For filming the documentary „Arutam“ the Senproductions team travelled to the rainforest of Ecuador. Sharamentsa is an indigenous village of the Achuars. The habitants are working with the Amazonica Foundation on a project for the preservation of their culture and the rainforest.
Today the jungle is in a big change and suffers a lot. To get an understanding how the problem developed in this „middle of nowhere“ we provide you with some historical context:
While the Spanish crown wiped out the civilization of Ecuador, life in the rainforest took its usual course. The indigenous people in the forest remained undiscovered for a very long time because their habitat was too difficult to access. Even long after Ecuador’s independence from the Spanish in the year 1820 the indigenous people remained detached from modern society. This changed in the 1970s when the Achuars were „discovered“ among other native tribes.
The founders of Sharamentsa were Felipe and Carlos Tsentsets, who settled with their families at the Rio Pastaza. They had previously lived „wild“ in family clans in the forest. Shortly thereafter other family members like Domingo Roberto Peas followed them. At first there were only five people living, soon followed by friends and relatives.
Shortly after the birth of the village Sharamentsa the government of Ecuador urged indigenous peoples to settle down to assert their claim for their territory. At the end of the 1980s the country was first surveyed and the villages name „Sharamentsa“ became official. Today there are about 200 inhabitants living there. In the formation phase of Sharamentsa the Salesians Padre Louis Bollar approached them. He was a positive influence by stopping the tribes of fighting each other, but he also took away their „identity“ by proselytising them to christianity.
„Hardship and misery“
The main reason for fights between the tribes were women. The different tribes wanted to expand their polygamous relationships and by that also prevent the dangers of incest. Even though they had officially converted to Christianity they never lost faith in their own God.
For the Achuar, „Arutam“ is an all-encompassing spirit of the forest that lives in every living beeing, every animal and every plant. Even today they believe in Arutam, who reveals itself to them during the ayahuasca ceremony. Ayahuasca is a natural hallucinogen which the shamans take for purifying healing ceremonies.
The change of becoming settled in order not to lose their rights for own land brought a lot of hardship and misery with it. The indian tribes were suddenly put together in large communities. Social and hygienic problems arose, their hunting and fishing grounds decimated and the fauna began to dwindle.
The Achuar were about to loose their identity and many, especially the younger ones, thought their future was in the city. The military enforced a school system and told them their culture wasn’t worth anything. Only a few old people stuck to their traditional way of life.
Domingo Peas, who himself went to study in the city, wanted to counteract the destruction of his people and the nature surrounding them and sought for allies. He met Masha Kauka. The Munich publisher had been working in various projects in the jungle for 20 years and offered her support. But her help was linked to two conditions: The rescue and restauration of the indigenious culture, as well as the preservation of the rainforest.
Since the villagers and Ms. Kauka began to coorperate they managed to: Install running water, solar panels, maintain ecological agriculture, build dry toilets, keep small domestic animals, built a medicine house, organize a seperation system for waste, install a satelite dish with internet access and built two cavanas (traditional houses) for scientific tourists.
They are also in the process of building an Amazonica Academy, which is a foundation that is educating smallholders in areas such as small animal husbandry, as well as offering students and scientists a reasearch platform in the primary rainforest.
Further the Amazonica Foundation aims for a high technological level – they have computers and their own satelite dish with internet access. The Amazonica Academy enables an income source for the habitans of Sharamentsa. They offer full board residential during the stay in a cavana in the village and a guide to explore the rainforest for every day.
Nowadays the Achuar are able to maintain themselves and also produce food for the science tourists or sell it to increase their salary.
We got in touch with the villagers through the Amazonica Academy which made it possible for us to get really close to the indigenious tribe of the Achuars. We stayed in Sharaments for 17 days. This seems like very little time but once we visited the rainforest we experienced a completely different world, which makes every day seemingly eternal because the circumstances are so „new“.
We felt so silly not even being capable of walking a little off-track from the main road of the village because we couldn´t read the markings on the paths to find our way back. Actually we are so far away from our roots that we don´t know how to survive without our industrial approach.
Photography & Text: Janna Nadjejda Guichet