“Although we are in different boats you in your boat and we in our canoe we share the same river of life” – Chief Oren Lyons, Onandaga Nation

There is always one place in nature that brings out your true self, where you feel 100% aligned. For some of us it’s forests, to some its beaches/sea-side, some love heading to the mountains or to the hills, so on and so forth. It’s where your energies tune in completely, and the minute you step into that space, your body just relaxes and de-stresses. I call it the `homecoming’ – a place where your soul resides, and going there just connects you to it.

I am a complete forest person first, and a close second is being on a beach. The forests realigns me within minutes. Between these two, my soul is satisfied. Of course, thereafter every single natural habitat rates higher than an urban landscape.

The need to spend time with the indigenous people in the jungles of Amazon was brewing for many years. The more I read about the indigenous people, the more certain I was, that I carry their blood in my veins. From the way they conducted their everyday life to their way of thinking, healing, eating, living in harmony with nature – all of that resonated very strongly with me.

In 2011, when I journeyed into the Amazon jungles of Ecuador to stay with the Huaoranis – one of the oldest tribes of the Ecuadorian Amazon forests, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I guess every cell in my body had become like a child who knew it was going to a place that is its playground.

The journey begins on this plane.
The journey begins on this plane.

A drive to the Shell airport, a three-seater plane journey for about an hour had my face stuck to the window. I felt like a bit of David Attenborough, a bit of Gerald Durrell, a bit of author Norman Lewis (author of `Missionaries’), and a lot of enthusiastic Anjan!

As the urban landscape escaped underneath, first came a space of nothing – the space of curiosity and anticipation. And then the hint of canopies, an occasional flight of an eagle, that began to tease my senses. Then the rush of the rainforest canopies and finally a green infinity beyond where your eyes can carry. Yes, the Amazon Jungles, the lungs of the Earth, the basin of life, that space where shamans, energies, tribes reside – their home, my home which our ancestors chose to step out of, for cultivated pastures!

The plane landed bang in the middle of the thick jungle in a narrow clearing. The Huaoranis gave a warm welcome and our to-be-guide from the tribe, Eweme, helped me with the rubber boots, ponchos and took the bags to the boat. But my feet was yet to touch the ground, as my mind was blank with happiness. Maybe looking back, this is what is called Presence, being in the Now, as I can remember every single detail.

The Huaoranis were the last of the contacted tribes in Ecuador. It was not until the year 1958, that the missionaries became successful in establishing contact with them (this story of how they made contact, is alone worth a read).

The history and books written on the Huaoranis reveal that they were the most fierce of the tribes – a warrior tribe. None of the other tribes ever dared to come into their territory. They had driven away generations of people who had tried to make contact with them – invaders, corporates trying to work through the missionaries under the disguise of `civilizing’ them, and many more who made an attempt to document them. They were called Aucas, meaning `Savages’. The Huaoranis take great insult to this word. Imagine such a name for people who have lived in harmony with the jungles for millions of years!!

The Huaorani Eco Lodges set-up in collaboration with a travel company based in Ecuador is to ensure that they can have a source of income without leaving their habitat. Years of oil dumps by various oil companies, has polluted their water, and taken away all their source of food as miles and miles of jungles have been destroyed. Their only big set back – the Amazon jungles are rich in oil, and so they are being milked to the last drop. The dumped chemical waste has brought illnesses, skin diseases, and poisoned their food. Something that they didn’t understand about a few decades back.

Moi Enomenga
Moi Enomenga

And like always, in the middle of all this, rises a `hero’ – Moi Enomenga. The leader of the Huaoranis, who from the age of 18 has been fighting to preserve the land. The Yasuni National Park, the largest indigenous reserve in Ecuador, and a UN biosphere reserve, came into existence due to his efforts. He continues to guide his tribe in eco-tourism and realizes that it is essential for their survival in the jungles.

Enomenga, fondly called as `Moi’ by his people formed ONHAE – The Organisation of the Huaorani Nation of the Ecuadorian Amazon which was officially recognized by the Ecuador government in 1990. For years, he has singularly led the entire campaign to be compensated for the oil dumps in his home – the Amazon forest. From the Ecuadorian forest to the White House, his journey to fight the big industrial oil companies and retain his ancestral home, sustain their culture, and bring attention to indigenous wealth of knowledge as a whole, is not just commendable, but in there lies a lesson and a message for all of us. In one of the interviews, Moi says:

“People say the forest will dry up and the world will collapse if we don’t change the way we live. Here we don’t have what other people in the world have. We don’t have televsions or internet or cars and if the cost of having them is that the world – our world – disappears, then we ask ourselves, `What good are they?’. We think people can live more simply and peacefully if they want, but we don’t know if they want to”.

A line that makes us want to pause and introspect.

With Eweme
Eweme , the hunter-gatherer. And here…a teacher.

In the few days spent with Eweme and the Huaoranis, with whom I walked the jungles, even talked the jungles, learnt the wealth of knowledge they hold – the names of plants that heal a particular ailment, rituals for peace within self, community living that doesn’t place burden on any one person, no word in their language for `time’ as everything unfolds at its pace, each child blissfully playing and learning from nature, love and warmth that far exceeds anything that I have experienced, fitness and wellness and smiles that we often have to work hard towards – it made me wonder, how far away we have travelled, and yet our everyday effort is just for the above!

I could not meet`Moi’ as he was in Washington appearing for the court case. But in each stop we made upstream, downstream, to the local school, the air was abuzz with updates on Moi’s progress or words of praise for his courage.

And as I travelled the Shiripuno river, in thunderstorms and rains, on clear skies and starry nights, what has stayed with me is –

Out of the 2,00,000 years the modern human species has occupied the earth, it is only in the last 10,000 years we moved out of the forests and natural habitats. And it’s only in the last 3000-4000 years we moved out of agriculture into an industrial revolution. So the wealth of knowledge and learning, lies in the 1,90,000 years of living in the jungles. Our very basic survival and stress response – `fight or flight’ is still in our DNA as when we lived in the forest, and yet, we are willing to lose this wealth, the indigenous people hold.

Moi Enomenga’s `Little Brown Job’ is just one of the several unfolding across the world. We lose too much if we lose the rainforests of the Amazon, and we will have a lot to pay if we take away the homes of the Indigenous people. Can we ever imagine someone coming and taking away our home, food, poisoning our water, just because right under our building is an oil well?!

And above all, can we afford to lose our forests, our source of breath and life? The home they are fighting to preserve is our ancestral home which we too should become aware of, and work towards conserving, knowing and contributing in every way we can to this large community we are, as a human species.

Which is your home? Forest, ocean, mountains, hills or desert? When you pause and ask this question, and something deep within answers you, learn more about that landscape, its people, its culture – and see what can be your `little brown job’?

moi's mom and anjan
Moi Enomenga’s mother – a lady of elegance, love and warmth.

When I met Moi’s mother, a stoic figure of elegance and love, I gave her a big hug. We couldn’t speak the same language, but we could feel in us, the same energy.

She is proud of her son she says, and proud of their tribe. They are all one.

To say goodbye to them was a beginning to several `hellos’. Weeks after I returned,  I received a mail from them informing me they had won their first case against an oil company, and a fairly decent compensation. There are many more to fight, and a lot to conserve, but with Moi Enomenga standing guard, I bow to his `Little Brown Job’.

With the above as a background, I invite you to:

1. Read about Moi and the Huaoranis in the book: Savages, by Joe Kane. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_14?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=savages+by+joe+kane&sprefix=savages+by+Joe%2Caps%2C372

2. A quick Wikipedia glance is great too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huaorani_people

3. Visit: http://www.survivalinternational.org/ – a website that allows you to understand the work happening across the globe including India. Maybe you will want to pick something that you wish to do from here.

4. Travel to the Amazon jungles and stay at the Huaorani Eco Lodge. Meet them, dive into their wealth of knowledge, and come back knowing where your instincts developed from. http://www.huaorani.com/

5. Travel to any forest, spend time with any indigenous tribe, and the experience will enrich your life. Guaranteed.

6. Encourage yourself, your teenage children to volunteer with one of the groups, as lives can change forever with such experiences. Mine did.

7. Build a community wherever you are – our strength lies in staying as a community. We ARE a social animal, and we become stronger when we work as one. It is the essence of every tribe. Say hello to your neighbours, invite them over for a meal, share responsibilities as a society and as a community. Participate in communities that already exist. Teach your children to work in communities, not compete with them. Remove competition from their language.

8. And above all, don’t forget your true home, where your soul resides and calls out often. Travel, celebrate your landscape, and let the companies, industries and the government know that this is your home. Is your`Little Brown Job’ calling?

How do you leave such a community and return? To everybody managing the lodge, and to Eweme - a big hug.
How do you leave such a community and return? To everybody managing the lodge, and to Eweme – a big hug.

Thank you for reading.

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One thought on ““Although we are in different boats you in your boat and we in our canoe we share the same river of life” – Chief Oren Lyons, Onandaga Nation

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