"As my ancestors lived, so also will I live,
As my ancestors died, so also will I die,
huaorani, huaorani, wa poni, wa poni."
Huaorani song by Mima,a member of the Quemperi, Cononaco River
IN THE EARLY MORNING MIST, Mima's song is lost in the
vast, endless rain forest. The melody, enchanting, heartrending,
seems to come from the night of the distant past. Where did the
Huaorani come from? What is their world like, that fascinating
world about which we know so little?
This Amazonian people are shrouded in mystery. As recently
as two generations ago, its members used axes made of stone
and lived in the immense and impenetrable rain forest which
has always provided them with a safe haven. Huaorani tradition
mentions only that they migrated from "down river" a long
time ago, fleeing the "cannibals." Their language has no ties to
any other Amazon group and has yet to be classified. In addition,
their pottery bears no relation to that of their current or
The Huaorani are a people known as fearless warriors and
superb hunters, and for their ability to adapt to their environment.
Historically, they have been called Aucas, a pejorative
term that in Kitchwa means "people of the jungle, savages,"
because of their aggressive attitude toward other Huaorani, and
in their dealings with other indigenous groups, colonists and
"whites." They call themselves Huaorani, a word meaning "the
people," "human beings," as opposed to the cowode, the
"non-people," a category that includes everyone who is not
The Huaorani way of life was once marked by constant war.
Members of the group lived in inaccessible places, far from
rivers, and were able to mobilize quickly. Though they
depended on the hunt rather than agriculture, they did grow
manioc in various places at the same time. The group's social
organization included the practice of polygamy (polygyny and,
less frequently, polyandry) when conflict led to demographic
PREPARING FOR THE HUNT
Mima has stopped singing and gets ready to hunt with her
husband, Dabo, and other hunters to whom she has just given
breakfast: smoked monkey with tepae, a slightly fermented
Making curare darts