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Tagaeri, Huaorani People of Ecuador’s Amazon Basin

Tagaeri, Huaorani People of Ecuador’s Amazon Basin

The following excerpt is from Field Notes, Sinchi Sacha Foundation, 1992

The Quichua call them puca chaqui, and the mestizos, patas coloradas: both designations mean “red feet.” In fact they are the Tagaeri, members of the Taga group, the only Huaorani who are still truly free.

Unlike other Huao sub-groups, the Tagaeri still refuse to have any contact with strangers, preferring the isolated existence they have maintained for centuries. The only attempt to approach them was undertaken on July 21, 1987 by Monsignor Alejandro Labaca and Sister Ines Arango, both from the Catholic Capuchin mission on the Napo. They hoped to convert the Tagaeri and convince them to allow oil company personnel to enter their territory. That intent led to the death of both missionaries. The Tagaeri subsequently abandoned their homes and disappeared into the dense forest, following the Huaorani tradition of a life of complete symbiosis with the forest which has provided them with sustenance for millennia.

There was no further news of the group until one day, five years later, when a Huao from the Quemperi group came to see me. “I know where they are, I saw them from the plane, when I came back to Puyo last time.” The following day we flew over the area in a small plane. The forest looked untouched, as though no human being had ever set foot there. We flew through some turbulence, where thick clouds blocked our view. “You aren’t going to see them,” the pilot shouted, trying to make himself heard over the noise of the engine.

Then, as so often happens in the Amazon, the sky suddenly cleared and we could see the forest again and, to the right, a lovely rainbow. “Dayme,” said our Huaorani companion, “its a sign that we will have good luck!”

And on the bend in the river, we saw a large plot of cultivated land… and a house! The scene was fascinating because as the Tagaeri — there they were! — moved in toward the house and looked-up while doing a Huaorani war dance with sharp lances made of chonta, the Huaorani in the plane began their own war chants and shouted threats from above. The house we saw must have been recently built because the leaves of the roof were still green. A harpy eagle flew around the house.

The sight of that sacred bird took us thousands of years into the past. We had penetrated a virgin world, a world suspended in space and in time, where past, present and future come together, following the mysterious rhythms of the tropical forest itself.

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