Amazonian Kichwas of Ecuador
The jungle is all providing and bountifully giving to those that respect it. However, like any relationship there is a give and take. There are boundaries and unspoken rules to adhere to. The Kichwa people (also known as Quichua in other parts of South America) are one of many indigenous groups that live in harmony with the Amazon and the Andes. They are kind enough to show a bunch of gringos the way of their world.
One example of their relationship with mother earth, known as Pachamama, is a show of appreciation with offerings of amazonian moonshine, a homemade alcohol made from yucca and widely known as chicha. The entire process is organic starting with the root itself. Yucca is grated on a tough, prickly branch sourced from the jungle. The bowls are made from clay of the earth and used to muddle, allow for fermentation, and drink from. The dyes and paints used to coat the clay are made from plants, and the pieces are set by a constantly stoked fire. Everything is made by hand and from scratch. Though often imperfect or inconsistent the processes are efficient and effective. Function takes precedence over prettiness. Everything requires attention and patience, two qualities often lacking in today’s world.
Bamboo, wood and leaves are cut and braided for building housing, tools and weapons. Plants are used for medicine; coca reduces altitude sickness, quinine to repel mosquitos, cinchona plants for malaria symptoms. They dig deep to source small flecks of gold from the earth and rinse it clean by the soft wash of the river.
They live with no real need or dependence on outside modern civilization, though forced integration by government over time has changed that and many of the younger generations keep a balance of both, living a mixed lifestyle and learning both Spanish and the local Kichwa language.
This long standing indigenous group suffered repeated exploitation over hundreds of years largely at the hands of the Spanish and again with the independence of South American countries, yet the small few that managed to survive impressively kept alive the traditions and language of the tribe. Today, due to outside influence, they live with mixed spiritual beliefs including some catholic practices. They still endure a high amount of discrimination living in a constant protest and defense for the preservation their culture and land.
I’ll never walk through a jungle the same again. I can no longer see it as just a lush wash of green nature. With a new set of eyes and a higher level of appreciation, my senses are open to all the uses, the power and possibilities of the land. I’ll never be able to escape my awareness for the endurance and innovative use of resources by generations of the local people. The jungle is a complicated place.