize their
n ew residential affiliatio n , sought to m arry n e w spouses. M o n ogam y, h o w ­
ever, meant that B ah u a iri men and w o m en , i f already m arried, co u ld not
take another G u iq u e ta iri spouse to co n so lid ate their position w ith in the
new com m unity. It also m eant that y o u n g e r sisters, w ho were prevented
from m arrying th eir o ld e r sisters’ husbands, h ad little choice but to m arry
the latter’s you nger broth ers instead. B y the ea rly seventies T ih u en o ’s p o p u ­
lation had tripled. A s m a n y as 525 people w ere liv in g there in 19 73, o f w h ich
350 had arrived after 19 6 7 , w hile the n u m b er o f peop le still rem ain in g o u t­
side the Protectorate w as around 10 0 (Yost 19 7 9 :14 ) .3
T h rou gh conversation s w ith inform ants, I w as able to reconstruct life in
T ih u en o in the 19 7 0 s an d identify som e o f th e social problem s affectin g the
com m unity. W h ereas m issionaries especially rem em bered ep id em ic o u t­
breaks, m y H u ao ran i hosts tended to rem em b er fo o d shortages m ost v iv id ­
ly. H uaorani in fla tio n a ry demands for m issio n aid spiraled to the po in t
that, in 1976, the S I L d ecid ed to isolate the p o p u la tio n in the hope that such
a measure w ould cu rtail their increasing e c o n o m ic dependency (Yost 19 79 ).
T h is left D ayu m a an d R ach el, legitim ized ou tsid ers placed at the cen ter o f
the new C hristian society, in a difficult p o sitio n . T h e y had foun d ed a large
H uaorani settlem ent (three or four times larg er than traditional ones) b y at­
tracting and retain in g follow ers for about fifte en years through th eir a b ility
to control m arriage alliances and secure flo w s o f m anufactured good s and
fo o d stu ff (Stoll 19 82; K in gslan d 1985; Yost 19 7 9 ; 1981a).
W hen the S IL d evelo p m en t policy ch an ged an d w hen m issionary m ate­
rial wealth ended, m a n y G uiquetairi and P iy e m o iri left T ih u en o w ith their
Bahuairi and H u e p eiri allies to create n e w d isp ersed settlem ents th ro u g h ­
out the Protectorate. T h e y established clearings in forest sites that h ad been
occupied a few decades earlier by their “gran d p aren ts” (Rival 19 9 2 :18 —19).
[fio Schools in the Rain Forest

As village sites were ch osen according to w h eth er these were sites w h ere
Guiquetairi and P iyem oiri ascendants lived an d d ied , in-m arrying m en an d
women from th eT ip u tin i, Y asu n i, and C o n o n a c o region s found them selves
in the position o f refugees, incorporated guests, a n d follow ers o f those w h o ,
having “up-river” (iru m en ga) roots, form ed th e political core o f n ew ly
formed villages. Said d ifferen tly, the settlem ents fo u n d ed by G u iq u e ta iri
and Piyemoiri, who w ere the legitim ate in h ab itan ts o f this part o f H u a o ra n i
land, resulted from the in d u ced dislocation an d recom position o f p re c o n ­
tact bands. Th ey grew stro n g du rin g the 1980s, and m an y became “sch o o l
villages” in the 1990s. E q u ip p e d with radios co n n e cte d to the m ission h o s­
pital in Shell Mera and to the S IL headquarters in Q u ito , w ith airstrips an d
state schools, these villages, w h ich are now m a rk ed o n E cuador’s n atio n al
map, benefit from legal go vern m ent recogn ition.
W hen S IL missionaries progressively resum ed th eir activities in the n e w
settlements, they p roceed ed w ith extrem e ca u tio n , so that Bible tran slation
work4 would not lead to fo o d dependency. B u t the process o f sedentariza-
tion and riverine ad ap tation accelerated. T h e m issio n a ry unilateral g iv in g
o f gifts had started in 1955, w ith gifts d ropped fro m M A F aircrafts. A fte r
1982 manufactured go od s w ere no longer given a w a y but had to be p aid fo r
in cash or traded. H o w ever, and as shall b ecom e clear below, reciprocal ex ­
change never supplanted d e m a n d sharing. T h e H u a o ra n i have not ceased to
want to tap freely o f G o d ’s w ealth o r o f school riches.
A t first sight, these villag es appear sim ilar to m a n y A m azonian h u n ter-
horticulturist com m unities. H ow ever, to analyze them in purely ecological
and adaptive terms (see ch ap ter 4) w ould miss the fact that, built as th ey are
around airstrips, aw ay fro m hilltops, and in th e v ic in ity o f main rivers, th ey
correspond to a new fo rm o f adaptation to lo calized resources an d n ew
sources o f political c o n tro l, as well as to a sh ift fro m nanicabo sh a rin g to
host-guest relationships. W ith o u t d en ying th at adaptation to riverin e
biotopes and horticultural intensification h ave p layed an im portant role in
sustaining the viability o f relatively large and lastin g hum an settlem ents, I
wish to stress that H u a o ra n i sedentarized settlem en ts are rooted in p o litica l
processes, o f which the intensification o f ga rd en in g is just one o f the m a n i­
festations. Village life is n o t o n ly im possible b u t, m o re im portant, u n th in k ­
able, without the cu ltiva tio n o f crops to m ake th e food-drin ks that su stain
host-guest relations. G a rd e n s are not what keeps the village together, h o w ­
ever. Functioning airstrips, churches, and sch o ols are really w hat b in d s the
population together in larg er village agglom erates. W ith o u t their existence,
village life, peace, and exp an sion , w hich have to be created from w ith o u t,
Schools in the Rain Forest 16 1

w o u ld rapidly com e to an end , as factional sp lits, scissions, and w arfare,

cau sed by anxiety, fear, su spicion, hostility, o r in tern al conflicts, w o u ld
q u ick ly ensue.

W e Want Schools to Become C ivilized

M a n y H uaorani say th at the S IL “civilized” th e m .5 T h e S IL developed
vern acu lar literacy as a sign o f salvation, w h ic h m ean s a chance to b ecom e
C h ristia n , but also, a lth o u gh m ore im plicitly, to progress to a m odern , c iv ­
ilized state, which does n o t include speaking a fo reig n language o r a b a n ­
d o n in g one’s ethnic o r ig in .T o r the S IL , G o d has created people as eth n ical­
ly differen t and thus n atu rally speaking d iffere n t languages. B e co m in g a
C h ristia n , therefore, does n ot require the k in d o f cultu ral tran sform ation
p ro m o ted by C atholic b o ard in g schools. B elievers in G o d belong to essen­
tia lly different linguistic com m unities or cu ltu res. P re-C h ristian religious
beliefs, such as sham anic beliefs, however, are n o t seen as essential c o m p o ­
n ents o f a distinctive cu ltu re; they do not represen t the w o rk o f G o d b u t,
rather, the dark actions o f the devil. H ow ever, fo r m o st m issionaries an d
C h ristian ized H uaorani alike, to sustain a sed en tarized , village-based w a y o f
life is a condition sine qu a non for b ecom in g civilized . B eing civilized is
m o re o r less im plicitly associated w ith a sed en tary lifestyle, canoe.traveling,
a n d a physical appearance that cannot be read ily differen tiated from that o f
o th er Ecuadorian lo w lan d indigenous people. It is contrasted w ith a life o f
trekking, hunting, and gath erin g in the forest. T o those livin g in large m is­
sio n settlem ents, a civilized lifestyle is q u ick ly d etected in som eone’s p h y si­
cal appearance, as is a tradition al lifestyle as w e ll. T h e hairstyle, elon gated
ear lobes, chanting, an d nakedness o f those liv in g in the C o n on aco region
m ak e it obvious that th ey are not civilized.6
W h e n people tried to explain to m e w h y th ey w a n te d to have a sch o o l in
th eir village, they system atically invoked the n o tio n o f “civilization .” T h e y
w o u ld say in Spanish “p a ra ser civilizados' (to b e c o m e civilized), som etim es
sayin g , m ore precisely, “ N o w that w e are civilize d , o u r children m ust go to
s c h o o l.” B ut in the villag es where people h a d o p p o sed the creation o f a
sch o o l, no one invoked reasons such as, “ W e d o n o t w a n t to becom e c iv i­
lize d .” T h e y would say instead, “ We w ant to b e left alo n e, in peace, d o in g
o u r o w n things” or “ W e do not w ant to live w ith co h u o ri; teachers are co-
h u o ri” o r “ W e live w ell as w e do here; w e do n o t n eed schools, fo r th ey b rin g
tro u b le and division.” T w o anecdotes furth er c la rify w h at seemed to have
been m eant by civilizados.
IÓ2 Schools in the Rain Forest

I once w as lo o k in g through som e S I L biblical texts translated into H u ao­

rani, in w h ich the term nano p ein g a figured, which, as I had learned it,
meant “d escen d an t.” B ut various teenagers, who kn ew so m e Span ish , told
me that in fact it m eant “civilized .” I inferred from this that som e people
considered to d a y ’s youth to be civilized, and hence d ifferen t, lik e a new type
o f “others” (h u a ra n i). O n another occasion , a young H u a o ra n i leader told
me— h a lf in Span ish , h a lf in H u a o ra n i— that he w an ted to con tact the
Tagaeri (Tagae w as his father’s parallel cousin, i.e., b ro th er), so that they
would b ecom e mansos ‘tam ed’ an d civilizados ‘civilized.’ T h is he proposed
to achieve b y g iv in g them rice an d oats to eat. He added th at i f the Tagaeri
did not accept peaceful contact a n d co n tin u ed to behave w ro n g ly , they had
to leave H u a o ra n i land and go to live in Peru. Young H u a o ra n i often express
traditional in tergrou p disagreem ents over territorial rights in nationalist
terms, m o d e lin g their sense o f g ro u p id en tity and their u n d erstan d in g o f al­
terity on an ti-P eru vian sentim ents inculcated at school. F o r instance, they
may say, “ I am E cuadorian and free to go wherever I please. N o o n e can stop
me from h u n tin g , w orking, o r g o in g to such o r such a place. I h ave as much
right to be here as they do. I f th ey d o not accept this and are unhappy, they
must go a w a y and live w ith the P eru vian s” or “You’re not part o f us; you’re
behaving like a Peruvian.”
C iviliza do is clearly a com p lex, m u ltivocal term, syn th esizin g a whole
range o f e m ic an d historically evolved notions. On one level, an d as in other
parts o f A m a z o n ia ,7 a dual o p p o sitio n seems to operate betw een those w ho
have accepted contact and peacefuL village life and those w h o are still hid­
ing in the forest, do not cultivate gardens, and kill. O n an o th er level, the
opposition is betw een an old gen eration o f “ traditional” H u ao ran i and a
new gen eration o f young, m odern H u aoran i, whose “ H u ao ran in ess” is un­
certain an d o p en to question. M em b e rs o f the old gen eration o ften told me
that the b o d ies o f yo u n g H u ao ran i w ere bland and soft (rath er than tough
and stron g), fo r m onkey meat w as no longer the basis o f th eir diet; they
were eatin g to o m uch m anioc, oats, sugar, and rice. O ld e r H u ao ran i also
said that y o u n g people no longer k n ew h ow to w alk in the forest; that they
married “ lik e peccaries,” that is, ch o o sin g their ow n partn ers and running
o ff w ith th em (instead o f b eing p ro p erly married in a w e d d in g cerem ony
arranged b y th eir older kin); an d th at they had too m a n y ch ild ren , for they
refused to w a it fo r at least three chtonta palm seasons b etw een each preg­
nancy. O n y e t another level, h u a o ra n i stands for “civilized H u ao ran i,” in
opposition to auca, a Q u ich ua w o rd m eanin g “savage,” w h ic h m an y people
used in the 19 50 s and 1960s to refer to the H uaorani. T h is o p p o sitio n , also
Schools in the Rain Forest 163

found in fu n d am en tal evangelical discou rse, expresses the contrast existing

between th ose w h o are civilized a n d believe in the existence o f Huegongui
‘G o d -F ath er’ ,8 w h o orders not to kill and to have o n ly one spouse, and
those w h o are still savages and fo llo w the old rule.
A final ex a m p le illustrates the k e y role played by b o d y appearance in
m arking the difference between “civilized/m odern” and “savage/tradition-
al,” w hile sh o w in g how different ideas w o rk together in a w ay that makes it
difficult (an d perhaps unnecessary) to separate the various m eanings o f the
word c ivilizado . In the early 1980s the E cu adorian M in istry o f Education
supported a natio n al education p ro g ram fo r the developm ent o f vernacular
literacy called M A C A C (‘w arrior’ , in Q u ich u a), in w h ich about fifteen
H uaorani m e n participated. T h e p ro g ram , inspired by Freirean ideas about
social ju stice an d knowledge as a to o l fo r social change, aim ed at the psy­
chological an d cultural revalorization o f indigenous organizational forms,
traditional kn ow led ge, and social practices, understood to constitute a valid
model fo r so cial progress. T h e m e n I interview ed viv id ly rem em bered the
M A C A C p e rio d , in particular th eir literacy training in the capital city,
Q uito, w h ere som e o f them, stron g en o u gh to support the cold weather, the
new ro u tines, and the long stays a w a y fro m hom e, lived fo r tw o and a h alf
years. A p a rt fro m learning Spanish fo rm a lly and train in g to becom e “ liter­
acy leaders” (promotores de alfabetización ), their m ain task w as to participate
in the design o f a “prereader” fo r H u a o ra n i schools, lavish ly illustrated with
drawings representing “precontact” n aked H uaorani liv in g in longhouses,
sleeping in h am m ocks, and h u n tin g w ith blow guns.9 T h e purpose o f these
images w as to cue dialogues and o th er form s o f prereading oral activity, iso­
late shapes a n d form s to inspire first p rew ritin g graphic exercises and pre-
m athem atical classifications an d o rd erin g s, and ensure the fast transfer o f
literacy skills from Huaorani to S p an ish . T h o se w ho still had copies o f these
experim ental textbooks did not lik e them and showed them to me on ly re­
luctantly. T h e y did not like b ein g represented naked, as it m ade them feel
ashamed (nos d a vergüenza). O n e ad d ed : “ It’s alright to rem em ber the old
days, I su p p o se, but we are c iv iliz e d n o w , w e do not lo ok lik e these drawings;
these d raw in gs w ere not made b y u s, w e o n ly helped w ith the translations.”

Civilized Bodies in the M ak in g

Teachers represent a pow erful civilizin g and m od ern izin g force, albeit
more o u t o f conviction than co e rcio n . A s both products and agents o f the
national ed u catio n system, they are the w illin g instrum ents o f its further
IÓ4 Schools in the Rain Forest

application. T h e y firm ly believe in fo rm a l education as a so u rce o f social

m obility, and as a k ey instrum ent fo r the im provem ent o f in d igen o u s life
conditions. T ra in e d as “ frontier teachers” (maestros fronterizos) , their d u ty is
to (i) live in th e com m u nities w here th ey w o rk ; (2) teach ch ild re n (and, if
they have tim e an d sufficient resources, adults as well) basic n u m erical and
literacy skills; a n d (3) w ork for the co m m u n ities’ developm ent an d progress.
Like in m an y th ird -w o rld rural areas, th eir task is not lim ite d to g iv in g in­
struction in th e classroom ; they m u st ed u cate integrally, p ro m o tin g n ew so­
cial habits a n d agricultural techniques, w h ile creating a n ew fram e o f m ind.
In this p a rticu la r context, they also represent the state and execu te sim ple
governm ent fu n c tio n s (Rival 19 9 2 :2 3 6 —38).
C o n vin ce d th at H uaorani ch ildren do n ot do well at sch o o l because o f
their d ep rivatio n o f proper food, h yg ien e, and medical atten tio n , teachers
w ork w ith go v e rn m e n t agencies and nongovernm en tal o rgan izatio n s to o b ­
tain m edicin e, cloth es, soap, tooth b ru sh es, toothpaste, an d “ nutritious”
food (rice, p o w d ere d m ilk, po rrid ge, an d sugar) for the co m m u n ities in
which they teach . In their view, the H u a o ra n i’s very low p ro ficie n cy in lit­
eracy and n u m erica l ability is caused b y a lack o f proper d isc ip lin e, concen­
tration, and ad eq u ate socialization. It is to rem edy this situ atio n that they
dedicate a large p art o f their teach ing tim e to reform ing the diet, hygiene,
and general b eh a v io r o f their pupils.
H uaorani p aren ts and children fu lly agree w ith the teachers th at to be ed­
ucated is to b e m o d ern , and to be m o d ern implies the co n su m p tio n o f a
w hole range’o f im p orted , m an u factu red goods. It is not p o ssib le to separate
the learning o f n ew skills from the lea rn in g o f a new identity, so o n e be­
comes ed u cated , m od ern , and civilized all at once. O ne ca n n o t learn h ow to
read, w rite, a n d co u n t w ithout h avin g access to school u n ifo rm s, bookcas­
es, school d in n e rs, and toothpaste. S o i f schooled H u ao ran i are keen to eat
food provid ed b y the state (or by oil com p an ies, m issions, an d so forth), it
is not so m u c h because they have b een convinced by th eir sch ool lessons
that it is m o re n u tritiou s or that th ey need it because, lik e all In dian s— at
least acco rd in g to governm ent agencies— they are en d em ically un dern our­
ished; rather, it is because such fo o d m akes their bodies w h ite r, fatter, and
softer, that is, m o d ern . I f they th rive on reading aloud th eir lessons in hy­
giene and c iv ic behavior, w hich tell th em “ be very polite w ith y o u r teachers
and com rad es, love and respect y o u r teach er as i f he w ere y o u r father, raise
your hand b efo re speaking, dress w ith care, do not th ro w papers on the
floor, do n o t m asticate chew ing g u m , and so o n ,” it is because such habits
and p erfo rm an ces turn their bodies in to m odern and civilized o n es.” In ­
Schools in the Rain Forest 165

deed the stories th ey learn to read in th eir prim ers and readers a n d to copy
down in their notebooks about m oth ers an d little girls clean in g the house,
boys taking show ers, children b ru sh in g th eir teeth, or d o cto rs w arn in g
against flies, rats, and other infectious pests do turn them in to E cu ad o rian
citizens. T h e y are fascinated by the h y g ie n e and civility advocated in school
and eager to ap p ly to their own b od ies n ew form s o f b o d y care, foreign
foods, clothing, and courteous m an n ers. A s a result, the tran sfo rm atio n
they routinely undergo as pupils is m o re p h ysical than spiritual. F ro m their
vantage poin t, sch oolin g represents the collective dram atization--- o r cere­
monial p erform an ce--- o f their m ode o f in corp o ratin g m od ern citizenship,
that is, this new social form they call ser civilizados. T h is is p a rticu la rly clear
in youths w h o have com pleted th eir p rim a ry education an d still hang
around the sch ool, show ing off, w ith a h in t o f nostalgia, their d ecisive way
o f crossing the airstrip while looking stra ig h t ahead and h o ld in g a pen and
a notebook in the characteristic m a n n er o f literates.
T h e school routines evoked h ere,10 an d their obsessive co n cern w ith the
body and cleanliness, m ay call for a F o u cau ld ia n analysis o f the em b o d i­
ment o f pow er an d o f the in d ivid u als historical con stitu tion th ro u g h the
institutional dom in ation o f the b o d y a n d its sexuality. B ut, as I h ave com e
to realize, such an approach fails to a cco u n t fo r the fact that the adults and
children w hose lives I shared are w illin g subjects perfectly at ease w ith their
new experiences and zealously en gaged in their b od ily tran sfo rm atio n . I f
there is sym b olic violence in this p a rticu la r case, it does not reside in the ab­
solute and coercive pow er o f carceral organ izatio n s that repress in d ivid u a l­
ity, brutalize bodies, and control m in d s (R iva l 1992:252). N o r can the desire
to become m od ern be interpreted as resu ltin g purely from in d o ctrin a tio n or
other form s o f ideological coercion. T h e transform ations caused b y contact
and resulting from the dialectical in te rp la y betw een en d o gen o u s an d ex­
ogenous forces fo rm an integral part o f so ciety and, as such, shed ligh t on
historical dyn am ics. “ Huaoraniness” is n ot lived in a vacu u m b u t in the
context o f sh iftin g definitions o f w h at b e in g h um an m eans. T h e d esire to be
modern and civilized, that is, to be lik e a n y other national o n e m ig h t meet
in the streets o f a n y jungle town, relegates cultural au th en ticity to the
shrinking realm s o f autarkic privacy, b o th in the hom e and in the forest.
M ore im p ortan t, there was so m eth in g u n iq u ely A m azo n ian in the way
my H uaorani hosts and friends were le a rn in g to be m odern b y m em orizin g
textbook lessons on hygiene, execu tin g com m an d s such as “ B ru sh your
teeth before en tering the classroom !” a n d , above all, im itatin g the teachers,
something I did n o t com prehend fu lly b efo re reading recent an alyses o f the
i6 6 Schools in the Rain Forest

co n tin u o u s fabrication o f the b o d y in this part o f the w o rld .11 Rather than
b ein g spiritu ally con q u ered , in the sense discussed b y A lthusser or B o u r-
d ieu , H u ao ran i sch oolch ild ren were actively assim ilatin g the bodily p ra c­
tices o f teachers and o th er nationals, and w orking at incorporating m od ern
d isp osition s through rote learn in g and other repetitive school exercises that
n egate individuality. In th is sense, they were acting as the authors o f th eir
o w n acculturation, u n d erstoo d as the acquisition o f another body, w ith
n ew affects and capacities. Literacy, which to them transform ed the b o d y
b efo re altering the m in d , w as ju st one such capacity alo n g w ith m any o th ­
ers, fo r exam ple, k n o w in g novel ways o f speaking, eatin g, w alking, dressing,
b u ild in g houses, and so fo rth .

Schools as Public Centers o f Wealth

T h e re is no p erform an ce w ith o u t a stage, and it is in the school c o m ­
p o u n d , w h ich com prises th e teachers’ living quarters, that m odern d isp osi­
tio n s are rehearsed and p erfo rm ed . T h e school co m p o u n d , unquestionably
m o d e rn , constitutes the v illa g e ’s center (Rival 1992:2.26). It often com prises
the o n ly buildings w ith a concrete floor, plank w alls, and corrugated iro n
ro o f. T h e canteen is e q u ip p ed w ith m odern kitchenw are in sufficient q u a n ­
tity to prepare and serve “ p ro p er meals” daily to the children, occasion ally
to the parents after a w o rk in g party, and two o r three times a year to
c o m p e tin g football team s an d festival guests. In all villages, behind each
sch o o l is an experim ental plantation where ch ild ren and their paren ts
cu ltiva te introduced crop s such as coffee, sugar can e, and coconut trees. A
vast area has generally b een deforested around the school com pound an d
the airstrip, both to ease aircraft landings and tak e-o ffs, and to satisfy th e
teach ers’ am bition to “ u rb an ize the forest.” T h e ir con cern is to transm ute
w ild p eop le into civilized ones, and, by rem oving fro m villages all traces o f
fo rest cover and anim al life, transform w ild spaces in to m odern en viro n ­
m en ts. In m arked con trast w ith H uaorani cultural understandings, teach ­
ers co n sid er the forest a n o n h u m a n space detrim ental to the ideal o f u rb an ­
ity a n d civility.
V illag ers o f all ages in b righ t and clean clothes e n jo y m eeting up near th e
sch o o l after classes, a space w h ere they can com e to geth er as members o f the
sam e com m un ity, regardless o f their kin conn ection s. T h e y like p eep in g
th ro u g h the w in dow s at the m odern and precious item s stored in the w a re ­
h o u se o r in the headm aster’s office. Absorbed in the dom esticity o f the to l­
erated coh uori and ta m in g them selves into b ecom in g like them, they listen
Schools in the Rain Forest 167

to the teachers’ tropical m u sic. O r they take a lo n g , hard look at the m od­
ern am enities, which, they kn ow , are also fo u n d in the ju n gle towns sur­
ro u n d in g H uaorani land (T en a, M isah u alli, or C o c a ). O n e day, so they have
been told, they, too, w ill h ave electricity, ru n n in g w ater, show ers, and toilets
in th eir ow n houses.12
M u c h active learning thus goes on around the sch ool before, during, and
after n orm al school h ou rs, w h en off-d uty teachers (getting ready in the
m o rn in g s or relaxing in the evenings) becom e in v o lu n ta ry masters eagerly
m o d eled b y unwanted ap p ren tices (children, y o u th s, o r passing villagers).
T h e teachers’ ways o f w a k in g u p and dressing, w ash in g , co o k in g and eating,
p lay in g the guitar, con versin g, reading, and listen in g to the radio are scruti­
nized, endlessly com m ented o n , an d even parodied. T h e sam e occurs when­
ever a grou p o f visitin g o u tsid ers (tourists, traders, governm ent officials,
m issionaries, and so forth) is tem porarily lodged in a classroom . T h is eager­
ness to im itate and use o n e ’s b o d y in the m anner o f foreigners observed in
their hom es partly explains w h y the schooling o f H u a o ra n i children does
n ot in volve reform ing th eir nature through the im p o sitio n o f disciplined
o b edience. C hildren, like ad u lts, are natural co n fo rm ists w hen it comes to
e m b o d y in g the biocultural processes that m ake up the dom esticity o f m od­
ern others.
T h e re is, as already n o ted , an oth er side to the H u a o ra n i’s cultural inter­
est in transform ation and ch an ge as a bodily process: the consum ption o f
a vast range o f goods that b rin gs about the m aterialization o f modernity
and activates the in c o rp o ratin g powers o f civilized , tow n-dw elling de­
m ean ors. T h e m anufactured g o o d s necessary fo r the em bodied perform ­
ance o f m odernity are thus valu e d as an essential, m aterial com ponent o f
the n e w m odern identity. T h e y are also valued fo r the w a y they are acquired,
w h ich should be through the equal and in d ividu al distribu tion o f aid or
th ro u g h tapping sources o f n atural abundance, such as the material wealth
associated w ith oil co m p an ies. In fact, m an u factu red goods are obtained
fro m tw o m ain sources, oil com p an ies (Rival 2 0 0 0 ) an d schools, with new
flo w s o f exchange co n n ectin g the H uaorani p o p u latio n , the teachers, and
vario u s outside agencies— govern m en t institutions, ch arity organizations,
and corp oration s.13
V illag es clustered aro u n d a sch ool co m poun d an d an airstrip are marked
on the m ap o f Ecuador, lin k ed to m ajor towns b y m o d ern systems o f com ­
m u n icatio n and transport (contact-radios and airplan es), and are much
m ore lik ely to be included in vario u s aid distribu tion netw orks, w ith teach­
ers serv in g as interm ediaries. G o o d s obtained fro m ch arity or relief organi­
¡68 Schools in the Rain Forest

zations are p u b licly distributed in schools, generally o n S u n d ays, after the

w eekly m e etin g o f the Parent T each er A ssociation (P T A ). T h e practice o f
p reparin g parcels for each h o u seh o ld and h an d in g th em to household
heads, c o m m o n in Ecuador, has n ever been accepted b y the H u aorani pop­
u latio n , w h o has dem anded th at identical parcels be m ad e fo r every villager,
regardless o f age (the rule ap p lies to children old e n o u g h to engage au­
to n o m o u sly in the food quest, th at is, at least fo u r y ears o ld ), status, or sex.
T h e parcels are publicly d istrib u ted b y the teachers, fo llo w in g a roll call.
B u t, as ch a rity sources are n eith er sufficient nor regu lar en ou gh to satisfy
the n ew d e m a n d , m any teach ers, w h o require that th eir pupils com e to
school a d eq u a tely dressed an d eq u ip p ed , have develo p ed th eir ow n trading
business. I have analyzed elsew here (Rival 19 9 2:27 8 —81) the continuous
co n flicts betw een the clashin g m o ral econom ies o f teach ers, w h o advocate
reciprocal exchange, and the H u a o ra n i, w h o try to im p o se dem an d sharing.

O il C a m p s R iches
Q u ite clearly, H uaorani villag ers w o u ld like sch ools to b e, like oil cam ps,
patches o f abu ndance in the forest. N o rth A m erican a n d E u ro p ean oil co m ­
pan ies, w h ic h have w orked so u th o f the N ap o R iv e r sin ce the late 19 70 s,
have resign ed themselves to the fact that native forest dw ellers form an in ­
tegral p a rt o f their industrial en viro n m en t. T h e y treat H u a o ra n i villages as
a d d itio n al cam ps to be serviced and provisioned in th e exact sam e w ay as
any o th e r w o rk in g site. B y d e liv e rin g food a n d e q u ip m e n t to villages w h en ­
ever th e y operate w ithin H u a o ra n i territory, co m p an ies h op e to avoid the
lo o tin g o f th eir forest cam ps an d the occupation o f th eir w ell sites. D u rin g
the se ism ic su rvey program s o f 1989 and 1990, I saw h elicopters fly w eekly
to e v e ry villag e and deliver w h a t w as usually given to o il w orkers: rations o f
fo od , p ots, axes, gardening to o ls, tents, m edicine, a n d so forth. T h e goods,
w ra p p e d in individual b u n d les, w ere pu b licly d istrib u ted b y com pan y em ­
ployees an d schoolteachers. T h e s e gifts w ere extrem ely appreciated, and the
d o n ated fo o d (rice, oats, an d sugar) was trad itio n ally prepared, either as
“fo o d d rin k ” (bequi) or “d r y fo o d ” (quengui).
C a m p v isitin g blends sm o o th ly w ith in foragin g activities and nom adic
m o vem en ts, and H uaorani w o rk ers are frequently v isite d b y their relatives.
G iv e n the prohibitive cost o f h elicopter freight, c a m p eq u ip m en t (tents,
plates, co o k in g pots, b lan kets, contain ers, etc.), a n d seism ic survey eq u ip­
m en t (electric w ire, tubes, iro n sheets, etc.) are s im p ly left behind, m ost
o ften fo r the H u ao ran is exclu sive use. T h e discarded g e ar is used as raw m a­
Schools in the Rain Forest 169

terials fro m the forest in the m a k in g o f a w ide range o f tradition al artifacts.

D u r in g fieldw ork, I saw h am m ock s m ade o f electric w ire, n ylon cord used
as vin es in a num ber o f w ays, an d festive crow ns m ad e o f plastic bands in ­
stead o f palm leaves. A n d w h ere b o d y designs m ad e w ith vegetable pig­
m ents h ad traditionally o rn am en ted legs, arm s, o r sho u lders, com pan y
nam es w ere now tattooed. G o o d s and foods acqu ired th rough direct tap­
pin g o f n ew sources o f wealth in the forest w hile trek kin g, h u n tin g , or gath­
ering an d those received as gifts in bundles b rou ght w e e k ly b y h elico pter14
eq u ally fit the econom y o f p rocu rem en t discussed in chapters 4 and 5.
S o m etim es oil camps and w ell sites becom e the o b jects o f fierce disputes
a m o n g villages. For exam ple, w h en the platform fo r P etroC an ad a’s ex­
p lo rato ry well was built in the sprin g o f 1989, abou t on e h u n d red H uaorani
from fo u r villages (D ayuno, H u a m o n o , Z a p in o , and G o lo n d rin a ) were em ­
p loyed fo r two months. Fierce com petition developed betw een the four v il­
lages, each claim ing exclusive rights over the well site an d the goods it co n ­
tained. E ach wanted the c o m p a n y to give it food , cloth es, tools, outboard
motors^ an d chain saws in exchange for the right to w o rk on H u aorani land
w ith o u t disruption or disturbance. B u t villagers co u ld n o t agree either on
w h o h ad the legitimate right to m ake such a d em an d o r to share the bene­
fits e q u a lly am ong the four settlem ents. Traditional lo n gh o u ses w ere d iv id ­
ed b y the sam e hostility and aggressive com petitiven ess w h en they had to
redefine their hunting territories and their rights to access the peach palm
groves left b y ascendants.
It is far more-difficult, i f n ot im possible, to turn sch ools in to im personal
sources o f unlim ited supplies o f useful things. S ch oolteach ers, w h o can give
un ilaterally only a lim ited a m o u n t o f goods, can n o t be treated as natural
patches o f w ealth. Villagers nevertheless elude the d em an d s o f teachers and
try to evad e reciprocating the goods and services th ey receive from them .
P reten d in g that they do not u n derstan d the rules o f reciprocal exchange be­
tween trade partners, they are constan tly trying to redefin e trade and recip­
rocal exchange as “unilateral g iv in g away” through v isitin g an d asking for
gifts w h ic h they do not reciprocate (R ival 19 9 2:28 1—8 4 ).15 U nsurprisingly,
therefore, teachers involved in com m ercial dealings w ith H u ao ran i villagers
are n o t m ak in g worthw hile profits. A n g ry and fru strated at w h at they take
as the H u ao ran i’s lack o f h osp itality and gratitude, th ey dem an d that ch il­
dren b rin g to school daily con trib u tion s o f m anioc, p lan ta in , and firew ood,
but w ith little success. M a n y en d up practicing d em an d sh arin g themselves.
For ex a m p le, they visit parents, w h o have just com e b ack fro m h un tin g, and
w ait stu b b o rn ly until they are fin ally offered a share. O n late afternoons and
i jo Schools in the R ain Forest

Sun d ays, they to u r m o re distant n eighb orh ood clusters asking fo r fruit,
gam e m eat, or b u n c h e s o f plantain. W h en they, in turn, are visited b y v il­
lagers asking fo r fish in g h ooks, m edicine, o r sugar, they make a p o in t o f ask­
in g fo r food in ex ch a n g e. It is through this continuous process o f n eg o tia­
tion that the teachers progressively force H u ao ran i villagers in to accep tin g
reciprocal exch an ge an d distinguishing tw o categories o f people: th ose w h o
are at school an d d o n o t have the time to gro w fo od and those w h o c u lti­
vate, fish, and h u n t an d m ust provide fo r the w h o le village co m m u n ity ,
n o n -k in included.

F east G ivers, C on su m ers, a n d P ro d u cers

It is du rin g sch o o l festivals, which co m b in e old and new w ays o f feastin g
and have n ow rep laced th e traditional eem e feasts discussed in the last ch ap ­
ter, w here teachers c o m e closest to b eing im personal donors. S c h o o l festi­
vals usually last th ree d ays, blend school an d H uaorani cultures, a n d in volve
as m uch p lan n in g a n d food surplus p ro d u ctio n as the old d r in k in g cere­
m on ies, i f not m o re (R iva l 1992:241—48). T h e clash o f values b ecom es o b v i­
ous du rin g festival preparations. W hereas teachers em phasize h ard w o rk
an d prod uction , v illag ers try to deny the n eed for extra w ork; th ey p refer to
rejoice at the th o u g h t o f consum ing n atu rally abundant food. A w o m an
once said to a teach er: “ T h is is you r feast, this is the teachers’ feast, y o u are
the ow ner o f the feast. W e shall follow y o u , w e shall help you and co n trib u te
as m uch m anioc, p la n ta in , and bananas as w ill please you. T h e d a y y o u stop
liv in g w ith us, th ere w ill no longer be a sch o o l celebration.” H e r speech re­
flected the local u n d erstan d in g that sch ool festivals are “o w n e d ” b y the
teachers, very m u c h in the same w ay as m an ioc feasts are o w n e d b y the
ahuene couples w h o organize them. Teachers live in, and h en ce co n tro l,
the school c o m p o u n d s w here such festivals take place, and w h ere m a n y in ­
vited villagers sleep an d eat for three days. T h e y also own and co n tro l the
distribution o f the fo o d offered during the celebrations, w hatever its origin
(gam e from m en w h o received cartridges to hunt; garden p ro d u c e from
m others o f sch o o lc h ild re n ; rice, sugar, and oats from governm ent a u th o ri­
ties). Teachers as feast givers are subjected to the host-guest p o litics dis­
cussed in the p re v io u s chapter. V ociferous H u aorani guests c o m p la in , for
instance, that fo o d an d drinks are b ein g served in pitiful and rid icu lo u sly
m eager qu an tities. I f villagers donate gard en produce, game, an d fish m ore
o r less w illin g ly fo r th e organization o f school festivals, as th ey w o u ld to
their ow n ahu en e, they, at all other tim es, resist having to su pply the teach­
Schools in the Rain Forest 17 1

ers w ith food an d artifacts. In short, th ey refuse the econom y created

aroun d the school c o m p o u n d , which is based on difference and scarcity,
productive w ork, an d reciprocal exchange.
W hereas villagers have no difficulty accep tin g new sources o f w ealth ,
as lo n g as no a d d ition al labor is involved, th ey resent having to w o rk and
produce substantially m ore than they trad ition ally do (Rival 19 9 2:26 4 —66)
and actively resist the intensification o f agricultu re. T h ro u gh its w o rk in g s
and its ideology, the sch ool institutionalizes the fam ily as part o f its civiliz­
in g project and d ivid es the village p o p u lation in to children and paren ts,
that is, into consu m ers and producers (R iva l 19 9 2:282—84). C h ild ren are
those w ho w ork m e n tally all day long and co n su m e the products o f the
labor o f their parents, w h o , defined on sch ool registers as campesinos ‘fa rm ­
ers’ , becom e responsible fo r the village’s agricu ltu ral production. T h is n ew
social division o f labor, exp licitly presented as ration al and progressive, is re­
inforced in the teach ings dedicated to ch a n g in g the children’s con ception s
o f w o rk, prod uctio n , an d gender. C h ild ren are taught, for exam ple, that
agriculture (the creation o f abundance and w elfare through hard labor) rep­
resents an evolu tion ary stage superior to that o f h u n tin g and gathering, and
that i f their parents in te n sify horticultural p ro d u ctio n , food will be m ore
nutritious and varied . Furtherm ore, sch ools are built and m ain tain ed
through considerable labor, and parents are expected to offer their lab o r fo r
the com m on good. A ll this leads villagers to co m p lain that sch oolin g re­
m oves children fro m subsistence activities an d leads to the creation o f social
Teachers (especially Q u ich u a teachers) ad vo cate the virtues o f hard w o rk
for one’s fam ily and co m m u n ity, and shun n ot o n ly laziness but also form s
o f w orking that are, in th eir view, perform ed too leisurely.16 There is an o b ­
vious link between the teachers’ w ork eth ic an d their preference fo r trans­
fo rm in g part o f the forest into som ething else, su ch as cultivated fields and
housing com pounds. R elatively large and p erm an en t settlements su p p o rt­
ed by the prod uction o f substantial food su rpluses (especially m anioc) for
dom estic and ritual co n su m p tio n and for trade require hard w ork. F lu ao -
rani thinking abou t h u m an w o rk has already been discussed in chapters 4
and 5. Rather than “w o rk ” as w e understand it, w e find in this cultural c o n ­
text a whole range o f creative activities co rresp o n d in g to the specific m a k ­
ing o f particular o b jects an d the doing o f p articu lar tasks. T h e m oral c o n ­
notations attached to such doing and m a k in g is that it sh o u ld be
undertaken w ith pleasure and, consequently, that individuals sh o u ld
choose freely w h en a n d h o w to w ork (R ival 19 9 8 ^ 73 ).
IJ2 Schools in the Rain Forest

Trekking Aw ay from School Villages

A s soon as school h olid ay s start, or w h en ever school is closed because
teachers are ill or absent, the village fragm ents, as people q uickly ab an d o n
the deserted center to resu m e their favorite a ctivity : trekking in the forest.
A n d i f fo r som e reason the school ceases to fu n c tio n , the various n eig h b o r­
h o o d clusters form in g a villag e progressively sh ift aw ay from one another,
w ith each kindred fo rm in g a separate en d ogam o u s nexus w ith little o r no
co n ta ct w ith others. W h e n school stops fu n c tio n in g , the center w ith ers
aw ay, an d the village b ecom es deserted. T h e clo sin g dow n o f a sch ool, like
the sch ool festival, thus h igh ligh ts som eth ing th at does not appear as clear­
ly in the d aily fu n ctio n in g o f a school: that it keep s people together as lo n g
as w ealth pours out o f it.
F o r H uaorani parents, w h o are forced to b ec o m e sedentary agricu ltu ral­
ists an d to produce fo o d fo r children w ho are n o lo n ger autonom ous fo o d
p ro d u cers, village life an d sch oolin g are, b y d e fin itio n , “an ti-trek k in g.” A
sch ool cannot fun ction unless enough ch ild ren (at least 24 school-aged
ch ildren) attend classes regularly. O n average, a m in im u m o f 150 to 17 0
ad u lts, w ith at least 56 sch ool-aged children, are needed for a school to be
via b le . T h e n teachers b eco m e upset i f children m iss o n e day o f school o r ar­
rive late. Parents are th erefore strongly en cou raged to build their houses as
clo se as possible to the sch ool and the airstrip. T h is is why, I was told, p e o ­
ple h ave a small h ouse rig h t b y the school an d a b igger one along the river
o r on the top o f a n eigh b o rin g hill. H ow ever, d u rin g term time, people ca n ­
n o t go to their “real” h ou se as often as they w ish ; n o r can they go o n lo n g
treks. Teachers usually do n ot m in d the m en’s h u n tin g or fishing ex p e d i­
tio n s, especially w h en stocks o f sm oked gam e an d dried fish run low, an d
m a y actu ally order th em to go. Sim ilarly, th ey accep t that fathers and y o u n g
m en jo in the oil crew s to earn som e cash, p a rticu la rly when these m en ’s
fam ilies run high debts w ith the teachers’ sh o p s. H ow ever, they stro n g ly
disco u rage m others a n d children to stay a w a y fro m the village fo r a n y
len gth o f time. Finally, life in school villages h in d ers trekking as there is al­
w ays so m uch to do, fo r exam ple, m aintain a n d repair the school b u ild in gs,
keep the grass short o n the airstrip, p laygro u n d , an d sports fields, o r c u lti­
vate crops to feed the ch ildren , the teachers, a n d the teachers’ fam ilies, as
w e ll as prepare food fo r school dinners an d sch o o l festivals. T h is is w h y
p e o p le often confided to m e, w ith som e resen tm en t, that sch oolin g w as
fo rc in g them to live in the village. T h e y resented sedentarization, b lam ed it
o n schools, and reverted w ith pleasure and fa c ility to a trekking m ode o f life
Schools in the Rain Forest 173

w h en ever school was clo sed fo r holidays o r as so o n as the teachers w ere no

lo n ger around.
In one particular village, for exam ple, th ere h a d been no teacher fo r
several m onths. I saw fam ilies abandon th eir h ou ses tem po rarily and d is­
ap p ear on long treks in the forest. O thers re b u ilt th eir houses several k ilo ­
m etres aw ay from the sch ool com pound. T h e o n ly o ccu p ied house left in
the gh ost village was that o f the village ch ief, a fierce w o m a n w h o had lived
fo r som e years in a ju n g le tow n before m o v in g b a c k to H u ao ran i lan d and
m a rry in g a classificatory cross-cousin. She w as le ft alo n e w ith her h u sb an d
a n d children, with the arduous task o f k e e p in g th e p u b lic buildings an d
airstrip in good con d ition despite the heat, h ig h h u m id ity , and lack o f an y
lab o r force. She was, as expected, furious w ith h e r fo llo w ers for h avin g go n e
T h e school had been closed because she h a d h a d th e teachers rem oved
fro m “ her” school. T h e y h ad , she felt, ch allen g ed h er authority, so she h ad
co m p lain ed about them to the local ed u cation b o ard . T h e real reason, ap ­
parently, was that the headm aster had in fu riate d h er b y refusing to m a rry
h er you n ger daughter, an d hence becom e h er so n -in -law . N e w teachers
w ere finally appointed, b u t on ly h alf the villagers retu rn ed to live in the v il­
lage. W h ile some had jo in e d close relatives liv in g in settlem ents w here th eir
ch ild ren had been allow ed to enroll in the lo cal sch o o l, others had d ecid ed
to form a splinter co m m u n ity downriver. In the e n d , the village, w h ich had
o n e o f the most developed infrastructures a n d o ld est schools, was c o m ­
p lete ly abandoned. E ven the chief, her h u sb an d , an d h er children en d ed up
leavin g. A s far as I know , they are now liv in g a lo n g a n ew oil road in the
T ip u tin i, a region w here the grandparents o f the c h ie f’s husband had on ce
p lan ted chonta palm s an d held their d rin k in g cerem o n ies. A lth o u gh ex­
treme-, the closure o f this school well illustrates the dyn am ics that trigger
sedentarization in villages w ith schools, te m p o ra ry trek kin g du ring sch ool
closu re, and the eventual dissolution o f a c o m m u n ity that has lost its
w ealth-generating center.
O n ly as long as teachers are present in villag es is sedentary life m a in ­
tain ed through the d a ily practice o f sen d in g ch ild re n to school. V illag ers
w o u ld like teachers to turn the schools into so u rces o f natural abun dan ce,
th at is, centers o f w ealth that could be tap p ed o n d e m a n d , w ithout req uir­
in g an yth in g in return. W h en teachers are a w a y fo r a n y length o f tim e, the
s u p p ly o f m anufactured goods and food s sto p s alm o st instantaneously.
W h e n children are n o t in the classroom s, th e sch o o l ceases to “p ro d u ce”
w ealth , and village life ceases altogether. H o u se g ro u p s m ove back to th eir
1^4 Schools in the Rain Forest

hunting g ro u n d s, ve ry m uch as they tradition ally did once the ch o n ta palm

fruiting season w as over. W hen a sch ool closes for good, the villag e loses the
center a ro u n d w h ic h houses and gardens have slowly drifted o ver the years;
instead, it frag m en ts in various h ou seh o ld clusters. W ith n o teach er and no
school, n ot o n ly does village life co m e to an end but so does m od ern life.
T h e school d eserted , the village ab an d o n ed , and the p erfo rm an ce over, vil­
lagers trek b a c k to the forest.17
T h e ce n trip e tal pow er o f the fu n c tio n in g school is better understood
w ith reference to the airstrip, w h ich in m a n y ways fulfills the sam e m agnet­
ic fun ction , en h a n ced b y its historical an d present co n n ection w ith gift giv­
in g and g o o d s su p p lyin g. In fact, m a n y settlements, in clu d in g those w ith ­
out p rim ary sch o o ls, have an airstrip. A n d the building o f a new , enlarged
landing strip con stitu tes one o f the top dem ands put forw ard b y delegations
sent to lo b b y transnational com panies and other aid donors.
T h e aerial m a p draw n by a village leader on the blackboard d u rin g a P T A
m eeting to represen t his village after the installation o f ru n n in g w ater and
electricity in all the houses illustrates his vision o f an extern al g iv in g force
becom ing th e center. W ith its large exten sions o f grassy lan d s an d cultivat­
ed gardens, an d three main n eigh b orh ood clusters separated b y a river and
a w ood, the v illa g e in question loo ked like an y other school villag e in H u ao ­
rani land. B u t th e village endow ed w ith amenities draw n o n the board was
sim ilar in its la y o u t to a Yan om am i sh ab ono or to an y o th e r A m azon ian
house-village w h ere peripheral d o m estic units surround a central plaza
(Rivière 19 9 5 ). O n his map the houses had been m oved side b y side all
around the airstrip , the reason b ein g th at it was not possible to d eliver water
and electricity to houses dispersed in the forest.
Was it fo rtu ito u s that the leader’s dream village was m ade o f three con­
centric circles, the outerm ost circle m ad e o f cultivated lan d en cro ach in g on
the forest, the in n erm ost circle m ade o f dom estic houses, an d in-betw een
the school c o m p o u n d sharing w ith the airstrip the sacred center? Needless
to say, the u to p ia n vision was never realized, Huaorani social life b ein g an­
tithetical to aggregation based on substantial work in vestm en t. H uaorani
co m m u n ities b ecom e real villages, a n d rem ain villages, o n ly i f they are es­
tablished a ro u n d a geographical, social, political, and cu ltu ral center that
produces w e a lth w ith o u t any actual h u m an labor. Sch ools a n d airstrips ful­
fill this fu n c tio n o n ly partially, an d are seasonally or p erm an en tly aban­
doned w h e n e v e r th ey stop b ecom in g a source o f natural abu n dan ce or
when o u tsid e rs, failin g to “deliver the good s,” start d e m a n d in g w o rk and
food fro m villag ers.
Schools in the Rain Forest 175

The N aturalization o f Im personal Donors

T h is ch apter has exam ined the role played by form al sch o o lin g in the
transform ation o f H uaorani society fro m h unting, gathering, and trekking
bands to sem i-sed en tary villages. In m a n y w ays, this process o f transform a­
tion began w ith the S IL , w hose activities preceded state ed u catio n by at
least two decades. O n e reason w h y local grou ps have been pushed to accept
state schools an d a sedentary existence is that the “m ixed” co m m u n ities cre­
ated by the S I L co u ld not be m ain tain ed w ith o u t the centripetal force exer­
cised by ou tsid ers such as teachers, w h o alone can low er tensions and
sm ooth an im osities between old faction s. A second reason is that, w illin g or
unw illing, p e o p le feel that they are n o w p art o f a w ider so ciety o f m odern
citizens. T h e sch o o l provides the p u b lic an d secure arena p eop le need to re­
hearse and p e rfo rm m odern ways o f b ein g. T h ird , people h o p e that schools
w ill provide th em unilaterally w ith all the goods and fo o d stu ff they need to
becom e “civ iliz e d .” It is difficult to im a g in e an institution other than the
prim ary sch ools created in H u aorani lan d d u rin g the 1980s an d the 1990s
that could h ave filled these objectives better.
State sch ools are m odern centers th at “ civilize people.” T h e y institution­
alize village life arou n d a public d o m ain an d constitute villages as political
and p ro d u ctive com m unities by tran sfo rm in g their m em bers in to parents
and children, prod ucers and consum ers, as lo n g as they can fu n ctio n as cen­
ters o f w ealth . B u t schools cannot en tirely displace cen trifugal tendencies
that are related to the follow ing truth: w hereas H uaorani peop le express a
strong desire fo r an identity that requires the perform ance o f civilized be­
havior and the consu m ption o f a w id e range o f Western go o d s, they do not
see hard w o rk , su rplus production, agricu ltu re, and reciprocal exchange as
essential co m p o n en ts o f a m odern identity. T h ro u gh o u t H u ao ran i land, the
population, h ab itu ated to a sedentary existence in com m u n ities organized
around airstrips and led by pow erful outsiders whose a b ility to “attract”
large flow s o f free m anufactured go o d s secures unity and stability, tries to
reproduce w ith oil engineers, tourist guides, teachers, sh o p owners, and
colonists the d em and-sh aring relation it so successfully im p osed on the S IL
for so m an y years.
Statem ents lik e “ the school is w h a t keeps us together” b u t “w ith the chil­
dren goin g to sch o o l, w e no longer trek” an d “schools give us rice and sugar
to eat, m o sq u ito nets to sleep under, soap to wash ourselves, and so forth”
illustrate the H u a o ra n i s am bivalent qu est fo r civilized life, a quest they are
prepared to em b a rk on only in the presence o f teachers. T eachers in Huao-
ij6 Schools in the Rain Forest

rani land are u su ally single males o f in d igen ou s extraction, w h o involve

themselves fu lly in co m m u n ity affairs w h erever they teach a n d live. In a
way, they have all the qualities o f an id eal son-in-law . H ow ever, in practice,
villagers w ant th em to rem ain p o ten tia l sons-in-law , for w ere th ey to marry,
they w ould be in corporated w ithin o n e particu lar nanicabo, a n d hence no
longer keeping p eop le together by b e lo n g in g to the w hole co m m u n ity . Fur­
thermore, and w ith o u t, I hope, ap p earin g to p u sh the argu m en t too far, I
suggest that it is in th eir quality o f virtu a l brothers (for w om en ) o r brothers-
in-law (for m en) that teachers are ch arged to socialize the v illa g e ’s children
and to turn them into “others” w h o can then integrate the n a tio n al society.
In this sense, teachers, like N o rth A m e ric a n m issionaries w h o se m ale kin
were killed b y the H u aoran i w ith w h o m th ey chose to live, are accepted as
not-so-distant outsiders, that is, as poten tial affines (R iviè re 1984:56;
Viveiros de C astro an d Fausto 1993).
E conom ic co n flicts between villag ers an d teachers reveal the fo rm ers
wish that sch ools, like com panies p ro sp e ctin g fo r oil, fu n c tio n as im per­
sonal, reliable, an d w ealth y institu tion s external to society. In this sense,
schools are stru ctu rally sim ilar to the feasth ou se o f m anioc feast givers, w h o
ritually transform them selves into trees fru itin g abun dan tly fo r th eir bird­
like guests to go rg e on, in the h op e o f gain in g additional in -m arryin g
spouses and n ew follow ers. Schools, like festivals in w hich m a n io c is drunk
with the enem y, seem to prom ise u n ity an d lavish generosity, b u t the objec­
tive is to obtain allegiance and p ro d u ctive w o rk in exchange, th at is, to re­
place the co n su m p tio n o f wealth extern al to the living c o m m u n ity w ith
wealth prod u ced b y the living. A b u n d a n c e is created artificially as a m eans
to attract and in corpo rate, that is, to tran sform unrelated o thers in to allies
and followers. S ch o o ls m ake the w h o le system deriving fro m m a n io c feasts
viable by restructu rin g tim e and space in a n ew geopolitical co n te x t charac­
terized by co n tact and encapsulation. In a H uaorani settlem ent socially re­
organized by a sch o o l, the outside is in corporated and m ade in to a center
that acquires a degree o f durability. H o w eve r, and as I have tried to show in
this chapter, sch ools cannot easily b e tu rn ed into sources o f n atural abun­
dance. T h e increase in scale characteristic o f school villages fu n c tio n in g like
extended and overlastin g feasthouses is in h eren tly unstable. T h e ritual at­
tempt toward con cen tration, sed en tarization , intensification, an d h orticul­
ture cannot be solid ified for long before the trek is resumed.

Prey at the C en ter

h u an e recently told me: “ H u a o ra n i people have alw ays w an ted

A to go farther . . . beyond a n d a w a y . . . T h is is no lo n ger possible.

W e have to stay where w e liv e , u n til death com es fo r us, u n til w e
depart this w o rld .” These words w ere u shered as he hastily u n p ack ed the
forty or so boxes o f clothes, canned tu n a, b iscu its, sugar, flour, o il, an d b o t­
tles o f soft drin ks he and his you ng b ro th ers an d cousins had p u rch ased in
the least distant ju n g le town a few days b efo re, an d b rought b ack after a per­
ilous and exh au stin g jou rney by tru ck an d canoe, and on fo ot th ro u g h the
forest. T h e U .S . $ 8 0 0 recently left to the c o m m u n ity by an eco to u rism tour
operator had been just enough to co v e r the purchase o f m an u factu red
goods and the transport costs. A h u a n e’s w o rd s stayed w ith m e, u n in tellig i­
ble, for a lo n g tim e. Young H uaorani m e n an d w om en are tra v elin g today
m uch m ore than w hen I started field w o rk in the late 1980s. M a n y spend
their time go in g back and forth betw een villages and ju n gle to w n s, and
m any travel farther away than before, th ro u g h the highlands o f E cu ad o r, on
the coast, an d even abroad, w ithout m e n tio n in g the increasing n u m b er o f
those w ho are settling perm anently o u tsid e H u aorani land.
W hat A h u an e im plicitly m eant, it n o w daw ns on m e, is th at su ch dis­
placem ents are individual journeys, n o t co llective treks in search o f sources
o f abundance, m u tu ally accessed. T o d a y n atural abundance is celeb rated in
new centers o f wealth and new su pra-lo cal political in stitution s, the school
villages m arked on the m ap o f E cu ador, w h ere outside goods m a y be tem ­
porarily accum ulated and consum ed. It is too early to say w h eth er m o b ility
through the landscape has acquired n ew m eanin gs. B u t fo r the y o u n g gen ­
erations at least, space is no longer so cia lly constitu ted w ith exclu sive refer­
ence to abandon ed materiality. A s b o u n d aries betw een h um an cu ltu re and
m aterial n ature are shifting, the m ateriality im p arted by the circu m scrib in g
national society seem s to take precedence o ver the forest and its em bedd ed
I have tried to show in this book th at the H u aorani have lived as h igh ly
m obile forest hunters and gatherers in the heart o f the E cu ad o rian A m azo n
for hundreds o f years. Form ing interstitial, n om adic, and autarkic enclaves
between the great Zaparo, Shuar, an d T u kan oan nations o f the U p per
i/ S Prey at the Center

M a ra n o n , they have develo p ed a historical consciousness characterized b y a

fierce refu sal o f contact, trad e, and exchange, as w e ll as avoidance o f in ­
tereth n ic political alliances o r insertion in regional n etw orks. H avin g given
e v id e n ce th at large tracks o f H u a o ra n i land are an th ro p o gen ic and that h o r­
ticu ltu re is econom ically m argin al (garden products are m ain ly cultivated
fo r th e preparation o f cerem o n ial beverages), I w en t on to discuss the n o ­
tio n o f n atural abundance. I explain ed that slow -gro w in g plants, fruit trees,
in p articu la r, such as the c h o n ta palm (Bactrisgasipaes), are perceived as the
legacy o f past generations w h o se bounty turns the forest into a giving e n v i­
ro n m e n t. I then endeavored to d raw correspondences betw een the H u a o -
ran i’s p a rticu la r m ode o f su bsistence and use o f the forest and their system
o f so cial alliances based on a strict closure o f the H u ao ran i social w orld o n to
itself, as w ell as on the partial isolation and m utual avo idan ce o f huaom oni
‘w e -p e o p le ’ clusters. It is in th is context that I have analyzed trekking, n o t
as a m u n d a n e activity relatin g to the pragmatics o f subsistence and to en vi­
ro n m e n tal o r historical a d a p tation but, rather, as a fu n d am en tal w ay o f re­
p ro d u c in g society th rough tim e.
T h e h istorical ecology p arad igm (Balée 1998) has fram ed m y analysis o f
H u a o ra n i trekking, w h ich I o ffe r as a contribution to its further d evelo p ­
m en t. A s discussed in ch apters 1 and 2, Balée has tak en m axim ization th eo ­
rists an d o th er cultural ecologists to task for u n d erstan d in g adaptation to
the e n viro n m en t in p u rely evolu tio n ary terms, and fo r failin g to recognize
th at a p a rt o f the A m azon F o rest to w hich indigenous people have adapted
is n o t p ristin e, w ild , or n atu ral but, rather, is. an en viro n m en t h istorically
tra n sfo rm e d b y hum an p ro d u c tiv e and con sum ptive activities. For B alée,
h isto rica l factors explain th e presence o f foraging a n d trekking popu lation s
in A m a z o n ia . H is w o rk w ith a’ n um ber o f Brazilian m argin al groups has led
h im to con clu d e that the fifteenth-century E uropean invasion caused not
o n ly th e dem ograph ic co llap se o f lowland South A m e rica n populations b u t
also th eir m assive cultural d evo lu tion , with su rvivin g societies adapting to
b io c u ltu ra l forests resu lting fro m thé dynam ic interactio n between h isto ry
an d e c o lo g y (Balée 19 9 2). O n this basis, he has pu t fo rw a rd the hypothesis
th at fo rag ers can survive w ith o u t cultivated crops, th an ks to a few essential
n o n d o m esticated resources ( palm s and other fru it trees) that are in fact the
p ro d u c t o f the activities o f an cien t populations.
A lth o u g h Balée’s m od el o f foraging bands adapted to disturbed forests
p a rtly illu m in ates som e aspects o f H uaorani trekking, the notion o f cu ltu r­
al loss fails to explain the cu ltu ral logic em bedded w ith in their unique sys­
tem o f resource use that d rastically reduces dependence o n cultivated crop s.
Prey at the Center 179

L ik e the Brazilian groups discussed by Balée, the H u a o ra n i have chosen to

flee fro m coercive powers an d to adopt a w an d erin g w a y o f life. A lth ough
w e w ill p rob ab ly never k n o w w h eth er they descend fro m sedentarized and
sophisticated cultivators, there is little doubt that th ey have wandered for
centuries and have always d ep en d ed more on fo rag in g than on agriculture.
T h e ir w a y o f life and their lo n g coexistence w ith m ore pow erful, stratified,
and co m p lex agricultural societies cannot be exp lain ed w ith a m odel that
aim s to account for the progressive loss o f cu ltivation b y m arginal tribes a f ­
fected by disease, d ep op u lation , and warfare.
I fin d the devolution thesis em braced by Balée—-a n d m an y others— u n ­
satisfacto ry on a num ber o f accou nts. T h e first p ro b lem w ith this m ode o f
exp lan atio n is that historical causes are always p ostcon q u est, never precon­
quest, historical causes. In o th e r w ords, devolution to a sim pler, less hierar­
ch ical social form and to a m o re nom adic, less agriculture-dependent w ay
o f life is envisaged only as the ou tcom e o f E uropean expansion. T h at there
m a y h ave been processes o f regression from sed entism to nom adism and
loss o f cultigens before the S p an ish C on quest is sim p ly n o t envisaged. C o n ­
seq u en tly intensive, sed en tary agriculture is prem ised as b ein g logically and
h istorically anterior to the fo rm s o f trekking an d fo rag in g observed today.
A n d w hereas the sequence foraging/sedentary h orticu ltu re is naturalized as
evolu tion ary, and hence, in a sense, de-historicized, the sequence sedentary
h orticu ltu re/foragin g is in terpreted as having been in d u ced by the histori­
cal en coun ter between E u ro p e and prehistorical A m a z o n ia .1 Like m uch
postco lon ial h istorico-an thropological w riting, w h ic h assum es that history
started w ith the Spaniards’ arrival, and, by w ay o f consequence, that con ­
tem p o rary Am azonian societies necessarily result fro m ethnogenesis (H ill
19 9 6 ), this position im poverishes the actual d iversity o f historical trajecto­
ries in the region. It has been m y contention that n o m ad ism and a hunting-
g ath erin g w ay o f life need n o t b e postcolonial, fo r th ey m a y represent cu l­
tural and political choices alread y present in p recon q u est values and social
form s.
Furtherm ore, the d evo lu tion thesis fails to exp lain w h y both sedentarized
h orticu ltu re (as practiced, fo r exam ple, by Q u ic h u a com m unities) and
tre k k in g (as practiced, fo r in stance, by H uaorani bands) represent success­
ful adaptations to the U p p er N a p o ecology. I h ave n oted that the exploita­
tion o f w ild resources th rou gh h un tin g and gath erin g, although qualita­
tively different from the exp lo itatio n o f dom esticates through cultivation,
nevertheless affects species distribu tion and, con seq uen tly, system atically
m o d ifies the environm ent (Yen 1989).2 Finally, trekkers w h o continue to
180 Prey at the Center

rely on non cu ltivated food d evelo p forest-m anagem ent practices that lead
to greater concentrations o f favo re d resources w ith in specific areas. In so
doing, th ey do transform nature, albeit in a distinctive w ay, for their tech­
niques are not geared to in tensify prod uction outputs.
A n oth er, related problem w ith the devolution thesis is that it overem ­
phasizes the evolution ary sign ifican ce o f dom estication an d treats swidden
horticulture as a hom ogeneous an d em pirical category, ig n o rin g the im por­
tance o f subsistence modes in d e fin in g group identity. Foragers and seden-
tarized cu ltivators have developed radically different m eans o f associating
with plan ts and alternative w a y s o f b eing in the w o rld and know ing it.
Rather than a continuum o f in te n sity o f resource ex p lo ita tio n , foraging and
cu ltivation constitute alternative strategies o f resource procurem ent and
modes o f practical and in tentional engagem ent w ith th eir environm ent (In­
gold 19 9 6 ). T h is significant d ifferen ce does m atter in term s o f identity for­
m ation, as w ell as in terms o f in tereth n ic relations, g iv en that, on the w hole,
gardeners feel m orally su perior to foragers and trekkers (R ival 19 9 9 ^ 8 2).
Last b u t not least, the d e vo lu tion thesis entirely ign ores the fact that the
H u aorani d o n ot experience o r represent their lack o f in tensive horticulture
as a regression to a presocial state .3 T h e ir lesser reliance o n garden products
results fro m specific representations o f the w orld and fro m political choices
predating the conquest. A s a resu lt, they contrast trek k in g and village life as
two d ifferen t types o f sociality, lin k ed to different styles o f feasting and cel­
ebrating natural abundance. M o reo ver, they practice a n d represent trekking
not o n ly as a conscious form o f adaptation to a landscape m odified by past
occupants but also as a form o f p rotection against predators. A n im al preda­
tion an d p lan t fructification th u s becom e the contrastive sources o f cultur­
al representations that m ediate the relation between en viron m en tal change
and h istorical events. A cen tral thesis o f this b o ok is th at a good under­
stan d in g o f H uaorani h istory a n d o f its relationship w ith the natural histo­
ry o f the forest requires not o n ly the exam ination o f historiographic docu ­
m ents, as defended by p o stco lo n ial historians, an d a botanical study o f
forest d yn am ics, as so cogen tly argu ed b y Balee, but also an analysis o f their
religious ideas about life an d d eath . For it is w ith su ch ideas in their m inds
that th ey h ave becom e ecological an d historical agents o f change.
W e saw in chapter 3 that the H u a o ra n i think about h isto ry as a succession
o f tim es o f peace and expan sion follow ed b y times o f w a r and destruction,
and that v io len t death, a source o f discontinuity that creates history, is basic
to their representations o f th e past. T h e bipartite so cial w orld com prises
two k in d s o f beings, the h u a o ra n i (true people) and the cohuori (non-H uao-
Prey at the Center 18 1

rani o r can n ib al others); not o n ly are huaorani o n to lo g ica lly differen t from
coh u ori, b u t they are the latte rs prey. From the H u a o ra n i p o in t o f view,
which is that o f the victim , co h u o ri socially reproduce b y p re y in g on huao­
rani an d appropriating their life force, w hile huaorani c o n tin u o u sly try to
escape b ein g consum ed by these nu m erou s and p o w e rfu l predators. B y re­
sisting the dom inant social order, fleeing, and d efen d in g th eir political au­
tonom y, h uaorani prey avoid b ec o m in g coh u ori-like p red ato rs, an d, as a re­
sult, p red ation remains unilateral. F u lly accepting th eir o w n finitude, the
H u aorani h ave defended their co llective existence, as w e ll as th eir in d ivid­
ual lives, b y m aintaining a separate identity. I f they h ave in v e n ted m ore co­
huori adversaries than those actu ally existin g in their so cial environ m en t
(Erikson 19 9 3), they have done so not w ith the p u rp o se o f in corporating
them in to th eir society but, on the con trary, in order to flee fro m them and
survive w ith o u t needing a n yth in g from the cohuori w o rld . H u ao ran i peo­
ple trek to escape predation, n ot to perpetrate it.4
O ral narratives also m en tion that the “true p e o p le” have survived
through th eir continuous effort to circum scribe irru p tio n s o f internal fury
and h o m icid al drives, which p e rio d ically have b rou ght the H u a o ra n i nation
to the b rin k o f extinction and again st w h ich they feel po w erless, even i f the
taking o f lives internally differs fro m external predation . A s discussed in
chapter 3 an d subsequently, k illin g produces internal d ifferen ce in the sense
that the killer, his body overtaken b y rage, turns, in the eyes o f his fellow co­
residents, fro m insider to outsider, w h ile his victim , i f b u ried alive and
dying w ith on e o f his children, d eparts, in the eyes o f his h ou se grou p, as a
true insider, a father, and a cogn ate. In this sense, the fath er-c h ild sacrifice
is p ro d u ctive o f kinship m em ory. M o re generally, the v io le n tly k illed are re­
m em bered as individuals w hose deaths are there to be aven ged . Further, as
I show ed in chapter 6, internal k illin g is also represented as b ein g caused by
the p o litical w ill o f men w h o, in their attem pt to co n tro l the com position
and localizatio n o f residential u n its, refuse their peaceful in sertio n as uxor-
ial h usb an d s and fathers. I have co n c lu d ed , on this basis, th at H u ao ran i so­
ciety is n o t characterized by the ap p ro p riatio n o f alien su b jectivities but, in ­
stead, b y the internal fabrication o f otherness as a co m p le m e n ta ry process
to the p ro d u ctio n o f selfsameness.
T h e d istrib u tion and m o b ility o f the H uaorani p o p u la tio n , as I have
argued in this book, is linked as m u ch to the con tin u ed existence o f long-
houses, forest groves, and seasonal rituals o f congregation as it is to preda­
tion and destruction. Unlike the Parakana, am ong w h o m n o m ad ism , for-
aging, an d w arfare are closely in terrelated phenom ena (Fau sto 1998:327!?.),
182 Prey at the Center

H uaorani trekking ca n n o t be solely attributed to cannibal beliefs th at in trin ­

sically cause cen trifu gal dynamics. T h e H u ao ran i sharing e co n o m y is not
based on the devalu atio n o f productive lab or but, rather, on th e radical
attem pt to elim inate reciprocity. Society is structured by dem an d sharin g,
by reciprocal exchange confined to m arriage alliances between tw o lo n g-
houses united by cross-sex sibling ties, and b y daily transactions b etw een
husbands and w ives. W ith in the longhouse, co-residents are b o th p ro d u c­
ers and consum ers. T h e ir creative power, w h ich derives from p ro d u ctio n
and consum ption, is n eith er denied nor devalued. O n the contrary, it is seen
as prolonging its effects beyond death, fo r the forest, far from' b e in g a p ris­
tine environm ent extern al to society, exists as the product o f the p ro d u ctiv e
and consum ptive activities o f past peoples. B oth the forest an d society
are regenerated th ro u g h the business o f o rd in ary life, w ith o u t need for
accum ulation, su rp lu s, stealing, or the transfer o f life energy fro m one
sphere to another. T h e H uaorani vision o f life is not lim ited fertility b u t nat­
ural abundance.
In opposition to the notion o f devolution, w h ich brings to m in d dero ga­
tory images o f p arasitic travelers livin g o f f the residues o f lo n g extin ct,
w ealth-producing cultures, the notion o f natural abundance encapsulates
the essential m ean in g o f adaptation to a g iv in g environm ent or the fact that
the forest is en rich ed w ith useful natural resources thanks to past h u m a n ac­
tivity or, in other w o rd s, that living H u ao ran i use vegetational fo rm s that
they have inherited fro m the past. I have exam ined this m ultifaceted n otion
in som e detail in ch ap ter 4 and summarize here the m ost im p o rtan t aspects.
Natural abu n dan ce first implies that so cia lly recognized w o rk o ccu rs in
the past and not in the present; that is, w o rk affects and shapes n atu re ret­
rospectively. T h e p la n t w orld , made in the past, produces in the present,
and past social activities becom e nature. B y tapping wealth created in the
past, the living d o w n p la y productive w o rk an d investm ent in the lo n g term .
Concom itantly, p e op le take part in radical form s o f sharing, such as sh arin g
on demand, a fo rm o f exchange bound en tirely in the present, w ith n o past
or future. F u rth erm ore, w o rk is a life-sustainin g activity rather th an p ro ­
ductive labor in the M a rx ist sense o f the term . W ork, w hich in this co n text
means “to do” or “ to m ake” in order to sustain life, is an all-en co m p assin g
category; it includes dom estic activities an d “ relations o f existence” th at w e
w ould classify as co n su m p tive. T h e forest, kn ow n to include b oth b io p h y s­
ical and cultural elem en ts that are in relation w ith each other, is p ro d u ced
through dw elling an d liv in g .5 Rather than m an agin g scarcity an d shortages,
people encourage resources to grow in places w here they can be tran sfo rm ed
Prey at the Center 18 }

through sharing in to m ore fructifying ve g eta tio n . T h e H uaorani political

econom y, based on im m ed iate con su m ption , blu rs all distinctions betw een
exchange and use, an d tunes social life to the fact that hum an co n su m ptio n
form s a part o f the reprod u ctive cycle o f plan ts.
In addition to the fact that w ork, a life-su sta in in g activity, plays a central,
albeit retrospective, role in creating and re-creatin g the forest, and in ad d i­
tion to the fact that past w o rk is read th rough its m aterial effect on the flora
(and indirectly on a n im a l life), there is also the idea that useful perennial
species encountered in forest groves are clo sely associated w ith o n e s fore­
bears. In other w o rd s, past hum an activity in the landscape is alw ays read as
indicative o f the p resence o f long-dead k in fo lk . T im e , far from being an ab­
stract property, is em b ed d ed in space an d co n cretely represented b y the
forested biotope (see R iv ière 1984:99). T h e an thropom orp hization o f the
forest is not achieved th rough nam ing o r o th e r sym b o lic practices. Rather,
the transform ation o f p e o p le s activities in ve g eta tio n is a product o f a “ tim e
lag” m arking the h istorical continuity b etw een b ein g part o f an en viro n ­
m ent and tran sfo rm in g it. If, for both th e H u ao ran i and the A raw ete
(V iveiros de C astro 19 9 2 ), hum an beings are in perpetual becom in g, the
A raw ete em phasize the transform ation o f th e sou l, whereas the H u ao ran i
focus on the tran sform ation o f the body an d the flesh.
Such interpretation is not fetishistic in th e m aterialist or M arxist sense,
fo r no intentional p u rp o se or desire is “ m ista k en ly ” or superstitio'usly at­
tributed to m aterial entities o f the natural w o rld . T h a t past hum an activity
continues to yield in the present and th at previou s hum an occu patio n
m akes the forest m o re am enable to h u m an life today are verifiable facts.
A n o th er reason w h y it is not fetishistic is th at the identification o f past peo­
ple as direct kin, alth o u gh often more a b e lie f than a reality, does n ot entail
an y mystical p rin cip le cau sing plant life an d fertility. A lthough recognized
as kin , dead peop le, w h o se activities have en a b le d the concentration o f re­
sources in places w h ere they can be shared, h ave no authority over livin g
consum ers. B y su sta in in g the biological life o f th eir shared bodies, th ey have
unintentionally cau sed these to “ release” n atu ral w ealth , w hich, not ow n ed,
can n ot be offered as a g ift and thus cannot b e reciprocated.6
Finally, natural ab u n d an ce is not a lim ited go o d . It results from the o n ­
go in g process o f d o m estic living, longhouse sh arin g, and seasonal cycles o f
resource use, w h ich , unless disrupted by w a rfa re , u nfold from past to pres­
ent to future w ith n o sh arp discontinuity. T h e p rod u ctivity o f nature corre­
sponds to the h istorical outcom e o f past co n su m p tio n as part o f h u m an
procurem ent o f su bsistence. Like eco n o m ic self-sufficiency, political au ­
184 Prey at the Center

tark y and endogam ous sociality, natural ab u n d an ce, o r the denial o f su rp lu s

pro d u ctio n through h u m a n labor, fulfills the H u a o ra n i ideal o f so cial c lo ­
sure. A s abundantly d iscu ssed in chapters 4 an d 6, fruiting palm gro ves,
w h ic h materialize the d o m estic activities o f past generations, co rresp o n d
sp atially to the festive a m alg am atio n o f in te rm a rry in g house groups a n d to
social reproduction th ro u g h the form ation o f lon g-lastin g, cross-sex sib lin g
pairs. C o gn atic ties are actualized through the use o f resources fro m the
past; k in are transform ed in to affines and affin es in to kin.
T h e constitution o f so cie ty around the co n su m p tio n o f natural a b u n ­
d an ce represents a m o d el th at reverses the d o m in a n t Am azonian id e o lo g y
acco rd in g to w hich it is the vio len t in corp o ration o f enem y alter th at creates
society. W hereas th eir p re d a to ry enem ies m u st kill in order to liv e , the
H u a o ra n i profess th ro u g h th eir cosm ology th at liv in g is the source o f life,
and affirm through th eir rituals that their ow n social reproduction d o es n o t
d ep en d on cannibal a p p ro p ria tio n . I am th us n ot inclined to use F au sto ’s
(1998) concept o f “p ro d u c tiv e con su m ption ” to theorize the H u a o ra n i
m o d e o f social re p ro d u ctio n , w h ich does n ot d ep en d on the tam in g o f the
pred ato ry outside o r o n its incorporation. A ggre ssive and destructive strate­
gies coexist w ith strategies based on the au to n o m o u s growth o f p lan ts an d
th eir apparently in exh au stib le capacity for sp o n tan eo u s regeneration.
T h e re is no place h ere to engage in a full co m p arative an alysis,-but the
o rig in ality o f the H u a o ra n i solu tion to the A m a z o n ia n problem o f exch an ge
an d prod uction m ay be illustrated b y co n trastin g it w ith two representative
cases. U n like the U ito to , w h o are obligated to perpetuate the life o f the
crop s they cultivate an d fo r w h o m hum an la b o r has the religious fu n c tio n
o f cleansing the e n v iro n m e n t from evil fo rest-d w ellin g forces (G riffith s
2 0 0 1), the H uaorani in c o rp o rate the past as a sou rce o f material w e alth in
su p p o rt o f the p ro d u c tio n o f persons; they litera lly grow w ith the forest.
A n d unlike the m ix e d -b lo o d , cultivating p e op le studied by G o w (19 9 1),
w h o w o rk in co llab o ration w ith the w hites at cu ttin g the forest d o w n to ex­
ch an ge its products fo r m anu factu red goods as part o f their ordered tran s­
fo rm atio n o f natural resources and ethnic relation s, the H uaorani en g ag e in
transform ative activities b u ilt on the co n tin u u m between social a n d eco ­
lo gical relations.
T h e thesis that so cie ty in the A m azon is co n stitu ted through p red atio n as
negative reciprocal ex ch a n g e autom atically im p lie s the premise that life and
fertility are lim ited g o o d s that m ust be recycled (D escola 1992; B lo c h and
P arry 1982). B y fleein g, h id in g , and trekking, the H uaorani protect th e m ­
selves from predators. B y ap propriating the h u m an activities gen erative o f
Prey at the Center 18$

forest life, they define a social and sym bolic w o rld in w h ich their o w n re­
gen eration does not d ep en d on rebounding v io le n c e (B lo ch 1992) or on re­
cy c lin g the world’s lim ited fertility and life fo rce (A rh em 1996). R ath er,
these persecuted subjects depen d entirely on th eir o w n in n er vital resources.
M y argum ent here is th at i f predation is cen tral to A m azon ian so cio lo gy
an d social philosophies, an d i f w e apply p ersp ectivism (Viveiros de C astro
1998b) consistently, then w e m ust allow fo r su b je ct positions other than
th at o f predator, in particular, for that o f prey.
B ru ce A lbert, w hose doctoral thesis on th e Y an o m am i (Albert 1985)
lau n ch ed the predation approach to A m azo n ian w a rfare, argues in a recent
p u b lication (Albert 1993) that sym bolic p re d a tio n relates to the “fetish ism
o f cosm ological reciprocity,” as well as to a p a rtic u la r type o f historical c o n ­
sciousness that conceptualizes change in term s o f radical m etam orphoses
an d not in terms o f progressive m utations. M y en d eavo r in this b o o k has
been to show that H u a o ra n i ethnohistory em b races both con ceptualiza­
tio n s o f change. V io len t death, viewed as a catalyst fo r change in structures
an d social relations, precipitates the m u tation o f tim es o f peace and ex p a n ­
sio n in times o f war an d destruction. T h e return to peace, however, does n o t
o ccu r through a radical m etam orphosis b u t th ro u g h a gradual process o f
d w ellin g in, and grow ing w ith , the forest.
Interestingly, and as discussed in chapter 5, the sam e contrast applies to
the social relations b y w h ic h people part or co alesce. It is far easier to leave
H u a o ra n i society, or a lon gh ou se w ithin it, th an to b ecom e incorporated. It
is m u ch easier to cease to be a H uaorani than to b eco m e one. O n e becom es
an outsider almost instantaneously, as soon as o n e leaves H uaorani la n d 7 or
as soon as one departs fro m o n es nanicabo to jo in an oth er longhouse resi­
den ce. A nger equally turns a m an into an “o th e r” (h u a ), even i f the in stan ­
taneous transform ation is, in m ost cases, tem p orary. T h e process by w h ich
u xorial husbands becom e insiders (guiri) w ith in th eir w ives’ house gro u ps
(an d one cannot be a huao person w ithout b e in g a g u iri) is, by co m pariso n ,
lo n g and slow. It seems to m e that the scalar o p p o sitio n between inside and
o u tsid e (Rivière 1984) o r betw een affines an d co g n ates (V iveiros de C astro
a n d Fausto 1993) relates, in this case, to a fu n d am en ta l tem poral asym m etry
b etw een detachm ent an d attachm ent or in c o rp o ra tio n . W hereas the latter
is sw ift and fluid— in fact, as easy as it is to m o ve th rough the forest and
th ro u gh history— the fo rm er is a gradual p ro cess o f shared living, w h ich
takes tim e.
Furtherm ore, a sim ilar contrast is fou n d in the classification o f n atural
categories. As I have discussed elsewhere (R iv a l 19 9 3a), H uaorani eth n o -
¡86 Prey at the Center

botany d ifferen tiates plants that g ro w slow ly and perdure fro m those that
grow fast b u t d ie o ff. In the sam e article I touched on the p o litica l im plica­
tions o f this co n trast, as trust in leaders o f m an ioc-d rin kin g cerem onies
(m anioc b e in g a fast-grow ing crop) is lim ited— indeed, as sh ort-lived as
their garden su p p lies. T h e present stu d y has gone a step fu rth er in show ing
another w a y o f m o d elin g social relations on two distinct n atural processes,
w hich adds th e distin ction betw een vegetal and animal life to the contrast
between slow , lon g-lastin g grow th versus fast, ephemeral g ro w th . T h e ag­
gressive relatio n betw een preys an d predators, as found in the an im al king­
dom , is m a rk ed b y extrem e h ostility an d separation. It is in the nature o f
pow erful c o h u o ri to reproduce them selves by con tin uously sn atch in g the
creativity, v ita lity , an d life force o f h uaoran i people. T h e latter can do no
m ore than e lu d e contact w ith ca n n ib al attackers, move abo u t as m u ch and
as often as p o ssib le, and count them selves am ong their o w n forces, hence
the political ch o ice o f radical isolation ism . B y contrast, the life-sustaining
relation b etw een people and forest plants, particularly fru itin g trees (and
the im p erson al agencies perceived as fu lfilling a sim ilar fu n c tio n ), is charac­
terized b y great lavishness. It is in the nature o f trees and o th er fo od plants
o f the forest to give contin u ou sly to h u m an s w ithout ask in g an yth in g in re­
turn. T h is n ew fin d in g leads me to fo rm u late a few general rem arks on the
sym bolic re p ro d u ctio n o f societies-m arginal to central p o w e rs.8
M argin al p e o p le such as the H u a o ra n i constitute them selves in collectiv­
ities w h ose essen tial, em bodied q u alities are not derived fro m productive
labor b u t fro m shared experiences o f consum ption, co n stru ed as celebra­
tions o f a b u n d a n ce . Like other social groups discussed in D ay, Papataxi-
.archis, an d S tew art (1998), they create and reproduce th eir separate and
auto n om ou s id e n tity by d evalu ing th eir participation in social relations o f
pro d u ction a n d b y givin g p riority to nonproductive form s o f sociality. C o n ­
co m itan tly th e y treat pow erful o u tsiders and dom inant forces as sources o f
endlessly ren ew ab le wealth. To va lu e sharing in con sum ption over cooper­
ating in p ro d u c tio n and to treat oppressive political and e co n o m ic agents as
free sources o f w ealth and creativity are two sides o f the sam e coin . It is by
tapping e x te rn al, dom inant pow ers tu rned into expansive p ro d u ctive forces,
and by e lim in a tin g reciprocal exch an ge through vario u s naturalizing
processes, th a t the H uaorani periph eral collectivity reproduces itself.
H u ao ran i cu ltu re naturalizes social relations on vario u s levels. Starting
w ith the m o st inclusive level o f social interaction, that betw een longhouse
co-residents, w e fin d a system o f representations fo cu sin g o n co m m o n liv­
Prey at the Center 187

ing (from fo o d sharing to substance sharing) as an organ ic process. T h e

notion o f shared substance naturalizes— indeed, biologizes— social bonds;
as described in chapter 5, nanicabo so cia lity is in part bio tic. A t the m ost
exclusive level, the absolute lack o f so cia lity between coh uori and huaorani
is naturalized as the anim al-like relation between predator an d prey, albeit
more m etap h orically than m etonym ically. T h e naturalization o f the di­
achronic relation between past a n d present people consists in m aking
the dead the source o f plant food free ly tapped by the livin g, as in the
ritual association o f huaom oni gro u p s w ith chonta palm groves created by
Such n aturalization o f power b y the H uaorani offers an in terestin g cor­
rective to the thesis that naturalization strategies are used b y the m igh ty to
impose their hierarchical and coercive p o w er over the w eak, an d that iden­
tity is naturalized o r essentialized w ith reference to a narrative o f origin that
hides pow er differentials (Yanagisako an d D elaney 1995). T h e first problem
with the con stru ctionist argum ent9 p u t forw ard by Yanagisako and D elaney
is that it is b lin d to the political and id eolo gical use o f “ naturalness” b y m ar­
ginal, w eak, o r oppressed groups as a m eans to destabilize— o r at least chal­
lenge—-system s o f inequality. T h e seco n d problem w ith this argum ent is
that it precludes an y attem pt to d e fin e social fields co m p risin g h um an and
nonhum an agencies. Starting from th e prem ise that in stitu tion s and cul­
tural d om ains are the basic b u ild in g b locs o f society (Yanagisako and D e­
laney 19 9 5 :11), constructionists ca n n o t th in k that natural categories are any­
thing other than metaphors for so cial categories. To them , therefore, the
“natural” is a particu lar social d o m ain debarred from open contestation. It
makes no d ifferen ce that the natural, lo gical order be con stru ed as being bi­
ological or G o d -g iv e n , for, in the e n d , b iological and religious categories are
equally cu ltu ral. T h e radical co n stru ctio n ism o f Yanagisako and D elaney,
com bined w ith a discursive in terp retation o f the relation ship between
know ledge an d power, leads them to equate the effects o f b io lo g y to those
o f religious ideas. Social relations, th ey conclude, can n ot be natural; they
are m ade to ap p ear natural.
W hat the presen t ethnography has sh o w n , however, is that the H uaorani,
in their id en tification with slo w -gro w in g plants, w hich fo rm part o f society
and through w h ic h the vitality and p o w e r to live and reproduce is generated,
engage in social relations that are n a tu ral, fo r the forest has already been lived
in by people. T h e re is no separation, in their eyes, betw een a “ first nature”
and a “second n atu re,” for the forest is-— and has always been-— a patchw ork
188 Prey at the Center

o f ancient d w ellin g sites or forest groves, w h ere people have d w e lt, m arried,
and died, and w h ere people w ill co n tin u e to interact w ith o th e r life form s
and produce the w o rld as it is.
H uaorani so ciety has expanded both dem o graph ically and sp a tia lly since
the 1950s. It also has, despite the presen t situation o f in ten se con tact,
achieved a rem arkab le degree o f isolation . T h e present state m a y be de­
scribed as one in w h ic h units o f sharing are reproduced w ith th eir egalitari­
an and a n tip ro d u ctivist structures, and this fairly in d epen d en tly fro m one
another. Each m a in ta in s its own a u to n o m y and self-sufficiency b y securin g
direct access to the n ew sources o f n atu ral abundance, a strategy o f repro­
duction favored b y the present political an d econom ic co n te xt. T h e re has
been no attem pt to dom esticate exchan ge— people have s im p ly sh u n aw ay
from it— and tre k k in g has remained the fu nd am en tal axis a rticu la tin g tim e,
space, and social organization.
H owever, o n e im p ortan t elem ent o f the social w orld seem s to have
changed radically. Surroun d in g colo n ists and indigenous g ro u p s are still
called cohuori, b u t they are no longer p erceived as predators o r ca n n ib a ls.10
It seems that th e p a rtly m ythic, p artly h istorical, cosm ic h iera rch y o f predr
ator and prey, w h ic h has constituted the outside o f H u ao ran i so cie ty and
has kept it separate and isolated for a v e ry lo n g tim e, has b e c o m e obsolete,
flight no lo n ger b e in g an option. In its place, and as exp lo red at len gth in
chapter 7, w e fin d the incorporation in to H u aorani society o f w e a lth y ou t­
side agencies o r extern al cerem onial cen ters such as schools a n d evangelical
churches, w h ic h are treated as sources o f natural abundance a n d harassed
with con tin u ou s an d vastly inflated requests for m an u factu red go o d s. It
seems that sin ce the necessity to trek has disappeared, as th e ou tsid e no
longer threatens the population’s vital fo rces, enabling the p o p u la tio n to
expand p eacefu lly and exponentially, so cie ty no longer relies o n its own
inner forces b u t, rather, constitutes its e lf around an alien so u rce o f wealth
and power. S till, H u ao ran i villagers can som etim es be heard sa y in g : “ W h at
does not gro w decays. T h e times o f w a r an d destruction w ill n o t be lo n g in
com ing.”
N otes


1. This analysis was published later in an edited volum e on Ecuadorian nation­

al representations o f indigenous peoples (Rival 1994). Jo e K a n e s high ly
praised Savages (N ew York: Knopf, 1995) sadly fits all the stereotypes and
myths I deconstruct and discuss in this essay.
2. N . W hitten, IW G IA (International W o rk G ro u p for Indigenous A ffairs), no.
34 (1978): 44-
3. Longitude 76 ° East to 7 7 °3o ' West.

I. T re k k in g in A m a z o n ia

1. For excellent exam ples o f this type o f research and a com prehensive bib liog­
raphy, see H am es and Vickers 1983.
2. See, for exam ple, Lévi-Strauss 1968; S. H ugh-Jones 1979; C . H u gh -Jones
1979-, Seeger 1981; Basso 1973; and D escola 1994.
3. A particularly lucid summary o f the cultural evolutionist argum ent can be
found in Sponsel (1989:37):

In the m ajority o f ecologically oriented anthropological studies on indige­

nous societies in Amazonia, cultural eco lo g y serves as a means to the ends o f
the cultural evolutionists. T heir principal end is to docum ent and explain the
processes through which cultural com p lexity and related phenom ena devel­
op over time. W ith in this conceptual fram ew ork, foraging societies in A m a ­
zonia are considered to be either survivors o f a lower and sim pler stage o f cul­
tural evolution antecedent to farm in g societies, or the end prod uct o f
devolution from farm ing to foraging through com petitive exclusion from
the richer floodplains into the poorer in terio r forest.

4. See, in particular, Kelly 1983 and H ill 19 96.

5. See also M oran 1989.
6. See also K elly 1983:301.
7. See also C olchester 1984, Ross 1978, an d Ferguson 1998, for a discussion o f
the im pact o f trade and the introduction o f metal tools on A m azonian native
economies and warfare patterns.
190 i. Trekking in Amazonia

8. See also Sponsel 1986; E d en 1990; and Posey 1985. Som e researchers even
argue that m any soil features underlying these forests are also the outcome o f
hum an intervention (H ech t and Posey 1989).
9. T h e existence o f anthropogenic forests, the product o f a dynam ic history o f
plant/hum an interaction, is further supported by tw o factors: the wide oc­
currence o f charcoal and num erous potsherds in the forest soil, and the
greater concentration o f palm s, lianas, fruit trees, and other heavily used for­
est resources on archaeological sites.
B alees hypothesis can be related to Posey’s (1984) characterization o f
K ayap o subsistence econom y, not as hunting and horticulture but as “agro­
forestry,” that is, as an integrated system o f forest m anagem ent in which the
lim ited, shifting, and period ic removal o f the forest cover to cultivate food
crops represents one m om en t o f a complex cycle.
10 . H e says: “ T h e smaller a society gets, the more nom adic it becomes” (Balee
11. In the “w ild yam ” controversy, Balees thesis would therefore side with Bailey
(1991) and Bailey and H ead lan d (1991) against Bahuchet, M cKey, and G arine
(19 9 1), for it supports the contention that no hunter-gatherer could
have adapted to tropical rain forest habitats w ith ou t being surrounded by
12. Each cerem ony com prises four phases: the learning o f ceremonial songs; the
cerem onial trek (ontom or, literally ‘to go away for several nights’); the prepa­
ration o f meat, fish, m an ioc, and corn drinks for the feast; and, finally, the all-
night dance. Verswijver (1992:249—55) defines the cerem onial trek as a hunt-
ing-gathering expedition taking place preferably at the end o f the dry season
(from August to O ctob er) during which large quantities o f meat and fish are
gathered, particularly tortoises and wild pigs. Versw ijver further differentiates
tw o types o f trek: ‘circu lar trekking’, when trekkers travel in a circle around
the village site and co m e back to the village for the final ceremony; and ‘lin ­
ear trekking’ , when trekkers progressively leave one village site for another or,
as seems to have been th e m ost com m on case in the past, for a new village,
the cerem ony coin cid in g w ith the first harvest o f m an ioc or corn.
13. T o sim plify, there are tw o aspects to dual opposition, (1) dual organization as
a principle constitutive o f social structure in the D urkheim ian tradition; and
(2) sym bolic polarity as a basic form o f collective representation follow ing
the theory o f structural linguistics. M aybury-Lew is (1979) follows N eedham
in seeing dualism as a general symbolic structure proper to most Ge speakers.
14. See, for example, Jo u rn e t 1995; Fausto 1998; Flowers 1994; and Ferguson
2. The Upper Amazan ip i

T h e U p p e r A m azo n fr o m O m a g u a E x p e n s io n to Z a p a r o C o llap se

See, in particular, contributions to Hill 1988 and to C arn eiro da Cunha 1992.
B u t also see Bernan 1992 for a critical review o f H ill’s misinterpretation o f
Lévi-Strauss’s ideas about history.
Cabodevilla (1994; 1996), although not always acknow ledging his sources
and sometimes m isinterpreting them, has usefully contributed to this effort
b y using all available publish ed and unpublished m aterials to reconstruct, if
o n ly hypothetically, w hat m ay have been the H uaorani historical trajectory
from precolonial to m odern times.
In the years preceding the Pizarro-Orellana expedition (see map 2.2), the
C o ronad os moved to the low er Pastaza, and the Z ap aros expanded south­
w ard and eastward, w ith on e group, the Abisiras (Abigiras), colonizing the
right margin o f the river N a p o , where they fought hard against the Encabel-
lados in their attempt to achieve exclusive control over these lands.
T h e Spanish confusion as to the identity o f the A bigiras in relation to the
Zap aros may have arisen from the presence o f the A bigiras at the confluence
o f the N apo and Curaray rivers, and from the fact that Abigiras and Omagua
villages m ay have looked extrem ely similar. Ethnohistorians disagree on the
exact location o f O m agua settlements along the N a p o River. For Newson
(i996b:2i8), they were located at the confluence not o f the N apo and C u ­
raray as previously thought (M yers 1992) but o f the N apo and Coca rivers.
T h e O m agua went to the T ip u tin i, and the Encabellados settled on the right
m argin o f the Napo. O th er Tukanoans, the O as and Coronados, fled in the
early part o f the sixteenth cen tury to the lower Pastaza, where they learned a
Z a p aro dialect (Taylor 1986:303).
B u t see Chaumeil 1994:203 for a much later date.
Jo rg e Trujillo (personnal com m unication), an Ecuadorian anthropologist
w h o has done years o f research in the area, is o f the op inion that theTupi lan­
guage was the lenguà g era l alon g the Napo until the eighteenth century and
that Zaparoan languages p robably derived, at least in part, from Tupi.
T h e Omaga-Yeté on the low er course o f the C o c a and U pper Napo; the
O m aga proper or Irim ara at the confluence between the N apo and Curaray
rivers; and a third group, the m ost numerous, east o f the confluence o f the
Putum ayo and Amazon rivers. See Viveiros de C astro 1992:24—29, for a brief
survey o f sociological variation and cosmological unity am ong the Tupian
populations, whose num bers approximated four m illion at the time o f the
European invasion.
T h e term originally m eant a large extension o f land given by the Spanish
K)2 2. The Upper Amazon

crown or the Creole authorities to a colonist, along w ith the indigenous pop­
ulation originally living on it. T h e m ajor problem tropical lowland colonists
faced was the lack o f Indians on their lands.
9. See C abodevilla 1994:126 n. 62.
10. In Q uechua, the Incaic language used by the whites, ru na means ‘human’, in
the sense o f ‘tame’, and auca m eans ‘savage’, in the sense o f ‘fierce.’
11. Inform ation about the Z ap aroan tribes o f north Pastaza and o f the headwa­
ters and middle courses o f the rivers Tigre and C u raray is scant. T h e only cer­
tainty is that they were already in this location in the fifteenth century, sur­
rounded by two Tukanoan groups— their trading partners— the Coronados
to the north and th eT ukan os proper to the east.
12. See quotes from chroniclers in Cabodevilla 1994:87, 88, particularly notes 51,
53, 62.
13. Q uoted in Cabodevilla 19 9 4 :178 . See also C ab o devilla 1994:135—61, for a
synthetic summ ary o f the im pact o f the rubber bo om on the indigenous
peoples o f the Amazon region o f Ecuador, and, m ost particularly, on the
14. D iscovering the exact nature o f these processes should also provide an un­
derstanding o f why the Z ap aro s were more w illin g to m ix with the Jivaros
and the Canelos Q uichua than with the N aporunas.
15. T h a t economic and political control o f the Ecuadorian state has not been ex­
tended to the Amazon region before the m id-twentieth century bears a series
o f consequences for the indigenous populations o f the area, particularly for
the H uaorani (M uratorio 1991).
16. From Tagae, the band’s oldest member, who was alm ost certainly killed in
the early 1980s by security guards working for Braspetro. T h e Tagaeri are
closely related to a num ber o f Christianized H uaoran i w h o chose to live in
the Protectorate. W hen their land, found to be rich in petroleum , was in­
vaded by a mass o f illegal settlers in the m id-1970s, the Tagaeri marched far­
ther south, eventually p enetrating the hunting grounds o f the Cononaco
bands with whom they fou gh t before retreating even farther south, where
this time they clashed w ith oil workers. In Ju ly 19 87 the Capuchin m ission­
ary and Archbishop M on señ or Labaca hoped to prevent further physical v i­
olence by meeting the Tagaeri, with whom he had had a few peaceful en­
counters in previous m onths. H e was dropped from an arm y helicopter with
a Colom bian nun in one o f their clearings; both were speared to death before
the night. T h e Tagaeri retreated even deeper in the forest after the killings,
where they are still in h id ing. T h eir fugitive condition is very difficult, and
they restrict cooking to nighttim e, when the sm oke cannot be easily detect­
2. The Upper Amazon ip j

ed. T h e y cultivate sporadically under the canopee, w ith out felling trees or
op en in g a clearing.
17. T ip u tin i is apparently a w ord o f Tupi origin that m eans sandy river (Jorge
T ru jillo , personal com m unication). There are, to m y know ledge, two H uao­
rani toponym s for this river, Yeyero (river o f the yeye fish) and G u iyero (river
o f the small guiye fish), w hich are used by different subgroups.
18. T h e missionaries o f the Sum m er Institute o f Linguistics (Peeke 1963; Kelley
1988; and Yost 1979) and the C apuchin priests (Labaca 1988; O rtiz Santos
19 9 1; and Cabodevilla 1994), w ho have interacted w ith H uaorani people for
m an y years, share this opinion.
19. C a rlo s Sevilla, on whose farm H uaorani wom en fou n d refuge ju st before the
arrival o f the S IL North A m erican missionaries (see R ival 1992), was the only
settler bold enough to establish a farm and rubber-collecting center (called El
C ap rich o) on the Tiputini. Som e o f his Zaparo laborers m arried H uaorani
w om en and men in the 1950s. T h e ir descendants are still livin g upriver from
T onam pari on the upper course o f the river Curaray.
20. I have often wondered w hat these tw o words were. D u rin g m y first spill o f
fieldw ork in 1989—90, H uaorani language com prised num erous words de­
rived from Spanish and Q uich ua, som e o f which had entirely replaced exist­
in g native terms.
21. I even found in Reinburg (i9 2ib :2io ) an intriguing reference to a Western
Tukanoan group, the Kobeua, w ho used the same w ord for the ayahuasca
vin e (Banisteria caapi spr1) as the H uaorani do, rnihi. H ow ever, this inform a­
tion is spurious, for we do not know who these “ K obeua” were nor the crite­
ria Reinburg used to determ ine their Tukanoan identity. A re they the Cubeo
studied b y Irving G oldm an (1963)?
22. See, in particular, Hill 1996.
23. T h is approach is in total agreement with Viveiros de C astro (1996:194) who
righ tly states:

I f Am azonia can no longer be seen as the exclusive h abitat o f egalitarian

hunting-horticulturalists living in small villages, it w o u ld be just as m isguid­
ed to take for granted the vestigial, degenerative, and m arginal conditions o f
the terra firrn e people. A bove all, it should be stressed that such phenomena
as “ agricultural regression”— or, more generally, present-day Am erindian
w ays o f life— are not evolutionary events but rather the consequence o f po­
litical choices, historical decisions that privileged certain values (e.g., politi­
cal autonom y) at the expense o f others (e.g., access to com m odities).

24. See, for example, Gibson 1986 and G rinker 1994.

ip4 3• Huaorani N om adic Isolationism

3. T h e T im e a n d S p a c e o f H u aoran i N o m a d ic Isolatio n ism

1. The chonta palm (B a ctris gasipaes) season lasts from January to A pril; it is fo l­
lowed by the season o f fat monkeys (yepenga tere) from June to A u gu st and
the season o f w ild cotton (bohueca tere) from Septem ber to October.
2. See Rival 1992, chap. 2, for additional transcripts o f Huaorani war narratives.
3. Seeger (1981:77) has sim ilarly remarked for the Suya o f M ato Grosso, Brazil,

Through n am in g o f places, a large geographical area is in a sense socialised.

T h e names do not represent merely an individual’s becoming acquainted
with a new terrain; they also form a cultural m ap complete with significance.
In learning to id en tify places and their nam es, a Suya learns history an d the
practical art o f w h ere to obtain food and other objects o f collecting trips.

4. T h e S IL m issionaries have translated “ hell” as tarom enga onguipo, that is, ‘the
land o fT a ro m e n g a .’
5. Even in their representation o f the peccary hunt, which is thought o f and car­
ried out as a w a r expedition, the H uaorani see themselves not as proactive
hunters but as defenders o f their longhouse territories unpredictably invad ­
ed b y the ferocious beasts (Rival 1996b).
6. A fuller version and analysis o f this myth can be found in Rival 1997b.
7. Informants class anim als into two broad categories: the killers (who eat their
prey) and their gam e, or food. The first category, in addition to h arpy eagles
and jaguars, includes the river otter (om pure), and a number o f fish and birds
that eat fish. S o m e inform ants also include snakes in this category. T h e sec­
ond category includes all the species that are preyed on. Birds fall into two
further classifications: birds o f prey that eat raw flesh and birds that consum e
fruit, the rotten-flesh-eating condor being an exception.
8. The leader o f a k illin g raid is aro qu a n gu i an ga tenonte huegarai n im b a ‘the
one who says to kill, as a result they die’ , and a declaration o f war is p it in te
h uen acaim ba ‘th eir becom ing angry resulted in making others d ie.’ G reat
warriors (g u errillero s , as young Huaorani n o w say in Spanish) are m ono h u e-
m eiri in g a tim b a ongu iy'e n an gu i tenonte o n te h u egarain im pa ‘our past m ale rel­
atives w ho spear-killed many, an expression that stresses the act o f killin g
rather than valour, courage, or glory.
9. M oipa, a fierce w arrio r who killed m any H uaorani and non-H uaorani in the
1930s and 19 40 s, has become such a cultural hero. Interestingly, w hereas
Huaorani stories stress the process o f transform ation through w h ich he be­
came less and less H uaorani and more and m ore a wild killer, less an d less kin
3- H uaorani Nomadic Isolationism 195

and more and m ore other, Canelo Q u ich u a sham ans from Sarayacu, w ho
have about as m an y stories on M oipa as the H uaorani have, represent him
as a man turned jaguar, which they see as the essence o f Huaoraniness
(JorgeTrujillo, personal com m unication). T h is representation is not entirely
wrong, but it essentializes what in fact is a tem porary state, as the follow ing
remark by an old w arrior illustrates: “ W h en I am angry, I am like a jaguar. I
can go on m y ow n and live alone in the forest, like a jaguar. I can go dow n to
the Curaray. N o t even the jaguar can threaten me or harm me, for I am so
10. Spears, which are m ade for one kill, are h igh ly individualized. D ecoration
patterns and the shape o f notches are distinctive markers by which owners
can unam biguously be identified. In an earlier publication (Rival 1996b), I
argued that spearing was a technology o f exclusion designed to slaughter sav­
agely those w ith w h om alliances were im possible.
11. I was told o f on e case in which a m ature w o m an , w ho had been speared to
death by the enem y, was buried with her granddaughter, so as “not to let the
grandmother die alon e.” See Rival 19 92:6 9—7 0 , for additional accounts o f
children buried alive w ith their dying parents or grandparents.
Interestingly, the ritual burying by w o m en o f a d ying brother or husband
with his child m ay be compared to the birth m yth in which the roles are re­
versed: M en kill their wives to give birth to their children, whom the men
nurse and raise on their own (Rival 1998c). A m o n g the Wari, the identifica­
tion between the killer (see Vila^a 2 0 0 0 :10 3) and the dead enemy occurs by
means o f figurative cannibalism , where the killer incorporated and digested
the blood o f his victim , who thereby becam e his consanguine kin.
12. Upon death, the onohuoca ‘body soul’ in the sense o f guim a ‘life force or
breath’ leaves the speared body to return to its birth place. The onohuoca, also
called ‘spirit so u l’ , o f a dead person travels to heaven, which is located north
o f the river N ap o . O n ly i f the deceased inserted a splinter o f chonta palm in
one o f the nostrils w ill she or he be able to pass over the giant snake w orm
who bars the en try to heaven. The spirit soul otherwise returns to H uaorani
land, where it is eaten b y termites.
13. For a particularly poignan t rendering, see C lastres 1972, chap. 6.
14. A dead person is referred to by his or her last pu blic personal name, follow ed
by the suffix -h u o ri (literally ‘is no longer alive’). For example, after the old
Coba died, people referred to him as C o b a h u o ri. It is under this nam e that
he was rem em bered for his idosyncratic w ays o f singing, dancing, m aking
spears, and so forth . Such ways could then be talked about and im itated.
Neither a cultural hero (someone w ho died so long ago that all particular
ip6 3. Huaorani Nom adic Isolationism

connections have been erased) nor an enem y are ever referred to as X -h u o ri

but simply as X .
15. For a parallel am o n g the Yanom ami, see R am o s 1995:108.
16. Journet (1995:109—11) describes a sim ilar id eolo gy am ong the C u rrip aco o f
Colombia, whose orphaned war hero, Iap iriku ri, wages a generalized w ar o f
vengeance against the w hole world.
17. This is an interesting contrast to the Piro for w h om kinship creates history
not through rem em bering deaths to be avenged but through the m em ory o f
caring and n u rtu rn in g (G o w 1989).
18. This is how one o f m y informants (a descendant o f M oipa) tells the story:

Guiqueta was livin g in the upper T ih u eno at the time. M oipa was invited to
his eeme [‘m an ioc-drinking cerem ony’] a lo n g w ith N ihua and others. T h e y
entered the feasthouse chanting. N ih u a go t an gry because two w o m en in his
group had been killed by Guiqueta, but he nevertheless said: “ We w an t to ex­
change our children w ith you, so we can live w ell, in peace, and pu t an end
to the times o f w ar.” T h e eeme w ent on, people chanted and chanted, but
everybody was afraid. Suddenly, a man caugh t his spears, and the elders slew
the two brothers, M o ip a and Iteca. Q u ite a num ber o f people died du ring
that eeme.

19. See Rival 1991.

20. I had the o p p ortu n ity to speak with the raiders a few years after the event and
can confirm that there was no wife shortage in this case. T h e Babeiris’ action
was entirely m otivated b y their decision to force, the Tagaeri into reintegrat­
ing into H uaorani society and to put an end to thirty years o f fierce isola­
21. Most notably Sch w artz and Salomon 1999: H ill 1988, 1993; Ram os 1995; and
Wright 1998.
22. See Salomon 1999:56, who cites the 1985 article hy Carneiro da C u n h a and
Viveiros de C astro on Tupinam ba cannibalism , sum m arizing their argum ent
as “no other institu tion but warfare locates past, present, and future in an in­
telligible w orld o f change.” Although C arn eiro da Cunha and V iveiro s de
Castro’s main argum ent against functionalist interpretations o f A m azonian
warfare is that death is not a relation to the past but a relation to the future,
not a kind o f ancestor cult but a longing fo r future immortality, I agree with
Salomon that th ey also show in their discussion o f the Tupinam ba cannibal­
istic complex that warfare creates a sense o f history, hence a relation to the
past and not ju st to the future.
23. However, as am o n g the Ilongot, anger, a force that destroys residential links,
4- Harvesting the Forest’s M aturai Abundance 197

maintains ties between agnates (R. R o sald o 19 80 :137). Sim ilarly A rcan d
(I973:I5I) discusses the link between C u iv a postm arital residence, band soli­
darity, the drive to avenge the death o f a brother, and the belief that all deaths
are the result o f cursing.
24. B y contrast, the B u id , who, in m any oth er aspects, are socially sim ilar to the
Huaorani, consider violence and aggression absolutely illegitimate w ithin
their own society. Speech and com m unal peace represent life and u nity just
as eating (a one-w ay relationship o f d om in ation incom patible w ith m u tu al­
ity) and individual desire represent death and division (Gibson 1986:73—75).

4 . H a rve stin g th e F o rest s N a tu ra l A b u n d a n c e

1. Sim ilarly the C u iv a do not differentiate the techniques they use fo r ob tain­
ing food. For them , food production is h eita (literally ‘get food’), a term they
use to refer to the hu nting o f large anim als as w ell as to the collecting o f sm all
fruit (Arcand 1973:51).
2. For a full account o f fieldwork circum stances, see Rival 1992:2—11, or, alter­
natively, 1996c, chap. 1).
3. T his is an allusion to the countless raids an d counter-raids waged b y the N i-
huairi’s grandparents and great-grandparents against riverine Z ap aroan .
4. Lu’s (1999:104—13) findings that 65.2 percent o f hunts practiced in Q uehueire
O no in 1997, that is, eight years after m y field observations reported here, in­
dicate that by then Quehueire O no villagers w ere m ore settled and hunters
behaved as they had when living in D a y u n o .
5. There were thirteen house groups, totalin g forty-five adults and fifty-eight
children in the first Quehueire O no cam p. M y sam ple com prises data on
nine o f the thirteen house groups and excludes the m onitoring o f children’s
hunting, fishing, and gathering activities. T h e m onitoring o f gathering ac­
tivities was restricted to fruit (food collecting) and palm leaves and bam boo
(materials collecting). Extractive activities w ere m onitored on tw enty days
over a two-m onth period (November—D e cem b e r 1989) during the “season o f
wild cotton.”
6. These quantitative data entirely support the findings and conclusions o f
M ena Valenzuela et al. (1997), who m on itored hu ntin g activities in Q u e ­
hueire O no five years after I did, as w ell as C e ró n and M ontalvo’s (1997:
280—81) remark that palms were less ab u n d an t than expected in the one
hectare prim ary forest survey plot they stu d ied , ow ing to the H u ao ran i’s
ip8 4. Harvesting the Forest’s Natural Abundance

intensive use o f palm leaves and stem s as building materials. T h e y are also in
agreem ent w ith Lu’s (1999) study w h ich shows that primates and C racid birds,
the H uaorani s favored game, are the m ost vulnerable to overexploitation.
7. B a ctrisg a sip a es was formally know n as G ulielm agasipaes. In C o lo m b ia , Peru,
Venezuela, and Brazil, it is co m m o n ly known as p u p u n h a .
8. See R ival 1996b for an extensive discussion o f Huaorani hun ting.
9. T h e M a k ú , for whom a large prop ortion o f the animals that are considered
gam e are birds and monkeys, say that these animals, w hich represent 60 per­
cent o f the M a k ú ’s average kills, are the most plentiful in the forest (Silver-
w o o d -C o p e 1972:91). A notable difference between the M a k ú and the H uao­
rani is that the M akú trade large quantities o f hunted m eat~(40.i percent)
w ith river Indians (Silverw ood-C ope 1972:96).
10. In the long-established villages fo u n d in the old Protectorate, the forest is no
longer rich in game within a d ay’s travel (or more) o f the villages. People ex­
plain this not b y saying that th ey have hunted animals to an extreme but,
rather, that the animals have fled and found refuge elsewhere in the forest.
11. H e adds that life and vitality on an individual level are exchanged for renew­
al and essential continuity on the categorical level (e.g., clan, species, etc.).
“ T h is . . . is the M akuna p h ilosop h y o f life: predation, reconstrued as ex­
change, explains death and accounts for the regeneration o f life” (Arhem
19 96:189 ). Im plied in this view, A rh em concludes, “ is a w h o lly interactive, in­
terconnected and interdependent cosm ic society: hum an beings depend for
their physical survival on fish and gam e animals (and plant food). But fish
and gam e animals also depend on hum an ritual and sh am an ic practice for
their reproduction” (Arhem 1996:198).
12. T h e term for shaman, m enerà , m ay derive etymologically from m iñ e ‘jaguar’
and b a ra ‘m other.’ Although no particular case was cited to m e, informants
said that w om en, too, could becom e m enerà.
13. I o n ly kn ow o f boys who have received such treatment, b ut this does not ex­
clu d e the possibility that girls m ay receive it as well.
14. M iñ e ‘jagu ar’ and m ih i ‘ayahuasca’ are morphologically related to m ii ‘raw.’
See also chapter 2 n. 21.
15. O n ly in the Yasuni, I was told b y som e informants, are there om ere ‘pristine
forests’ w ith really high and old trees. Other informants th in k that some for­
est areas in the Western part o f H uaorani land, including those in the old Pro­
tectorate, are also om ere, w h ich accords with Cerón and M ontalvo’s (1997)
study. U nless natural or m an-m ade gaps are found, cu ltivated plots are sel­
d o m located in primary, m ature forests because o f the d ifficu lty o f felling
large trees.
4 • H arvesting the Forest’s Natural Abundance 199

16. In a sim ilar vein Balee (1988) m entions that Guaja foraging bands camp in
babassu (O rbignya phalerata ch.) forest enclaves, where it is possible to find
vestiges o f previous settlements and horticultural fields left b y the Ka’apor.
H e goes on to remark that m an y Tupi Guarani marginal bands depend heav­
ily on babassu for leaves (with w h ich they make roofs), fru it (which are rich
in carbohydrates and proteins), and rotting trunks (in w hich they find edible
17. See, fo r exam ple, Irvine 1987, 1989.
18. See D iam o n d 1998:114—30, 434—39, for a summ ary o f current scholarship on
the origin and domestication o f cultivated plants.
19. H u ao ran i chonta celebrations m ay be compared to Shuar celebrations o f
U w i, the chonta palm spirit. Pelizzaro (1983) mentions anent ‘chants’ in
w h ich it is said that all anim als relishing the chonta palm fruit will, like
the palm itself, benefit from abundant life force and that U w i fosters the
m atrim onial link between m an and wom an, which is the origin o f new life
20. Sin ce this publication I have fou n d a Shuar anent that says: “ M y dear chon­
ta palm s have grown slowly, very slow ly they have developed; in the same way
m y children have slowly grown” (Pelizzaro 1983:94).
21. Plantain and banana plantations are used very much like chonta palm groves.
T h is concords with Bergman (1980:98, 128), who notes that these food crops
are m uch less labor-intensive than m anioc and produce about four times as
m an y kilocalories per m an-hour, w ith the added advantage that plantations
con tin u e to produce for decades. A s for maize, it grows in about three
m onths, that is, even faster than m anioc. T h e seeds are thrown straight onto
the freshly cut forest vegetation, and the harvest is consum ed almost in one
go, ve ry m uch like forest fruit harvested from one tree.
22. See, am o n g others, W hitten 1985; C . Hugh-Jones 1979; D escola 1994; and
G riffith s 1998.
23. See, fo r instance, Griffiths 2001.
24. T o cite ju st a few, see C rocker 19 8 5:4 5,117 ; Descola 1992:118; Bloch and Parry
25. C o n seq u en tly there is no notion here o f dead bodies contributing to soil fer­
tility, nor is there an opposition between cemeteries and garden sites (A.
Strathern 1982:118). Such a system can also be contrasted to the Southeast
A sian head-hunting complex in w h ich the snatching and incorporation o f an
enem y’s vitality is not only necessary for securing male individual fertility but
also life in nature, as discussed by R. Rosaldo (1980) and M Zim balist Rosal-
do (1980), and as so vividly observed by Barton (1930:185—86):
200 4 - Harvesting the Forest’s Natural Abundance

There is a sense o f well-being in the circle o f dancers . . . For their star is in

the ascendant. The whole region has gained life: not an individual life, but
life that is diffused throughout the fields to better crops, life that will vitalize
the domestic animals, life that will make the folk themselves more nearly
what they want to be. No longer theirs to worry about an uncollected debt of
26. The Huaorani view o f the relationship between death and fertility is thus
very different from that o f the M elp a, for instance, who sacrifice pigs “as a
sign o f . . . the proper reproduction o f the cycles o f fertility between the dead
and the living, for although fertility is realised by the living, it is essentially a
gift to them from the dead” (A. Strathern 1982:121). It is m uch closer to that
attributed by Woodburn to egalitarian hunter-gatherers, for w h om “death
procedures are only peripherally connected with ideas o f fertility o f human
beings or o f plants and animals or o f the natural w orld m ore generally”
(Woodburn 1982:203).
27. See Mosko 1987, as cited in B ird -D avid 1990.
28. This is not incompatible with V iveiros de Castro’s (19983:482) thesis that the
living and the dead are sociologically discontinuous and that the fundam en­
tal distinction between the two is m ade b y the body and not b y the spirit. But
whereas, for Viveiros de Castro, to die is to transform into an anim al, I sug­
gest that only in the case o f violent deaths examined in chapter 3 do we have
spirits being attracted to the bodies o f anim als (jaguars).

5. C o m in g B ac k to the L o n g h o u se

1. In a letter he wrote to me in D ecem ber 1990, Jim Yost, w ho in his articles had
equated the emic form “X -iri” w ith the analytical construct “ neighborhood
cluster,” told me how he was still m ystified b y the highly sh iftin g and relative
character o f this notion. A lthough in som e contexts “X -iri” is the equivalent
of “ band,” in others it refers to each separate nuclear fam ily unit, for exam­
ple, Cuhueiri, Nameiri, O catairi, and so forth. Furtherm ore, he observed
that men would tend to use the father/husband’s name (for exam ple, Cuhue
would say Nameiri), whereas w o m en w ould tend to use the mother/wife’s
name (for example, Huane w ould say Zhiroiri). In addition, the name cho­
sen to stand for the “X ” in “ X -iri” is determined by the relationship the
speaker has with a particular m em ber o f the group in question, often picking
the name o f the person in the closest line o f com m on ancestry to the speak­
er. Finally, “X -iri” is never used self-referentially, either b y “ X ” h im self or her­
5- Corning Back to the Longhouse 201

self or b y his or her group. As the term “ X -iri” covers all levels o f social grou p­
ings, he concluded, it is best translated as “social group.”
T h is discussion may be correlated w ith Lizot’s judicious com m en t that a
com m unity is a name that integrates its m em bers (Lizot 1984:42): “ U ne com ­
m unauté, c’est un nom qui intègre ses m em bres.”
2. There were a few baby sloths as w ell, although sloths are never hunted, their
meat being taboo. Children, w h o are taught to differentiate sloths from
m onkeys, are seriously harangued i f caught hunting or eating them .
3. Arhem (1996:190) mentions that the M aku n a sim ilarly describe anim als as
living like hum ans in longhousfcs (m alocas).
4. C hristopher Crocker’s (1985) discussion o f organic processes linked to com ­
mon residence as producing intense hum an relations am ong the B oro ro was
an early and particularly influential analysis o f the social com m on ality I ex­
plore here.
5. See Ja u lin ’s (1977:291) discerning rem ark that the essential life unit is that cir­
cum scribed by the act o f residing (“ l’unité de vie essentielle est celle circon-
crite par l’acte de résidence” ).
6. See W att (1996) for a particularly insigh tful study o f m odern individualism .
7. T h e term huentey has been translated erroneously as “ lazy” b y schoolteachers
and m issionaries.
8. See L im a (1999:14) for the description o f a social tem peram ent devoid o f hos­
tility and fear am ong the Juru na, w h ich is very close to the H uaorani notion
o f huentey serenity, trust, and tranquility.
9. For a m ore extensive treatment o f this p oint, see Rival I998f. For a contrastive
cultural construction o f work e ffo rt and com m unity b u ild in g am ong the
Uitoto o f lowland Colom bia, see G riffith s 2001.
10. Yost (i98ib:99) mentions that the m ost senior male has his ham m ock hung
by the front entrance o f the longhouse. H is wife’s brother attaches his ham ­
m ock at the opposite end o f the house, near the other entrance.
it. G iven the prevalence o f sharing on d em and within H uaorani d om estic units,
there is no reciprocal exchange o f m eat for sex in this society, as is said to be
the case in other parts o f Am azonia (see R ival, Slater, and M iller 1998).
12. See also Peterson 1993, m entioned above, and Bird-D avid 19 9 0 :19 1, w h o uses
the term m utual taking and m entions the N ayaka’s constant requests to be
given. B ird -D avid further notes that dem and sharing is a system o f exchange
that erases the past and forecloses the future, given that w hat happened in the
past is irrelevant to the exchange tak in g place in the present.
13. See also G ibson 1988.
14. C ollier and Rosaldo’s (1981) bride service m odel cannot explain the w orkings
202 S- Coming Back to the Longhouse

o f Huaorani conjugal com plem entarity nor its paradoxical existence w ithin
an econom y characterized b y general sharing. From whatever angle one
looks at Huaorani m arriage, one does not find an organization o f needs and
claims leading to the restricted access to forms o f property. Women are not
men’s property, spouses do not belong to each other, and parents do not own
children. Huaorani m arriage is a central institution that structures the p olit­
ical economy, but it does not correlate with social stratification and social h i­
erarchy. M y purpose here is not to review this m odel, w hich numerous schol­
ars have already com m ented on, amended, and criticized, particularly K elly
15. The section on hom osexuality in Robarcheck and R obarcheck (1998:56—57)
is not only entirely spurious and devoid o f truth, but it is also an insult to,
and a danger for, the H u aorani population. T h eir com m ents, such as “sex be­
tween male cross-cousins was also common” or “the acceptability o f sexual
attraction between m en ,” betray a complete lack o f anthropological insight
(male cross-cousins m ay h u g and kiss, but the idea o f engaging in penetrative
sex is as alien and h orrifyin g to them as it is to a conscientious Christian fu n ­
damentalist). Given the high incidence o f tourism in Huaorani land, R o ­
barcheck and Robarcheck’s serious ethnocentric confusion between sex and
sensuality m ay have extrem ely nefarious consequences for the welfare o f
Huaorani men, w om en, and children.
16. Although the idea o f shared substance as a form o f consubstantiality is found
in varying degrees in m an y cultures, in Amazonia it has given rise to unique
forms o f sociality. R o b erto da M atta (1982) was the first anthropologist to
stress the im portance o f “substance relationships” in native Amazonia and to
discuss the concom itant b e lie f that parents influence the physical appearance
and health o f their children according to the foods the parents eat or avoid.
See also Rival 1998c; G u ss 1989; and Overing 1993:55. In som e Amazonian so­
cieties, such as those described by G ow (1989) and G riffiths (1998), people
become physically o f on e kind through work, not b y living together.
17. Generalizing from Barasana ethnography, Stephen H ugh-Jones (1993; 1995)
concludes that the A m azon ian house is conceptualized as continuous w ith
the human body; it is like a living organism im bued w ith animate properties.
18. For Terry Turner, bodiliness solves the contradiction between the individual
and society in A m azonia, where “subjectivity and agency m ay rather be rep­
resented as they are am o n g the Kayapo as dividual rather than individual,
and as embodied in discrete bodily processes and m odes o f activity rather
than as attributes o f a disem bodied and integral Cartesian ego” (Turner
1995:166). Said differently, the subject becomes subject not by producing o b ­
5- Coming Back to the Longhouse 203

jects, as in the Euro-A m erican understanding o f w h at m akes us human, but

b y co-participating in the creation o f other subjects.
19. B u t see Viveiros de C astro and Fausto (1993:149—5iff.), w h o maintain that,
despite its Draviniate features, this general structure cannot be said to be el­
ementary, for it is not articulated by a positive m arriage rule. O n the absence
o f correspondence between “crossness” and affinity, and the existence o f a
sem i-com plex structure und erlyin g all Am azonian kinship systems, see H en­
ley 1996:59.
20. D u rin g fieldwork, I did not com e across the term arorani, a category identi­
fied by Yost (personal com m unication) as com prisin g cross-cousins with
w h om marriages are arranged and, by extension, all affines. —
21. See chapter 3 n. 18.
22. H uaorani women seem to be m uch keener to bestow ancestral names on out­
siders than their male relatives are. These latter, on the w hole, tend to ignore
fem ale outsiders and are content to call male outsiders they befriend m enqui
‘cross-cousin/brother-in-law’ , jokingly asking them fo r permission to have
sex with their sisters. I m y se lf was asked several tim es to bring m y younger
sister to share her w ith m y g u irin a n i or to prom ise to give m y ten-year-old
daughter in marriage to on e o f m y brothers children. It is not surprising,
therefore, that in the oil cam ps that surround H u aorani land, the Huaorani
are no longer called aucas ‘savages’ or, more ironically, am igos ‘friends’, but
m enquis.
23. T h e Huaorani contrast between the name-set ( private, conveying genealog­
ical information) and the p u blic name ( provisional, attached to a particular
group membership) is not w ith ou t recalling the com plem entarity o f blood
and name among the B oro ro , which Crocker (1979:255) describes as consti­
tutin g two axes running at right angles to each other, the first through time
and the other through space. See also Melatti 19 7 9 :7 7 —78, who argues that,
am o n g the Kraho, name transfers from male ego to Z S act as a compensation
for m ale residence transfers.
24. Yost and Davis (1983:281) m ention that, according to the H uaorani theory o f
illness, there are two types o f affliction, those that are ononqui, that is, result­
ing from no particular reason, and those that are caused b y huene ‘spirits.’
25. Cases o f old people speared to death by their yo u n ger kin (dassificatory
grandchildren) are also reported.
26. I knew o f no elderly m en left behind to die nor did m y inform ants mention
it as a possibility, as i f they took for granted that w hereas m en die a violent
death at a relatively yo u n g age, wom en tend to live m u ch longer, ending up
as old, decrepit, and lonely w idow s.
204 5- Coming Back to the Longhouse

27. T his connection is further elaborated in a popular m yth that recounts the
story o f an old woman abandoned b y her sons because she is too old to walk
to the new house site. She is saved from starvation and death b y her first-born
son who rejuvenates her and brings her abundant supplies o f ripe plantain
and game (Rival 1992:68—69).
28. It is significant that whereas there is a myth about son and m other (express­
ing the son’s anxiety about leaving his mother with no food) and a puberty
ritual involving father and daughter, there is no m yth regarding the father-
' son relationship (but the sun sends his son to the H uaorani to teach them
how to make hard wood spears and to give them stone axes) and no ritual in­
volving mother and daughter.
29. See Taylor 2000:313—19, for a sim ilar occurrence am o n g the Jivaro but with
very different structural consequences, given the patrilocal nature o f these
societies. See Guss 1989:81—83, w h o describes how Yekw ana boys are social­
ized to shift alliance from birth group to marriage grou p, in contrast with
girls for whom such separation does not generally occur.
30. Collier and Rosaldo’s (1981) argum ent that uxorilocality expresses a hus­
band’s indebtedness to his in-law s and that marriage arrangem ents reveal the
symbolic, economic, and political processes sustaining gender differences
does not apply in this context. See C rocker’s (1984:67) remark that the
Canela husband becomes “ em bedded in the female m atrix o f domestic life
held strongly in place through uxorilocal residence.” See Turner 1979 and Lea
2001 for conflicting interpretations o f Kayapo uxorilocality.
31. In a similar vein, the prim ary m otivation fo rT u p in am b a warfare, according
to Viveiros de Castro (199 2:297, 375), is to overcom e uxorilocality, which is
lived as a servitude by in -m arryin g men.
32. M arrying someone from on e’s longhouse w ould be tantam ount to brother-
sister incest, as codified in the well-know n m yth about an incestuous broth­
er who became the m oon. T h e m yth, com m on th rough ou t Amazonia, m ay
be summarized as follows: A brother and a sister, w h o have always been very
close, sleep in the same h am m ock. In his sleep, the brother turns into a m os­
quito and unwillingly penetrates his sister’s m outh. Sh e is awakened by the
tickling and soon realizes w ith horror that her brother has “annoyed” her
(this is a euphemism for sexual intercourse). In som e versions, the you ng
m an, mortified and terribly asham ed, asks his yo u n ger brother to use a blow ­
pipe to propel him to heaven. In other versions, the yo u n ger brother, enraged
by his sibling’s m isdem eanor, decides to punish his o ld er brother by sending
him to heaven. T h e incestuous brother becomes the m oon. T h e younger
brother and his sister becom e close allies. T h e ir m other, chagrined by her
5- Corning Back to the Longhouse 20$

son’s absence, watches the m oon every night. She is heartbroken by the ir­
reparable distance: Her son w ill never return.
33. A sim ilar situation was observed by Viveiros de C astro am ong the Arawete:
“ It is not the brother-in-law but rather the sister w h o cedes a daughter to ego
or his son” (1992:162). W h ile acknowledging the cen trality o f the brother-sis­
ter relationship in Am azonian social life, reflected in the Araw ete’s preferred
m arriage arrangement between a brother and a sister exchanging their chil­
dren in marriage, Viveiros de Castro maintains that such m arital alliances are
ordered by cross-consanguinity rather than by affinity. W h at is intended, he
concludes, “ is an ideal o f endogam y within the kind red ” (162); in other
w ords, a short cycle o f reciprocal exchange. W hereas I agree w ith the latter
statem ent, I would stress that, at least in the H uaorani context, such alliances
are affinal and that it is not im m ediacy that people seek but rather balance
and symmetry. Whereas, according to Viveros de C astro , true affinity (i.e.,
unconsanguinizable affinity) occurs between a m ale A raw ete and a M-a'i god
(i.e., a man who has becom e superhum an through death), it is between fe­
m ale cross-cousins that true affinity exists am ong the H uaorani.
34. See Dreyfus 1993 for useful sum m aries o f the debate, V iveiro s de Castro and
Fausto 1993 and Rivière 1993 for alternative explanations, and H enley 1996
fo r a m ore recent overview.
35. Pets fix people to their longhouses m ore than children do and are considered
to be more dem anding than children. Whereas children grow and fend for
themselves, pets are utterly dependent and need to be fed throughout their
lives. W omen suckle baby m onkeys and feed fledglings w ith m ashed bananas
m ixed in breast milk. Certain varieties o f fruit such as sm all, scented bananas
are brought home especially to feed pets, which are generally treated with
care and affection. People would go hungry rather than deprive their pets o f
foo d, and children who eat the food reserved for pets are sternly scolded. T h e
m ost demanding pet in terms o f feeding is the h arpy eagle, which does not
live inside the house but is attached on a platform outside the main entrance,
w here it is fed freshly hunted monkeys.
36. Seeger (1981:169—71) discusses the ways the Suya deal w ith old age as a form
o f reversal from autonom y to dependency. O ld people undergo a rite o f pas­
sage b y which they acquire a new status corresponding to the cultural idea
that aging is a transformation to a lesser social state.
37. T h is cultural representation o f the old wom an left to die in the decrepit long­
house stands in remarkable contrast to that found in the Jivaro culture, in
w h ich the house is abandoned when its owner, a dead great warrior, dies. T h e
corpse— armed, painted, and adorned with feathers— is tied to the central
206 5. Coming Back to the Longhouse

pole o f the lon gh ou se (Descola 1994, chap. 4). Death, far from being de­
struction or an n ih ilation , is a change o f state and function. At the heart o f
the shamanic co m p lex, the soul, from an invisible state, becomes fu n ctio n al­
ly transcendental, w h ile acquiring the potential power to interfere w ith the
living. H uaorani dead are more like the B o ro ro o f whom Crocker (1985:270)
says: “ T h e souls o f the dead soon cease to have any interest in the affairs o f
the living.”
38. Roosevelt (19 9 1:4 0 4 ), w ho mentions that M arajoara villages were also cem e­
teries, contends, against previous analyses, that burial sites were contin uou s­
ly occupied.

6 . E em e F estiva ls: C e re m o n ia l Increase a n d M arria g e A llia n c e

1. It is in this sense v e ry close to the Trio notion o f sasame discussed b y Rivière

(2000:254), w h ich he defines as the high valuation o f a large network o f close,
harmonious relationships or the com bined notion o f material w ealth and
wealth in people, a kind o f happiness he contrasts with the h arm on y and
calmness resulting from co-residential conviviality.
2. Given that the ch on ta palm feasting com plex, discussed in chapter 4, was no
longer practiced at the time when, and in the places where, I carried out
fieldwork, I cou ld docum ent these m arriages only indirectly, relying on peo­
ple’s m em ories, on their comments w hen w e walked through old palm
groves, and, d u rin g the peach palm season, on .visiting patterns between
brothers and sisters livin g in different villages.
3. Lizot (1984:165) notes that the Yanom am i, w h o also depend on banana and
plantain rather than m anioc, organize a feast with almost any kind o f plant
food, provided there is enough o f it. Interestingly, their drin kin g parties,
which are not to celebrate marriages, like the H uaorani, but to celebrate their
dead (Albert 1985), frequently lead to k illin g raids,
4. Robarcheck and R obarcheck (1998:5) accuse me o f being a poor linguist, and
o f confusing tw o contrastive morphemes, w h ich they spell as w 'i and we. T h is
confusion, acco rd in g to them, has led me to state erroneously that the same
Huaorani term is used to translate the term “ leader” and the expression “ in a
In response, I w o u ld like first to stress that I checked with a num ber o f in­
formants over the years, and through variou s methods, that ahue (tree) and
ahuene (leader) share a common m orphem e. M y informants consistently
agreed that ahuene can be used to mean both “ leader” and “o f the tree.” I re-
6. Eeme Festivals 207

alize now that I could have accentuated the nasalization o f ah u e and ah u en e

more appropriately by spelling these tw o w ords as ah u e and ahuene.
M y second rem ark is that there has been a great deal o f uncertainty and
confusion am ong S IL (Summer Institute o f Linguistics) linguists about
nasalized vowels in H uaorani, particularly w h en it comes to differentiate the
vowel ¿'from the vowels <*• and e. W hereas C atherin e Peeke (1973:127) differ­
entiates k iiv& d o (what tree) from k iw e d o (w hat manioc) by spelling them
differently, the bilingual informants w ith w h om I have worked w ould not
necessarily m ake such a difference in p ronu nciation and spelling.
An average o f fo u r middle-sized m anioc roots are needed for each bowl o f
ceremonial drink. Since people drink approxim ately twenty bowls during a
typical drinking cerem ony o f one hundred, six hundred to eight hundred
manioc roots are required. The substantial am ount o f w ork required in
preparing a traditional manioc drinking festival is illustrated by the fact that
two ripe plantains or bananas are needed for each bowl, and hence four hun­
dred for a drin kin g ceremony. M oreover, banana drink requires no special
preparation, as the fruit is simply boiled and m ixed with water, as it is for
everyday consum ption.
T h e reader m ust take into consideration the difficulties encountered in giv­
ing anything other than an approxim ate translation o f H uaorani chants.
One reason for this is that verses use a h igh ly synthetic, elliptical language
and syntax; another is that my inform ants’ Spanish was too poor to convey
the poetic nuances and colorful language used in Huaorani. M y analysis de­
pends entirely on the approximate translations offered by bilingual speakers.
M y guess is that the sym bolic m eaning o f these songs is far richer and com ­
plex than w hat is presented here. T h e translation— and m y basic interpreta­
tion-— are lim ited by the fact that no one to date has developed a sufficient
knowledge o f the language to provide in-depth analysis o f m etaphors and
song semantics.
A few inform ants mentioned the w earing o f necklaces o f bones o f anteater
(oto), which are said to eat the bones o f dead people, and bones o f vulture
(ayab'e), which are said to clean the bones o f enem ies abandoned on the for­
est floor after having been killed. Such bones, I was told, carry the voices o f
the dead and “m ake noise like tape recorders.”
One inform ant told me that guests also present the ahuene with whole m on­
keys, cured and ready to be eaten; the latter, in return, dances for his guests
while holding the m onkeys.
A n elderly inform ant once told me that a bunch o f bananas hang at the en­
trance o f the feasthouse for the use o f huarani bachelors w ho practiced
2o8 6. Eeme Festivals

throwing their spears on it. Those who did not throw with sufficient strength
were penalized.
10. See, for example, G oldm an 1963:215—17.
11. The old Dete told me that guests who had com e from far away were allow ed
to sleep in a ham m ock provided by a kinsm an or a friend but that no
one from the hosting nanicabo could. T h o se w h o were falling asleep were
immediately bathed in manioc drink, poked, tickled, and made to stand up
12. For a study o f gender difference experienced as a ritual difference, see also
Atkinson and Errington 1990, but especially Kuipers 1990:154.
13. See Reichel-Dolm atoff 1971 and Roe 1982, w h o mention in passing the asso­
ciation between fruiting and a fecund sexual union, and who both d em o n ­
strate the symbolic importance o f sex and b o d y in Northwest Am azon repre­
sentations o f the connections between cosm os and society.
14. The ear-piercing cerem ony is briefly described in Rival 19933:640.
15. I have never heard o f a mother running o f f w ith her son; uxorilocality gives
mothers definite rights over the choice o f in-m arrying men.
16. Tona, the first Huaorani evangelical m issionary, was killed by the H uepeiri
because, after having stayed several m onths preaching among them , he had
refused to marry one o f their women, insisting that he was already m arried in
Till uè no and that G o d wanted men to be m onogam ous (C. Peeke, Ja n u a ry
1990, personal com m unication).
17. See also Yost 1981:104.
18. Yost (i98ib:i05), w ho grants parents w ith m ore power in arranging m arriages
than 1 do, notes that couples who have a son and a daughter ready to m arry
are in a good bargaining position vis-à-vis those w ho need spouses, p articu­
larly if one nanicabo has no other alternative available.
19. See also Kensinger 1984:254.
20. See chapter 3 for a discussion o f bellicose m en whose kin have been killed in
warfare or raids m ounted by cohuori. A n interesting parallel m ay be drawn
with some African systems, in which “patrilocality owes its im portance to
virilocal marriage, and it is this form o f m arriage that enables uterine broth­
ers to reside together. I f marriages were uxorilocal, uterine brothers w o u ld be
dispersed through the villages o f their w ives” (Turner 1967:6).
21. A brief survey o f marriage patterns in five H uaorani settlements gives the fol­
lowing results. In three out o f five settlem ents there were no interethnic mar­
riages with Q uichua (o percent o f all alliances). In the fourth settlem ent, in­
terethnic marriages with Q uichua represented 15.38 percent o f the total,
compared to 23.07 percent double cross-cousin marriages and 19.23 percent
6. Eëmë Festivals 209

bilateral cross-cousin marriages. A nd in the fifth settlem ent interethnic m ar­

riages with Q uich ua represented 16.21 percent o f the total, compared to 2 .7 0
percent double cross-cousin marriages an d 40.54 percent bilateral cross­
cousin marriages (see table 5.1).
22. Food distribution in a longhouse I once visited d u rin g fieldwork illustrates
this implicit law. In this house at the tim e w ere tw o sisters, who were m arried
to the same m an, and their widowed sister-in-law , w h o had been m arried to
their brother. T h e tw o married sisters w an ted the w idow ed wom an to leave
the longhouse, and they never shared food w ith her. Such cases o f unw anted
co-residence are infrequent today but m ay h ave been more com m on in the
past, when w arfare caused widows and orph an s to find refuge am o n g dis­
tantly or inappropriately related house groups.
23. T h e Cubeo d rin kin g party, as described b y G o ld m a n (1963:203), shares a
number o f characteristics with the H uaoran i ëëm ë. In both, we find the p ro ­
duction o f abundant resources, with a local grou p providing far m ore drin k
than it can possibly consum e. But the C u b e o asym m etry between hosts and
guests is characteristic o f societies where spirits, gods, or ancestors are in v it­
ed to partake in drin kin g festivals, and w here hum ans, w ho start out as hosts,
end up invaded, taken over, possessed, o r d evoured by their superhum an
guests, as a necessary process to obtain fertility and to renew the life force.
See, among others, Viveiros de Castro 19 92, C h au m eil 2001, Erikson 2 0 0 1,
and S. Hugh Jon es 1979. Such cerem onies correspond, in Bloch’s (1992)
analysis, to hum ans surrendering their inn ate vitality and subm itting to an
external, transcendental force.
24. For a review o f these rites o f passage, see V iv e iro s de C astro 1996 and H en le y
25. See also Journet 1995:257, who describes the C u rrip a co ’s m anioc celebration
as “exogamie exchange festivals” [m y translation— L .R .] linking c o m m u n i­
ties on the basis o f marital ties. He goes on to say:

Dans la société, la configuration associée à la culture des jardins est celle du

couple de géniteurs. Lorsque les produits d u jardin circulent, ils intervien­
nent pour pacifier les relations et établir des liens contractuels, plutôt que de
fonder des coalitions contre un ennemi c o m m u n . (289)

In Curripaco society, gardening as a practice and sym bolic configuration

is associated w ith the couple formed by the gen itor and the genitrix. C irc u ­
lating garden produce act as social pacifiers; they ease the setting up o f con­
tractual links between social groups. T h e y are not used to create coalitions
against a com m on enemy.
2io y. Schools in the Rain Forest

7. Sch ools in the R ain Forest

1. The verb a means “say," “w an t,” and “wish” all at once, so that the literal
translation could in fact be “do not want/wish/say” !
2. As Jackson (1995:320) accurately observes in the C o lo m b ian context, non-
indigenous models that are w orlds aw ay from traditional indigenous ways o f
organizing politically and m aintain ing cultural forms have been increasingly
used throughout the 1980s and 1990s for the preservation o f indigenous cul­
tures and histories.
3. The advance o f oil prospecting and the S IL missionary w o rk resulted in the
concentration o f 80 percent o f the population on less than 10 percent o f
the traditional Huaorani territory. A t the time o f m y doctoral fieldwork, the
Huaorani numbered 1,250, w ith 55 percent o f the population under sixteen
years o f age. Two percent o f the population was still uncontacted and lived in
4. By 1981, 20 percent o f the p opulation in the Protectorate could read the S IL
translation o f the Gospel A ccording to M ark (Rival 1992:15).
5. For a fuller account, see Rival 1992:323—48.
6. Incidentally, the contrast between modern and traditional also corresponds
to the general opposition between “ upstream groups” (irum enga) and “down­
stream groups” (enomenga).
7. See, am ong others, W hitten 1985 and Reeve 1993 for a discussion o f the
Q uichua opposition between “savage” (auca) and “civilized” (a lii), and Jack­
son 1983 for theTukano dual classification o f “subhuman” and “truly human”
groups. Fausto (1998) has fou n d a similar form o f dualism am ong the
8. Christianized Huaorani believe that G o d is a powerful father who has de­
stroyed death and has given the dead new bodies so they can live in his house
in heaven: “ The old bodies w ill be discarded as old fishing nets, and they’ll
receive new bodies when Jesus com es to call them” (W allis 19 71:4 1).
9. Cartilla p ik en a n i ateyehuem onte eñenkin I and II realized b y B ay Carlos A l­
varado, Luis Montaluisa, A h u a Ñ ih u a, and Consuelo Yanez. IL L - C E IE 1984.
Q uito: M E C y P U C E .
10. For a m ore extensive description o f school routines, see R ival 1992, 1996a,
and 1996c.
11. See, for instance, Turner 1995, E rikson 1996, and V iveiros de C astro 1998b.
12. Daniel Rogers, an evangelical m issionary based in Shell M era, had a large
house built across from the airport, for exactly the sam e purpose o f exposing
the H uaorani to civilized dom esticity. T h e house, an exact replica o f a North
8. Prey at the Center 2 11

A m erican wooden lodge, was designed to provide the Indians w ith a domes­
tic environm ent propitious for the acquisition o f urban and civil behavior. It
had a livin g room filled with shelved books and old issues o f the N ational
G eographic, a large television and video cassette recorder (V C R ), and several
couches crowding around an im po sin g fireplace. Posters o f w inter scenes in
various parts o f the United States and Canada ornamented the walls.
13. In an interesting parallel exam ple, H ugh-Jones (1992), w h o analyzes trade re­
lations between drug barons and Barasana Indians, argues that the Barasana’s
desire for Western goods is a desire for social relations w ith the whites—
rather than for the goods them selves. H e concludes that the value o f manu­
factured goods lies in the context in w hich they are acquired, in the people
from w h om they derive, and in the very act o f acquiring them.
14. T h e foraging o f oil camps, the su p p ly o f food to villages, and the determina­
tion to secure exclusive access rights to sources o f wealth are all strategies that
have becom e difficult to m aintain in the present exploitation phase.
15. T h e practice is similar with Sh u ar and Q ichua neighbors or Ecuadorian oil
engineers to whom they are bo u n d b y compadrazgo ritual ties. In chapter 7 o f
m y doctoral thesis (Rival 1992), I exam ine further instances o f Huaorani de­
nials o f trade and reciprocity, an d particular instances in which interethnic
contact is manipulated in such a w a y that non-H uaorani are forced to give
unilaterally to Huaorani.
16. A sim ilar w ork ethic exists am o n g the U itoto who stress that one must"work
hard to m ove closer toward a lived approxim ation o f the good life, and by so
d oing m aintain an acceptable level o f health and well-being in the fam ily and
settlem ent group (Griffiths 19 9 8 :19 0 —209; 2001).
17. C o n o n aco trekkers, who have not been schooled and do not share the Pro­
tectorate villagers’ mystique, wa-nder naked and unself-conscious through
abandoned modern buildings, such as the camps left by oil companies.

8. P re y a t th e C en te r

1. Lévi-Strauss (1995) has vivid ly revisited this thesis in his prologue to his pho­
tographic memoir. See T aylor 1988:182, for an interesting remark on Lévi-
Strauss’s concept o f devolution as the inevitable outcom e o f the destructive
tem poral flux o f history, w hich he characterizes as “a perpetual risk” and a
“form id able entropic process” w h ose m otion inevitably erodes structures and
tarnishes beginnings.
2. See also Sellato’s (1994:1771^.) contrast between the Punan’s stewardship and
212 8. Prey at the Center

indirect m anagem ent o f wild sago palm s and the farm ing practices o f long­
time B orneo farmers, who plant and cultivate the palm on a large scale.
3. For sim ilar findings among the Parakana, see Fausto 1998.
4. The B uid o f the Philippine H igh lands have similarly adopted m obility and
sharing as m utually reinforcing institutions to evade con tro l by powerful
neighbors w h om they cannot resist m ilitarily (Gibson 19 9 0 :14 1). G ibson fur­
ther remarks that autonomous groups in the region have su rvived thanks to
ideologies that reject any form o f dom inance; those w h o h ave failed to de­
velop appropriate ideologies were either absorbed into aggressive state sys­
tems or elim inated. He goes on to com pare the interactions o f three societies
(the B uid , the Ilongot, and the Iban) w ith autonomous ideologies and value
systems in the com m on regional econom y, without either red u cing their ide­
ologies to epiphenom ena o f the w id er system or ignoring the real effects on
them o f com m od ity relations and m ilitary force (Gibson 19 9 0 :14 2 —43).
5. Pierre Ja u lin (1977:3) explains that relations o f existence, w h ic h com bine in­
dissociable relations between m en and relations between m en and the world,
pertain to the domestic domain o f dw elling and shared consum ption:

J ’avais découvert qu’une civilisation est bien autre chose q u e les objets qu’elle
accumule, fussent-ils des objets de pensée, des connaisances empaquetées. Je
voyais que la qualité de vivre est une fin, que cette fin n’est pas une invention
individuelle, mais le fruit d’un ordre collectif, la donnée d ’ une alliance avec
le m onde, alliance dont le prem ier tem ps est l’alliance des h om m es entre eux,
le jeu des relations les plus concrètes, c’est-à-dire.celles qu i impartissent l’e­
space, nous font résider, consom m er, produire, jouir, inventer.

I had discovered that a civilization is m uch more than the objects it accu­
mulates, even when these are th ou gh t objects or packaged knowledge. I had
com e to realize that quality o f life w as an end in itself, that this aim , far from
being an individual invention, w as the fruit o f a collective order, the result o f
an alliance w ith the world, an alliance that starts with th e entente o f men
am ong themselves, the interplay o f the m ost concrete relations such as those
assigned to space, and that m ake us reside, produce, rejoice, and invent.
6. Such a w orldview is diam etrically opposed to the M aussian view that gods
and the dead are the real owners o f the w orld’s wealth (G rego ry 1980) and
that the living are indebted to those in authority for the gift o f fertility,
health, and wealth (Bloch and Parry 1982).
7. Ju d gin g from the oral narratives I collected in the field, w o m en were able to
move ou t o f Huaorani land m ore easily than men. W om en resorted to this
extrem e and desperate measure w hen internal warfare endangered their lives
8. Prey at the Center 21$

to the point where the prospect o f m arryin g outside their tribe appeared less
horrifying. M en , however, had little chance o f being accepted in another
tribe w ithout being killed.
In an interesting parallel, the Y u ru p ari m yth com m on to all Tukanoan In­
dians starts with the conflict resulting from female prim ogeniture in societies
where m en m ust initiate the exchange o f m arriage partners. In the m yth , two
sexually m ature sisters, whose you nger brother is too you ng to m arry, leave
their native longhouse and search fo r a husband themselves (R eich el-D ol-
m atoff 1995:198).
8. The cultural dimension o f social reproduction is a fundam ental issue that
unfortunately has been entirely overlooked by G ordon and Sho lto D ouglas
(2000) in their account o f the B ush m an myth.
9. For a m ore extensive critique o f the social construction o f nature thesis, see
Rival 1998c and Rival, Slater, and M ille r 1998.
10. O nly Shuar and Q uichua shamans w h o have caused the death o f blood kin
and affines are called “cannibals,” and at least two o f them have been killed
in recent years.
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Roosevelt, A ., 4, 10, 13, 14, 15, 20
A lb ert, B ., 18, 66
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2047229, 2II22I
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D enevan, W., 9—12, 15

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2002228, 2042231, 2052233
G ross, D ., 7—8, 15, 16

W hitten, N ., xiii
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Su b jects
K en t, S., 18—19
A bigiras, 23, 31, 33, 35, 40, 41
Lathrap, D ., 14, 15, 21 A bundance o f forest resources, 75—83,
Lea, V., 16, 17 177 ; artificial creation of, 176; cele­
Lévi-Strauss, C ., 5, 14, 15, 16 , 17 , 20, bration of, 14 7
2II2 2 I Aché, 2, 7 , 14
Affinity: and otherness, 60; and con­
M auss, M .,'17 sanguinity, 113, 118, 149; potential,
M aybury-Lew is, D ., 2, 15, 17 125, 136 , 17 6
M eggers, B ., 5, 6, 7 Agnatic ties, 124
A gricultural regression, xiii, 4, 179; and
N eed h am , R., 17 cultural devolution, xix, 5 ,12 , 13, 20,
N ew son, N ., 23, 32 178; and trekking, xx; critique o f the
Rivet, P., 41 thesis of, 179 —80, 182
240 Index

Air strips, 2 Buid, 1972224, 212224

A m azonian anthropology, 3, 21, 43—44, Burial, 121, 122; see also C h ild “sacrifice”
116, 13 7 ; on myth and history,
64—65, 67; on the marriage bond, Canela, 2042230
147 Cannibals, 4 7, 51, 52, 54
Année Sociologique, xx Cham bira (A strocaryum cham bira), 83
A nthropom orphic forests, xiv, 11, 93, Chanting, 10 0 , 10 4 , 138; and symbol­
126, 178 , 183, I90»9; and ancient ism, 207226; and warfare, 56
d w elling sites, 188 Chiefdoms, 3, 5, 20
Arabelas, 34 Child “sacrifice,” 57, 59, 66
Arawete, 21, 83, 2052233 Chonta palm (B a c tris gasipaes), 47, 51,
Aucas, 33, 37, 162, 1927210, 210«7 73. 74. 77. 82, 85, 151, 174, 194221;
Aushiri (and derivatives), 34, 37, 41 groves, 84—88; and m em ory o f the
Autarchy, 129, 177, 183 d ead ,87
A utonom y, xix, 62, 127, 134, 188; Civilization: and schooling, 154; and
personal, 99—102, 104,108 Christianity, 16 1
Ayahuasca (B an isteria caapi), 34, 79, Comm ensality, 14 7
1932221, 1982214 C O N A IE (C onfederation o f the
Indigenous N ationalities o f
Bachelors, 122, 135, 207«9 Ecuador), 75
Banana drink, 139 C O N F E N IA E (Confederation o f the
Barasana, 105, 2022217, 2112213 Indigenous N ationalities o f the
Biological reproduction, 119 Ecuadorian A m azon), 75, 151
Birds, ritual use, 133—38 Conjugality. S ee M arried life
Birth, 10 7 —108 Conjugal pair. S ee Spouse
B low pipes, 76, 77, 85, 107 Consanguines, 115, 127
Body: and adornments, 42, 135—36; and Consanguineal ties, 79; and gender, 124
identity, 15, 163—66; and individuali­ Consum ption, 186
ty, 10 0 —10 1; killers, 57; and kinship, Corn. See M aize
119—21; scarred, 58-59; and sensual Corpses, 58
bonding, 109—10; and schooling, Cross-cousin m arriage, 113, 125, 141,
153; and social transformations, i44, 146, 14 9. !73
16 7; soul. See onohuoca; and the Cross-cousins, xx, 117 , 136
sharing o f substance. See Substance Cubeo, 146, 2092223
sharing Cuiva, 2, 77 , 82, 87, 99, 197221
B ororo, 5, 2032223, 2062237 Cultural ecology, xix, xx, 3, 4, 9, 12;,
Bride service, 123, 2012214; C ollier and and environm ental determinism,
Rosaldo’s model of, 109, 2012214, 5—6; and optim al foraging theory, 6,
2042230 9.13
Index 241

C u rarare (Curarea tecunarum ) , 75, 81 Fishing, 18 0; as collective activity, 76;

C u rrip aco , 18, 209»25 w om en and, 7 6 ; poison used in, 81
Food taboos, n o
D an cin g , 136—37
D eath : and gender, 122, 128; and kin ­ G athering, 80—84
ship, 60; in old age, 121—22, Gender: asym m etry, 124, 213/27; con­
203KW25, 26 struction of, 133—38
D eer, 71 Giant anteater, 58
D ivisio n o f labor, 106—107 Grave, 58, 59, 14 7 , 1997216
D o gs, 77 Growth: in plants, 1, 180; fast, 89; slow,
D ravid ian terminology, 112, 113, 115, 87
118 , 126 Guaja, 13
D rin k in g ceremonies, xx; in H uaorani Guests, 135, 14 4 —4 7, 16 6 ; as consum ers,
society, 62, 63, 85, 132-33, 145, 147, 170—72
151, 17 0 (.see also éémé); and rituals
o f alliance, 148; and social distinc­ H am m ocks, 4 2, 10 1, 103, 107, 12 1, 122,
tions, 138, 147; see also Yurupari 128, 131, 138, 163, 169, 201/210, 208/211
cult H arpy eagles, 7 7 , 205/235
Hearth, 95, 128
E ar-piercin g ceremony, 122, 138 H istorical ecology, 12 ; and optimal
Ecological zoning, 80 foraging theory, 13—14
E n d ogam ou s nexi, 61, 126 H istory an d identity, 49
E ndogam y, xx, 12 0 ,125, 127, 148, Hosts, 135, 14 4 —4 7, 209/223; as produc­
14 9 -5 0 ers, 17 0 —72
Enem ies, 51, 58; life force of, 65 H owler m o n k ey (Alouatta seniculus) ,
E q u ality and hierarchy, xix 7°
Ethnicity, 151 H uaorani, 51; econom y, 68—69, 76;
E thnogenesis, xix, 22, 31, 36, 43—44, ethnobotany, 186; hunting, 73—80;
179 in m edia discourses, xiii; impact
E vil spirits. See huine o f schooling on. See state schools;
population, xiv, xvi; pre-contact
Fallow s, 12, 80 history, 37—4 0 ; representations o f
Fam ily groups. See nanicabo (-iri); the past, 46—49, 64—67; residence
huaom oni patterns, 95—99; sociality, 94;
Feasthouse, 13 1,14 7 territory, 33, 4 0 , 80, 81, 151 (see also
Feasting. See Drinking ceremonies W arfare)
Fertility, 65, 87,182, 183, 1997225; see also H unter-gatherers in the Am azon, xiv,
N atural abundance 5. 6, 7
Fish, 71 H unting cam ps, 2
242 Index

Illness: and identification w ith house­ wara; Panare; Parakana; Pemon;

h old members. See shared substance; Shuar; Sirionô; Suya; Trio;
and anger. Seep 'tr, causes. S ee onon- Tukanoans; Uitoto; Wari’; X avante;
q u i\ manifestations. S ee daicah u o \ Yagua; Yekwana; Yanomami
h uen tey
Ilongot, 67,1937223, 1997225 M acaw (A ra macao), 70, 138
-In cest, 140, 2047232 M aize, 12, 19, 89
Incorporation, 67 M akü, 2, 7, 18, 77, 87, 198229
Individuality, 100 M akuna, 78, 150-51, 198729
Intim acy, 94 M anioc, xix, 9, 12, 19, 60, 75, 80, 88,
106, 171; cultivation, 89—90, 145,
Jaguars, 54, 66, 77 , 78; and sham anism , 151; drinks, 50, 89, 131—32; H uaorani
79 ; see also m eñera\ m iñ e gardens, 2
Ju ru n a, 201728 M anufactured goods: acquisition of,
157—60, 167—69; dependence on,
K a’apor, 1997216 162—64, 165
K ayap ó, 16, 136, 2027218 M argin ality and social reproduction,
K illers, 48, 121 186-88
K illin g, 102 M arriage: celebration of, 138—40; and
K in sh ip : and identity, 185; and resi­ creation o f consanguinity, 142; rules,
dence, 112; and th eory o f relatedness, 113, .140; and social distance, 141
112 —18; see also A ffin ity, C o nsan guin­ M arriage alliances, 2, 62, 63, 116, 120,
ity; Warfare 125, 126, 129,139; between brothers
K in sh ip terminology, 112 —15, n 8 ; ad­ and sisters, 130, 151; grandparental
dress and reference, 116 ; dual inclu­ role in, 140; between H uaorani and
sive and dual exclusive, 116 —18 N apo ru n a, 143—44
K rahó, 2037223 M arried life, 105—109, 123
M atis, 87
Longhouse: building o f, 94; burning M atu ration, I
of, 95; group. See n a n ic a b o , onco\ M axu s. S ee oil companies
and Huaorani society, x x , 60, 62, M obility, xiii, xix, xx, 4—9, 91, 151, 177,
75, 98, 127, 129; and identity, n o ; 181; effect on cultural transm ission,
membership, 10 0 13; and identity, 15; and isolationism ,
Low land South A m erican societies, 3; 46; and warfare, 49
contem porary native peoples. See M oipa, 39, 194729, 1967218
A ché; Achuar; A raw ete; Barasana; M onkeys, 71, 78; howler (A lou a tta
Bororo; Canela; C u b e o ; C u iva; sen icu lu s), 7 6; spider (A te le sp a n is-
Curripaco; G u ajá; K a y a p o ; Krahó; cus), 76; w oolly (L agothrix
M akú; M akuna; M a tis; N am bik- la g o trich a ), 75, 76, 82
Index 24 3

Monogamy, 157 Pem on, 126

Morete (M a u ritia flex u o sa ), 71, 82, 83 Perspectivism , 181; in kinship term inol-
Myths: tree o f life, 49, 53, 55,148; evil ogy, 112 ; see also Predation
spirits, 50; brother-sister incest, Pets, 98, 12 7, 205/235
204/232 Plantain, 2, 19, 130, 199/221
Polygyny, 108, 127, 143
Nambikwara, 5 Power, naturalization of, 187
Nam ing system: personal names, 99, Predation, xx, 45, 47, 49, 52, 56, 65,
116, 118—19, 195/214; inheritance o f 90, 149, 180, 181, 184; from the per­
personal nam es, 118; name sets, 119, spective o f prey, 52, 53—54, 65, 181,
203/2/222, 23; n am in g ceremony, 94 187
Natural abundance, xix, 88—9 2 ,12 7 , Presentism , 2, 183
16 7 ,18 0 , 182, 183; and social regener­ Protectorate, xiv, xvi
ation, 182 Proxim ity, spatial and genealogical, 115,
Nom adism, 2, 84, 17 7 ; see also M obility 120

O il companies, x vi, 38, 39, 43, 75, 77, Q u eh u eire O no , 69, 95—98, 115, 121
144, 167, 168—70 ; M axus, xvi Q u ijo s, 23, 27, 30
O il industry: im pact on Huaorani, xvi,
xx, 38; in Ecuador, xvi Reciprocity, 78, 142
O ld age, 127—28 R efugees, 125, 127, 145
Omagua, 23—29, 40 Regeneration, xx, 184
Orphans, 57, 60 Relatedness, Huaorani conceptions of,
Organización de la N acionalidad 119
Huaorani de la A m azonia Ecuatori­ Residential groups, 62, 98; see also n an -
ana (O N H A E ), xvi, xix ic a b o (-in )
Other(s). See h u a R iver otter (Pteronura brasilien sis) , 70
R iv er turtles, 71
Palms, 11, 81 R u b b er boom , 22, 35—37, 45
Palm groves, xiv, 2, 84
Palm leaves, H uaorani use of, 71, 94, Schools: and bilingual education, 155;
136 and material wealth, 166—7 1; and
Panare, 126 m odernity, 155; and rural develop­
Parakana, 18, 60, 18 1, 2 10 « 7 m ent, 155, 164, 168; and social
Peace, 18, 61, 62, 65, 157, 162 reproduction, 156; and trekking,
Peach palm. See C h o n ta palm 1 7 2 -7 4
Peccaries: collared ( Tayassu tajacü), 71, Sch o olin g: and decontextualization,
140; white-lipped ( T ajassu peccari), 156; state, xiv, xx, 152, 154; and vil­
76, 7 7 ,13 7 ; h u n tin g of, 77 , 88—89 lage form ation, 174—75
244 Index

Seasons, xiv Tourism , xvi, 144

Sedentarization, 2, 19, 7 1, 76 , 157, 173 Trekking, xx, 3, 4, II, 13; in the A m a ­
Sedentism, 18, 19, 77 , 84 zon, 15—19; Huaorani patterns, xix,
Sensual bonding, 109—10 1, 2, 19 48, 52, 68, 69, 71, 75, 83—84,
Sexual avoidance, 137 99, 12 7 , 145, 168-69, 177. 179 .
Sexuality, 106, 208/213 180, 188; Kayapo patterns, 17,
Sum m er Institute o f Linguistics (SIL), 190/212; N am bikw ara patterns,
xiv, xvi, xxiii 17—18; cultural ecologists’ interpre­
Sham anism in A m azonian anthropolo­ tations of, xx
gy, 78; see also menera Trio, 206/21
Sharing, 90, 91, 94, 99, 10 1, 10 6 , 108, Tukanoans, 30, 78
109, 110, 124, 134—35, 145, 182; de­ Tupinam ba cannibalism, 196/222
mand, 7 8 ,10 2 —105, i(59; and natural
abundance, 186 U itoto, 184, 211/216
Shuar, 86, 1992219, 205/237, 211/215, U ngurahua (Jessenia batud), 7 1, 81—82
213/210 U pper N a p o region, xx; historical
Siriono, 2 records on, xix, 21, 22—37, 44> S1
Slaves, 12, 50; raiding, 30, 33, 44, 51; U xorilocality, 16 ,10 6 , 118, 120, 12 2 —24,
trading, xix, 27, 29, 32, 52 143, 150; and gender asymm etry, 146;
Sloth, 201/22 structural effects of, 124
Songs. See Chanting
Soul. See onohuoca V ictim h oo d and identity, 66; see also
Spears, 51, 53, 55, 56, 58, 7 6 , 86, 10 7 , Predation
122,195/210 V ictim s, 49
Spouse, 10 5,12 8 ; givers, 142; takers, V irilocal residence, 143, 144, 150, 151
142 V isitin g, 108, 116 , 123, 131, 169; and
Ssabelas, 41, 42 gender asymmetry, 146
Stone axes, xiv, 9, 50, 70 , 85, 94, Vitality, 65, 67
Substance sharing, 109—12, 122, 187 W arfare: and cultural ecology, x ix;
Suya, 205/236 H uao ran i, I, 46, 48, 55—64; and
m obility, 18; and history, xx;
Tagaeri, 2, 39, 43, 63, 6 4 , 16 2, 192/216, w o m en ’s participation in, 48
196/220 Wari’ , 149, 195/211
Tam ing, 162 Warrior. See Killer
Tapirs, 58, 70, 8i W idow , 99
Taromenga, 52 W idow er, 99
Toucan (Ramphastos sp.), 7 0 W ork, 10 1—10 2
Index 24$

Xavante, 2 h u a p o n i, 129
Yagua, 86, 87 h u a rep o , 47
Yanomami, 18, 1967215, 206/23 h u eg o n g u i, 53
Yekuana, 2047229 h u en e, 49, 51, 2037224
Yurupari cult, 86, 213727 h u en tey , 1 0 1 ,1 3 1 , 201727
h u iñ a ta re , 52
Zaparos, 23, 30, 33- 37 - 38
iiv a . S ee H ow ler m onkey

H u ao ran i T e rm s
m e m e iri, 4 6, 93
A huene , 80, 95, 130—33, 206724, m eñ era , 79, 1987212
207728 m e n q u i, 2037222; see also C ro ss­
A m o. See Peccaries, collared cousins
A m otam ini, 10 0 ; see also Chanting m ih i. S ee Ayahuasca
A paica, 47 772/7, 54
A ro bo q u i baon a n o b a in . See Substance m iin ta . See M acaw
sharing m im o , 79
m iñ e, 198/212; see also Jaguars
C ohuori, 52, 65, 66, 104
n a n ic a b o , n a n ic a b o iri, 104 , 13 1, 14 7 ; see
D a boca, 82 also Longhouse
D aguenca. See C h o n ta palm n an o on gu e. See Spouse
D aguenca tere, 47 n a n to ca . S ee M orete
D aicaho, 79
D eye. See M onkeys, spider orne. S ee Territory
D u be, 47 o m ere, 98/215
D u ra n i, 46, 49 om ere go bop a, 1; see also T rekking
o m p u re. See R iver otter
Eem e, 129—34 o n co, 94; see also Longhouse
o n o h u oca, 59, 195/212
G ata. See M onkeys, w oolly o n o n q u i, 12 1, 203/224
G u iri, g u irin a n i, 55, 104, 115, 185 oon ta. S ee curare
oto. S ee G ia n t anteater
hua, huaca, h u a ra n i, 55, 59, 62, 99, 104,
115, 129, 131, 142, 16 2, 185 p 'éené b iq u i. See Banana drink
huao, h u ao ran i, 41, 51 p eto h u e . See Ungurahua
huaom oni, 62, 97, 123, 126, 128, 129, p 'ti, p it in te , 4 7, 55—62, 66; and bereave­
141, 142, 187 m ent, 59; and revenge, 59
246 Index

p iq u 'en a n i. S e e old age tapaca tenonani, 57

p o n e, 4 7 tenohuenga. See Predation
p u g a n ta y 13 1 tite. See Tapir
toripe. See Dancing
quenhue. S ee C an n ib als
ure. See Peccaries, white-li
qu en ih u e. S ee H arp y eagle
q u en in ga, 98 y a iv e . See Toucan
h e h u a o r a n i o f Ec u a d o r lived a s h u n t e r s

T in the Amazonian rainforest for hundred o f wars. I;

by western civilization. Since their first encounter \
can missionaries in 1956 , they have held a special place i
popular imagination as “ Ecuador’s last savages.” Trkkiu»
the first description o f Huaorani society and culture according to modern
standards o f ethnographic writing. Through her comprehensive study o f their
extraordinary tradition o f trekking, Laura Rival shows that the Huaorani can­
not be seen merely as anachronistic survivors o f the Spanish Conquest. Her
critical reappraisal o f the notions o f agricultural regression and cultural devo­
lution challenges the universal application of the thesis that marginal tribes o f
the Amazon Basin represent devolved populations who have lost their knowl­
edge o f agriculture. Far from being an evolutionary event, trekking expresses
cultural creativity and political agency. Through her detailed comparative dis­
cussion o f native Amazonian representations of history and the environment.
Rival illustrates the unique way the Huaorani have socialized nature by choos­
ing to depend on resources created in the past— highlighting the unique con­
tribution anthropology makes to the study of environmental history.

L A U R A RI VAL is lecturer in anthropology at the University o f Oxford. She

has written a number o f ethnographic articles and papers on the Huaorani o f
Ecuador and the Makushi o f Guyana. She is the editor o f The Social Life o f
Trees: Anthropological Approaches to Tree Symbolism and the co-editor o f
Beyond the Visible and the M aterial: The Amerindianization o f Society in the
Work o f Peter Riviere.

William Balee and Carole L. Crumley, Editors