Crude, Cash and Culture Change: The Huaorani of Amazonian Ecuador

Doughty, Caitlin Anne; Lu, Flora E.; Sorensen, Mark

The idea of indigenous populations around the world as “noble savages” dominated literature for much of the 20th century. Further research into different tribes’ environmental practices as well as their integration into the market economy has begun to change this view. In Ecuadorian Amazon, the Huaorani are the most recently assimilated group, with some sub-groups still resisting contact with the outside. With vast reserves of oil present under Huaorani land, this indigenous group has quickly become integrated into national and international markets. The focus of this study is on one Huaorani community, Gareno, which is located along an oil road within the Amazon. Community members were interviewed in order to better understand why they lived along the oil road and how they felt it impacted their daily lives. Responses showed that the residents have chosen to live and stay in Gareno because of the health and education opportunities and ease of transport, but also because this area is ancestral territory. In addition, they left former villages, which were deep inside the forest, due to social conflict. It is notable that these push and pull factors complicate the notion of “noble savages” (who either continue to be isolated from the market or are unable to cope with it) and highlight indigenous agency and decision-making during a period of rapid cultural, economic, and ecological change. As the people of Gareno look to further improve their quality of life through development, it is important to foster more nuanced views of indigenous peoples to not only devise appropriate conservation and development policies but also to prevent a backlash when they do not conform to idealized Western images.

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Also Published In

Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development

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Academic Units
Earth Institute
Published Here
November 30, 2015