Huaorani and the Oil Companies
By Sara Widness
The government of Ecuador has requested that the
international community raise funds to help off-set potential oil revenues in
order to justify keeping new oil development out of ancestral lands of the
Huaorani. This is one of the most isolated ethnic groups in the world in
contact with the so-called civilized world only since the mid-20th century, and
today they are threatened by global oil interests.
The dilemma is that while they are still occupying ancestral
lands, how long this can continue is anyone’s guess because their fate is in
the hands of oil interests that may develop, in their quest to remove oil, an
infrastructure that could ultimately force the Huaorani from the region.
A visit with a tribal member is possible through a company
called Tropic Journeys in Nature that partners with members of the tribe to
manage a lodge that travelers can visit. Huaorani Eco-lodge is at the
headwaters of the Amazon in Yasuni National Park located in Yasuni
International Biosphere Reserve.
This company was founded in 1994 to help Moi Enomenga, a
Huaorani leader who wan-ted to find a way to share his people’s story with the
world while generating a sustainable model for his community. The company has
also served the Huaorani peoples fight extractive activities in the Amazon
using ecotourism as a tool for conservation.
Members of this tribe are trained to work at this five-cabin
Amazon rainforest lodge that they built of traditional materials harvested from
Yasuni National Park, one of the most bio-diverse regions of the world. They
are also learning how to produce and sell crafts. Produce is bought locally;
there are plans to create a laundry service in Quehueri’ono to increase local
employment; and biodegradable products are used in housekeeping services as
well as in the bathrooms.
Accessing this wild ecolodge is by a 45-minute flight in a
small aircraft from the Amazonian lowlands town of Shell, flying over the
rainforest to the grass airstrip at the Huaorani village of Quehueri’ono.
Guests then board a dugout canoe for the final leg. Walled by rainforest on the
downriver float, guests may see monkeys, toucans, macaws and other Amazonian
wildlife. After the stay, on the return drive along the Auca Road, built by oil
companies in the early 1970s, guests will witness miles of oil pipelines and
the damage oil exploration has done to the forest and the Huaorani hunting
Accommodations at Huaorani Ecolodge are in individual
palm-thatched cabins of local wood. Each cabin has twin beds, a private
bathroom equipped with a shower and flush toilet, and a porch with comfortable
chairs and hammock. Environmentally-friendly soaps and shampoos are provided.
Lighting comes from solar panels that power the shortwave radio, refrigerator
and water pump. A bio-filter renders all waste products either recyclable or
harmless before being discharged into the river.
On a two-day trip down the wild Shiripuno River, the Huaorani
will explain how to use a blowgun, demonstrate hunting techniques, build fires
without matches, climb trees, decorate faces with red achiote and point out