Yasuni: nature and ancestral culture
In the Yasuni Biosphere Reserve the inhabitants live in harmony with nature. Yasuni translates to ‘sacred land’ and the indigenous tribes that live in this part of Amazonia, treat it as sacred, because it sustains them, which is as true today as it was for their ancestors in the mists of the past. Ecuadorian Amazonia is the home to the Kichwa, part of the indigenous population that inhabits the whole of the Amazon Basin. They get their name from the dialect of the language which is the root of all the indigenous tongues in that part of Amazonia. Once, they were part of the Inca Empire, but the arrival of the Spanish changed all that.
They believe in a ‘Mother Earth’ and see themselves as a part of nature, not outside of it or dominant over it, instead they live alongside it. Also, they believe that no one can own the land, only use it for their immediate needs and sparingly. Of course, this clashes with European beliefs and in Ecuador, the same as all over the Amazonian Basin, this has led to catastrophic results for the people of the rainforest. Fortunately, the Kichwa have organized and fought back. Today, they and other groups have found a way to guard their ancestral homeland and become part of the modern world, they are the owners and operators of sustainable tourism projects.
These initiatives, allow them to live a life like their ancestors and maintain both their traditions and beliefs. The Kichwa have very strong connections with nature that outsiders find hard to understand. They believe that everything has a soul, even plants and animals. All that lives or grows in the rainforest are their brothers and sisters. Each have a soul, which is called an ‘anima’. As subsistence farmers, they are spiritually very close to the varied plant life. This is because of the plants links with health and medicine, which are also spiritual connections to mother earth.
These fascinating world views or spiritual awareness are better explained by the shamans or the wise women of the tribe. In this magical culture you will have ample opportunity to hear and better understand these beliefs from a people that has lived in harmony with nature for time out of mind. The Kichwa people renew their spiritual bond with the life around them by daily rituals, storytelling and song. This is the way they pass on knowledge and experience from one generation to the next.
Luckily, for the Kichwa, international tourism has become a blessing in disguise. It has revived a way of life that was being eroded and strengthened the call for greater conservationism. Many now work in different tourist projects along the Napo river and maintain a more traditional lifestyle, in harmony with nature, than those that have moved to the towns. Don’t miss the chance to see amazing wildlife, but also learn how the people of the forest have lived there.
Miguel Andy is General Manager of Napo Wildlife Center. Napo Wildlife Center is an eco-lodge offering unforgettable experiences in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador, inside Yasuni Biosphere Reserve, which is managed by the Añangu kichwa aboriginal community.