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Regions

THE JUNGLE CULTURES

Achuar A'I (Cofan)
Huaorani Quichuas Amazónicos
Shuar Sionas and Secoyas
Zaparo

Achuar
The Achuar (as well as some other groups on the border of the Peruvian side) are related to the Shuar. They share the same area, many of the same customs, traditions and also speak a similar language.


A'I (Cofan)
The Cofan hold a population of about 600 and are assembled in the communities of Sinangué, Doriño, and Dureno and along the Bermejo river in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Part of their territory is included in the Cayambe-Coca Reservation. Their native language is called A'lngae.

The traditional dress of the Cofan (sometimes referred to as A'I, derived from the name of their language A'Ingae) is an important part of their identity. It includes the characteristic piercings in their noses and ears in which they wear feathers, flowers and other materials. Until the 1950s, when the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) missionaries began efforts to evangelize them, the Cofan had remained relatively isolated from Western society. Since that time, outside forces have affected their culture as well as those of the Sionas and Secoyas. The region which the Cofan occupy has been an area of intensive petroleum exploitation, especially in the 1970s with the Texaco-Gulf consortium. Roads, pipelines and other outside forces have had a significant effect on their territory.


Huaorani

The Huaorani used to be known by another name, Aucas (warring savages). Traditionally, their territory extended from the Napo river in the north, to the Curaray river as the southern border. Their number adds up to approximately 1300, and for the most part live in communities. The remainder are located in the basins of the Cononaco and Shiripuno rivers.

Recently, the Huaorani are perhaps equaled only by their Shuar neighbors to the south for their reputation as a ferociously independent group, hostile to outside intrusions and willing to resort to violence to defend their territory. They are perhaps most well-known for spearing five North American Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) missionaries in 1956. Among Ecuador's Indigenous groups, they remain the most isolated from Western civilization. Since the earliest recorded contact with European society in the 1600s, violence and bloodshed have characterized their relationships with the outside world. Contacts with nineteenth-century rubber barons and oil explorers beginning in the 1940s have only provided a continuity with this earlier history. This contact with white society has not only meant cultural disruption, but also deaths due to the introduction of diseases from which the Huaorani lack natural immunity. To defend their interests in the face of outside intrusion, they formed the Organización de Nacionalidad Huaorani de la Amazonía Ecuatoriana (ONHAE, Organization of the Huaorani Nation of the Ecuadorian Amazon) in 1990.


Quichuas Amazónicos
The Amazonian Quichuas' population is between 30,000 and 40,000, whom are divided into two subgroups: Napu Quichuas Runa of the Upper Napo river and the Canelos Quichuas, located in the province of Pastaza. They speak the Quichua language which was found in the Amazon region before the conquest as a trade language and introduced from the Andean mountains in the seventeenth century by Catholic missionaries.


Shuar

The Shuar are the second largest and one of the most studied Amazonian groups. They have a long history of survival and defense against outsiders, and have had a reputation as headhunters and savages. They live in the southeastern part of Ecuador between the Pastaza and Marañón Rivers, east of the present city of Cuenca along the contested border region with Perú. It is a rocky region covering approximately 25,000 square miles along the lower eastern slopes of the Andes. The Shuar's geographic location with the backdrop of the Andes to the west and angry rapids in the rivers to the east has protected them from outside interference and has helped them retain their independence. The word Shuar simply means "people," and until relatively recently, outsiders (including ethnographers) have used the term Jívaro or Jibaro to refer to them. The word Jívaro has no meaning in the Shuar language. They have rejected it both because it is a foreign term to their culture and because of its historic negative association with "savages" and headhunting. With support from Salesian missionaries, in 1964 the Shuar founded the first ethnic federation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This federation came to use radio programs, a printing press and other means to defend their culture from outside intrusion.


Sionas and Secoyas

The Sionas and Secoyas are located in the northeastern part of the Amazon, close to the Cofan people. These groups also have historic and linguistic connections with neighboring Indigenous groups in Colombia. Originally they were two separate ethnic groups with similar cultures and languages which were part of the Tucano language family. At the beginning of the twentieth century, they began to merge, mostly because of intermarriage and by the 1970s were seen as one ethnic group (Siona-Secoya). However, more recently, recognizing the advantages of maintaining their distinct ethnic identities, they now the Sionas and Secoyas consider themselves to be two separate groups. Their territory has been devastated by oil exploration and in November of 1993, the Sionas and Secoyas fought back by suing Texaco for more than one billion dollars for a variety of environmental abuses, including dumping more than three thousand gallons of oil a day into their lagoons.

Zaparo
The smallest Indigenous group in the Ecuadorian Amazon is the Zaparos. Their history is a good example of the devastating impact of Western civilization as their numbers collapsed from possibly more than 100,000 to seven, and the Zaparo may now possibly be on their way to extinction.

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