The overwhelming cultural trait we observed was that they lived continually in the NOW. It is very hard for them to conceive of making plans, or thinking ahead; they have never had a need to worry about such things. Focusing on one day at a time they go hunting so that they have food TODAY and they will eat ALL of it (to the point of gorging if it was a good hunt) without thinking about needing to save some for tomorrow. They don't think about tomorrow, it's a foreign concept. Everything is TODAY and more specifically, NOW.
Most of their superstitions/traditions involve fasting for either healing or for a good hunt. At one point I tried to delve into this a little deeper. Why fast? To me, a fast is a petition, so who or what are they petitioning? I was mocked by our Ecuadorian guide who assumed I thought they believed in a god. I was insulted, but continued to seek clarification. Were they petitioning mother nature, good energy, what? There wasn’t a reason that could be defined, it wasn’t a process - it was a superstition. If your brother is bitten by a snake, you and the entire immediate family must fast from all food (except yucca, I think) or he will die. If they fast, he will live. I asked how long they had to fast before they were healed. Bei said, they are healed immediately when you fast. Ok, then how long do you fast? Till they are healed, he said. Of course. Our process thinking is a little different. They are not WHY people - at all.
Huaorani are nomadic hunters and gatherers, by nature. They did not settle by the rivers like their indigenous neighbors but kept moving to avoid the threat of attack. When they did settle they built temporary homes that did not last very long. They did no agriculture except with yucca. They would plant a crop, stay for the 6-9 months until it was gone, then burn down the house (future fertilizer) and move on. Sometimes they returned to the same site another year and sometimes they kept moving. Food is their greatest value and what life revolves around. The most generous act Huaorani can exhibit is to share their food.
The Huaorani observe the patterns in nature to learn how to survive. They see a termite nest and when they poke their finger in it all the termites run out to repair the wall by eating and pooping out the dirt to reform it. They watch this and apply it literally, as with most of their understandings. If they get a cut they need the walls of skin to be repaired so they grab termites and smear them on the cut. They get a burn and need more skin they use a mushroom that looks like skin, peel off the layer, and put it on their burn. They have several less obvious "medicines," some that have even been proven to work, but all of which have been utilized for hundreds of years so you can't argue with them! Geoff cut open his hand at one point and we were taught about the giant ant that has HUGE strong front pinchers that they use as stitches. They let the ant bite, it brings the skin together, they break off the head, and on down the line. We saw the ant, they let it bite them to illustrate the effectiveness and it WOULD work...but Geoff decided against that cultural experience!
This is just a taste of the culture we learned about. Overall we learned that the Huarani culture strives to stay in balance with their environment, prides independence from an early age, and lives in the present tense. It was an incredible honor to be welcomed by the Huaorani and for them to share their culture with us. The last of the "untouched" generation will die soon, taking a perspective of life the rest of us can only imagine, with them. In our next Huaorani post we will reflect on how the culture has adapted (or not) to the invasion of the modern world and the perspectives of the missionary impact and legacy.