Thursday, June 24, 2010

My Huaorani Obsession Continues

I am living, eating and breathing Huaorani these days it seems. 

The following are bits and pieces that I came across today on the net while researching the question of  whether Missionaries do more harm than good.

I know which side I fall on but if I decide to speak to a church group as I was asked to do I should review and weigh all sides of this complex story.

This article in Wikipedia "Operation Auca" deals with the killing of five missionaries by the  Huaorani in 1956.

"The deaths of the men galvanized the missionary effort in the United States, sparking an outpouring of funding for evangelization efforts around the world. Their work is still frequently remembered in evangelical publications, and in 2006 was the subject of the film production End of the Spear. Several years after the death of the men, the widow of Jim Elliot, Elisabeth, and the sister of Nate Saint, Rachel, returned to Ecuador as missionaries with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (now SIL International) to live among the Huaorani. This eventually led to the conversion of many, including some of those involved in the killing. While largely eliminating tribal violence, their efforts exposed the tribe to exploitation and increased influence from the outside. This has caused Huaorani culture to begin to disappear, but anthropologists argue over the ultimate effect—some view the missionary work as cultural imperialism, while others contend that the influence has been beneficial for the tribe."

"The Huaorani, also known by the pejorative Aucas (a modification of awqa, the Quechua word for "enemies"), were an isolated tribe known for their violence, against both their own people and outsiders who entered their territory.


The Huaorani around the time of Operation Auca were a small tribe occupying the jungle of Eastern Ecuador between the Napo and Curaray Rivers, an area of approximately 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 mi²). They numbered approximately 600 people, and were split into three groups, all mutually hostile—the Geketaidi, the Baïidi, and the Wepeidi. They lived on the gathering and cultivation of plant foods like manioc and plantains, as well as fishing and hunting with spear and blowgun. Family units consisted of a man and his wife or wives, their unmarried sons, their married daughters and sons-in-law, and their grandchildren. All of them would reside in a longhouse, which was separated by several miles from another longhouse in which close relatives lived. Marriage was always endogamous and typically between cousins, and arranged by the parents of the young people.[1]
Before their first peaceful contact with outsiders (cowodi) in 1958, the Huaorani fiercely defended their territory. Viewing all cowodi as cannibalistic predators, they killed rubber tappers around the turn of the 20th century and Shell Oil Company employees during the 1940s, in addition to any lowland Quechua or other outsiders who encroached on their land.[2] Furthermore, they were prone to internal violence, often engaging in vengeance killing of other Huaorani. Raids were carried out in extreme anger by groups of men who attacked their victims' longhouse by night and then fled. Attempts to build truces through gifts and exchange of spouses became more frequent as their numbers decreased and the tribes fragmented, but the cycle of violence continued.[3]


Life magazine covered the deaths of the men with a photo essay, including photographs by Cornell Capa and some taken by the five men before their deaths. The ensuing worldwide publicity gave several missionary organizations significant political power, especially in the United States and Latin America. Most notable among these was the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), the organization for which both Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint worked. Because of the martyrdom of her brother, Saint considered herself spiritually bonded to the Huaorani, believing that what she saw as his sacrifice for the Huaorani was symbolic of Christ's death for the salvation of humanity. In 1957, Saint and her Huaorani companion Dayuma toured across the United States and appeared on the television show This Is Your Life. The two also appeared in a Billy Graham crusade in New York City, contributing to Saint's increasing popularity among evangelical Christians and generating significant monetary donations for SIL.[26]

Saint and Elliot returned to Ecuador to work among the Huaorani, establishing a camp called Tihueno near a former Huaorani settlement. Rachel Saint and Dayuma became bonded in Huaorani eyes through their shared mourning and Rachel's adoption as a sister of the Dayuma, taking the name Nemo from the latter's deceased youngest sister. The first Huaorani to settle there were primarily women and children from a Huaorani group called the Guiquetairi, but in 1968 an enemy Huaorani band known as the Baihuari joined them. Elliot had returned to the United States in the early 1960s, so Saint and Dayuma worked to alleviate the resulting conflict. They succeeded in securing cohabitation of the two groups by overseeing numerous cross-band weddings, leading to an end of inter-clan warfare but obscuring the cultural identity of each group.[27]

Saint and Dayuma, in conjunction with SIL, negotiated the creation of an official Huaorani reservation in 1969, consolidating the Huaorani and consequently opening up the area to commerce and oil exploration. By 1973, over 500 people lived in Tihueno, of which more than half had arrived in the previous six years. The settlement relied on missions aid from SIL, and as a Christian community set up by missionaries, all those living there were obliged to follow specific rules completely foreign to traditional Huaorani culture, most notably the prohibitions of killing and polygamy. By the early 1970s, SIL began to question whether their impact on the Huaorani was positive, so they sent James Yost, a staff anthropologist, to assess the situation. He found extensive economic dependence and increasing cultural assimilation, and as a result, SIL ended its support of the settlement in 1976, leading to its disintegration and the dispersion of the Huaorani into the surrounding area. SIL had hoped that the Huaorani would return to the isolation in which they had lived twenty years prior, but instead they sought out contact with the outside world, forming villages of which many have been recognized by the Ecuadorian government.[28][29]

Christian views

Among evangelical Christians, the five men are commonly considered martyrs and missionary heroes. Books have been written about them by numerous biographers, most notably Elisabeth Elliot. Anniversaries of their deaths have been accompanied by stories in major Christian publications,[30] and their story, as well as the subsequent acceptance of Christianity among the Huaorani, has been turned into several motion pictures. These include the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor (featuring interviews with some of the Huaorani and surviving family members of the missionaries) and the 2006 dramatic production End of the Spear, which grossed over $12 million.[31] Even so, Christians have noted with concern the disintegration of traditional Huaorani culture and westernization of the tribe, beginning with Nate Saint's own journal entry in 1955 and continuing through today. However, many continue to view as positive both Operation Auca and the subsequent missionary efforts of Rachel Saint, mission organizations such as Mission Aviation Fellowship, Wycliffe Bible Translators, HCJB World Radio, Avant Ministries (formerly Gospel Missionary Union), and others. Specifically, they note the decline in violence among tribe members, numerous conversions to Christianity, and growth of the local church

Anthropologist views

Anthropologists generally have less favorable views of the missionary work begun by Operation Auca, viewing the intervention as the cause for the recent and widely recognized decline of Huaorani culture. Leading Huaorani researcher Laura Rival says that the work of the SIL "pacified" the Huaorani during the 1960s, and argues that missionary intervention caused significant changes in fundamental components of Huaorani society. Prohibitions of polygamy, violence, chanting, and dancing were directly contrary to cultural norms, and the relocation of Huaorani and subsequent intermarrying of previously hostile groups eroded cultural identity.[27] Others are somewhat less negative—Brysk, after noting that the work of the missionaries opened the area to outside intervention and led to the deterioration of the culture, says that the SIL also informed the Huaorani of their legal rights and taught them how to protect their interests from developers.[34] Boster goes even further, suggesting that the "pacification" of the Huaorani was a result of "active effort" by the Huaorani themselves, not the result of missionary imposition. He argues that Christianity served as a way for the Huaorani to escape the cycle of violence in their community, since it provided a motivation to abstain from killing.[35]

The following is an excerpt from the web site Icarus Films

( My notes: The man called Moi who is trying to unite the tribe against  the oil company Maxus is the man who I visited with in the late 1990's. The following f

ilm deals with encroaching oil company influence in Huaorani lands.

I was going to order the DVD until I saw the price $390.00!!!)

Trinkets and Beads  

A Film by Christopher Walker   

After twenty years of devastating pollution produced by oil companies in the Amazon basin of Ecuador, a new kind of oil company - Dallas based MAXUS - promises to be the first company to protect the rainforest, and respect the people who live there.

TRINKETS & BEADS tells the story of how MAXUS set out to convince the Huaorani - known as the fiercest tribe in the Amazon - to allow drilling on their land. It is a story that starts in 1957 with the Huaorani massacre of five American missionaries, moving through the evangelization efforts of Rachel Saint, to the pollution of Huaorani lands by Texaco and Shell, and then the manipulation of Huaorani leaders by MAXUS.

Now the Huaorani leader, Moi, is trying to unite the tribe in opposition to MAXUS. "It's not just about exploiting oil," says Moi, "it's about who controls the rainforest... it's everyone's concern because this is the heart of the world..."

Filmed over two years, TRINKETS & BEADS reveals the funny, heartbreaking and thrilling story of the battle waged by indigenous people to preserve their way of life. The story of how the Huaorani are attempting to survive the Petroleum Age on their own terms exposes hidden consequences of our relentless drive to "develop" the world.

"[The Huaorani] have developed considerable skepticism and sophistication about outsiders' intentions. This forceful documentary leaves the impression that accommodation will not prove easy."—The New York Times

"Upsetting and finally, infuriating... a fine work."—Peter Matthiessen, author of At Play In The Fields Of The Lord

"A heartbreaking tale, laden with harrowing images of waste and ruin, that shows how the rampant greed of oil companies has managed to destroy a once peaceful and pristine village in Ecuador."—Chicago Metromix

"An important film that should be seen by anyone concerned about the environment, first-third world relations, globalization, ethnology, and the role of missionaires. This film...helps us move closer to understanding how the common good [the entire earth and all its peoples] is to be incorporated into our decision-making. Unfortunately, it also makes you want to weep."—Bridges, An Interdisciplinary Journal

Best Documentary, 1998 Paris International Environmental Film Festival

1998 Award of Merit in Film, Latin American Studies Association

Best Cultural Survival Film, 1998 Telluride Mountainfilm Festival

Special Mention, 1997 Panorama of Ethnographic Film (Paris)

1997 International Festival of Ethnographic Film (Rio de Janeiro)

Gold Apple, 1997 National Educational Media Network

Here is a LINK to TED.   There is a video and a transcript by Phil Borges.  His pronunciation lacks something but his heart is in the right place.

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