|We were deep into the rain forest--a two week journey for the indigenous people to reach the nearest village. We were
told that this is one of the most isolated areas in the world and were always accompanied by a naturalist guide and an
Achuar Indian. These indigenous people have lived in the jungle for millenia and seem to be one with it; they can
translate for the intruder the sounds and silences and mysteries concealed by the dense vegetation and the maze-like
Wajai speaks the language of the birds of the jungle--he calls to them and they answer. Using Spanish, he would
share his knowledge and information with Alex, our Ecuadorian naturalist guide and then Alex would interpret for us.
As we moved down the hushed waterways, he would stand in the prow of the canoe as still as a marble sentinel,
silently--stoically surveying all around him until he spotted or sensed movement. He then would cock his ear and scan
the tree tops until he found the source. We became mesmorized by his oneness with his environment.
|In addition to his brotherhood with wildlife, Wajai carries within him ancient knowledge of the healing powers of the
plants and trees of the rain forest--ways his ancestors have used for generations to address illness, pain, child birth,
infections, etc. As we followed the swath he cut for us through the rain forest, he would identify special plants and
share their properties with us. Using his machete to slice off a thin layer of a tree which bleeds a red sap mirroring
the look and texture of blood, he would drain this medicinal property of nature just as his tribe people have done
forever. The sap is used as a powerful anti-coagulant as well as addressing headaches and other ailments. The
encroachment of civilization is seen in the use of a water bottle as opposed to the gourds actually used even today.
Another plant he identfied has leaves that are used to wipe across bites and infections or even as a means of providing
relaxation and an antidote to stress. As with the medicines of China and other ancient civilizations, intuitive
understanding of natural remedies are becoming incorporated into modern, man-generated medical practices. The
ancients were wise and inventive.
|One of the highlights--among many of these--was the opportunity to go by canoe to visit a Kapawai community--a small clearing above
the river banks where several families live. This is the way of the Achuar-to live in small units throughout the jungle--not even big
enough to be called villages. We had been prepared for this visit so that we would not be culturally inappropriate or insensitive. Basic
rules were: Do not look at someone while you are conversing; men may not look at women; greet hosts appropriately; do not refuse the
offer of refreshments. In order to be polite, we were taught three words: winajai-hello; weajai-goodbye; makete-thank you.
We were welcomed into the home of a man and his wife. It was a totally open-sided dwelling with a grass roof. The beds were high up on
stilts so that animals would not join them at night. Chickens ran around inside until the wife would come throuigh with her native broom
and shoo them all outside while making a strange "whishing" sound. There was a fire going and in it she was firing clay bows and utensils.
We were welcomed with the chi-chi drink--for which we had been prepared. It is made by the women chewing the fibers of a plant until
they are soft and then spit into the pot with water or some other liquid. It is the custom to offer this to anyone who comes into the home.
We were each given a bowl to drink from. We all gave it a try as we figured many people before us had done this and lived to tell about it.
It was a little disconcerting for us fastidious foreigners to watch as the wife used her fingers to pluck thngs out of the bowl as she was
serving it. As you drink, little pieces of fiber are in your mouth and so you spit these on the floor. We watched as she collected the bowls
and poured what remained back into the pot. One wonders how long this has been replenished in such a manner. The accumulation and
variety of germs present in this must be a medical nightmare--maybe they just all cancel each other out. None of us had a reaction to this
delicacy so the natives must know what they are doing. The men had to be very careful not to look at the woman as she served.
The man asked us to tell something about ourselves--names, ages, where we were from, occupation, etc. Then we were able to ask him
questions. Casey asked about the painting on his face which interested all of us but as adults were too politically correct to ask. He
explained that he repaints his face each morning. At one point the host asked Wajai to remind us not to look at him while we were
talking--we were being rude. We found that it is very difficult to not look at people during a conversation. The host would speak in the
Achuar language to Wajai who would then interpret into Spanish for Alex who would interpret into English for us.
|At the close of the visit, the host signalled to the village women to come into
the house where they layed out palm branches on which they placed some of
their craftware--necklaces, headbands, combs, bowls, etc. for us to buy. We
selected several items including a necklace with pirahana teeth. After we
decided what we wanted, the head man determined which of the women made
our items and then we paid that person. Although it is a community, the
income from items is not shared--each woman gets her own. As it turned out,
we, unknowingly, selected several things from one woman. We felt badly that a
couple of the women received nothing but it was too late to rectify.
This is a picture of the items we bought. The piece with the hole is used to carry
water while in the rainforest and the necklace has two piranha teeth. The little
item is a comb with small, delicate teeth carved with machete. While we were
talking with the host, he was carving some of these. Disappointingly, we were
not allowed to take pictures while we were there. I understand that it is an
intrusion to do so but I would have liked to have some visuals to share.
|We took some school supplies to them--pencils, pens, colored pencils, erasers--which were really appreciated as they have virtually
nothing. There is a little school shack in the community and women from a catholic compound come and teach the children. In return for
the gifts, we were given a bowl from the hostess. Little children were watching us very intently with curious but almost suspicious
eyes--you could tell that they were not sure what to make of us and that they don't see outsiders very often. They were quite dirty,
wearing western clothes which were torn and tattered and often much too large. They looked like items which would have come from an
old-fashion missionary barrel.
This was Wajai's village and he will be the next president--in the old days, chief. He is highly regarded because he makes so much money
at the lodge, speaks Spanish and is very smart. He works 30 days and then has 20 days at home. Eventually, he will be one of the
management leaders of the Kapawi Lodge when it is ceded to them in 2011.
He introduced us to his son and daughter. When we showed how to put the eraser on the end of the pencil, Casey was going to give it to
one of the children, but was told, that in accordance with the protocol of the Kapawis, he could only give it to a boy--not a girl. The
restrictions on male/female interaction are absolute.
As you can imagine, this was a tremendously interesting experience and one that will remain a highlight memory for us and for Casey.
|China, Tanzania, Peru, Italy, Spain, France, Ecuador, Traveling with Children
| Look carefully for the pirhanna teeth pendant.