Thursday, October 15, 2009

Poems and stories from another life - Part II - Moi

Part 3 of 4
story and photos by E.J. Brunton

Soon we were at the clearing where we would stay for the duration of our trip. The handsome palm frond huts stood up on stilts. Even the floors were woven palm. They were airy and surprisingly cool. There was a fresh latrine out back.

We laid out our sleeping bags and stripped for a dip in the river. Moi warned us to make lots of noise and splash to scare away the piranha and cayman. That went against everything that I had ever heard but, “When in Rome” I thought. The water was warm but still refreshing and no sign of piranha.

When we got back, there was a fire going and the smell of singed hair assaulted my nostrils. A whole small deer, complete with fur and hoofs was draped over the coals. Only the intestines had been removed.

We weren’t supposed to partake of their food. Already there was a dilemma. Well, we reasoned, we could share some of our food with them. It was just too tempting to taste what to us were delicacies, perhaps never to be savored again.

During that week we were treated to monkey, capybara (the world’s largest rodent) and turtle eggs as the Huaorani smacked their lips over our tinned sardines and ham, cereal with cartons of milk, cookies and granola bars.

Moi took us two girls out cayman hunting by the light of the full moon in a dugout. We didn’t see any caymans but it was a wonderful evening. We beached the canoe on the silky-white sand, leaned up against a log and just soaked in the awesome jungle night. Frogs boomed and night birds called. I was exhilarated and as we talked I found myself impressed by the intelligence of this young man.

Moi is a radical. An activist who was well known to the oil companies for his vigorous campaigns against them. He wore a tee shirt that said “Get the $hell out of Ecuador” and sported the familiar scallop shell emblem of Shell oil. Through his contact with Joe Kane and the auspices of the Sierra Club he had even managed to go to Washington D.C. in 1993.

In his book “Savages” Joe Kane quotes Moi as he stared in awe at the Washington traffic “There are so many cars,” he said. “How long have they been here? A million years?”
“Much less.”
"A thousand years?”
“No. Eighty perhaps.”
He was silent then, and after a while he asked, “What will you do in ten more years? In ten years, your world will be pure metal. Did your god do this?”

When Moi took a shower in the hotel bathroom Joe says, “I heard the water go on and off several times. Finally he emerged wearing only his shorts, his skin red as a boiled lobster.

“Tomorrow I would like a new hotel room,” Moi said.
“I would like a room that also has cold water.”

He dressed himself completely and had me tie his tie. Then, fully clothed he got into bed. Like many Huaorani he drew no hard distinction between day and night."

Next day we went for a 5 hour hike up hill under the steamy canopy. Moi walked barefoot, encumbered only by his gleaming machete. We guinea pigs were laden down with all the trappings of civilization that we couldn’t be separated from: rubber boots, back packs filled with water bottles, toilet paper, cellophane- wrapped snacks, movie and still cameras.

I looked and felt ridiculous. I also looked apoplectic. My face purple, my shirt soaked, I stumbled over roots, vines slapped me in the face, my rubber boots, sucked off in mud holes, deserted me.

We crawled under logs, skipped dizzily across fat fallen trees that forded streams and thankfully plunged up to our armpits in cool jungle rivers holding our burdens over our heads. I loved it!

Finally we were back at the Shiripuno River. A tribesman was putting the finishing touches on a balsa wood raft. He had hacked down the small trees and lashed them with vines to form our craft. We climbed aboard, or rather astraddle. They were only 2 logs wide and our legs hung down into the water on either side. My rubber boots were now full of water and my shorts soaked as the raft rode low in the water with our weight. Thus we made the ½ hour trip down river to our settlement. I had been damp for so long that diaper rash was imminent.

Our days were filled with hikes where Moi identified the flora and fauna and told us fascinating stories. He pointed out toucans and monkeys and undergrowth-rustling jaguars but our city eyes could rarely see what he was pointing at. He politely never mentioned our exceeding stupidity.

We came upon a naked hunter. He carried a 10 foot blow gun made of “chonta”, and a bamboo case of poisoned darts. Moi negotiated rapidly with him for some meat which he had cached in the undergrowth when he heard us coming. There was a large black bird called a “paucar” about the size of a small child. There was also a spaniel-sized deer.

Moi told us that the Huaorani language only has numbers up to 5. He gave me a book in Huaorani that some Missionaries had printed up for the school children. He taught me some Huaorani words and constantly asked me how to say and write things in English. He already spoke Spanish and Quichua (the Quechua are the largest jungle tribe and most other tribes speak their language) and was learning French. He had a voracious curiosity and rapier intelligence. In addition Moi gave me lessons in blowgun wizardry.

Back home at the hut one of the women was making a basket out of palm leaves. It was done in a flash and was handy for carrying any fruits or grubs you might find as you traveled. My friends looked on from their double wide hammocks.

In the afternoon he took me by canoe over to his father’s compound on the other side of the river. I expected to see his father the shaman on some sort of throne but he was squatting over two lengths of chonta gouging out a trough in the middle of each. These two halves would be lashed together and glued with tree resin to form the blow gun. His long pierced ear lobes dangled flaccidly without the aid of the wooden plugs worn for dress up occasions.

Moi dug out a bag full of colorful feathers that he used to make ceremonial head dresses. He gave me some as we enjoyed more chicha, made this time from fermented bananas. Pet monkeys and parrots performed acrobatics on the ceiling beams.

Continued in part 4 of 4

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