Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | July 6, 2010

Pachakutic: When will the world hear the puma’s roar?

For almost three-quarters of a century, Bartolo Andi and his wife, Estefania, lived in a one-room wooden hut in Ecuador’s Amazon jungle. Their home was raised above the ground to avoid floods and animals, and on the ground below, a hen and her chicks pecked on corn kernels.

Like many of Ecuador’s indigenous, progress and globalization bypassed the Andi’s. Their barren life continued despite more than a decade-long effort by indigenous political activists to improve living conditions while maintaining the culture.

The Andi’s rose at 3 a.m., lit the fire, drank chicha (typical fermented drink made of corn), and worked the cocoa and coffee fields until midday when they returned home for a lunch of plaintains, and, on good days, a piece of chicken. Then they returned to the fields until 3 p.m. At the end of the day, before the sun settled, they washed their clothes on the banks of the nearby muddy Napo River. They slept wrapped in two wool blankets on the wooden floor, lullabied by crickets and owls.

Not much changed in their routine.

“I can’t afford to buy soap and clothes, which I would like very much,” said Estefania Andi. She expressed this despite the fact that yachajs or medicine people told the Andi family that they must not have material possessions because they provoked envy and witchcraft. Estefania had just returned from washing her hair in the river and placed a plastic bottle of Wellapon chamomile shampoo next to three burnt aluminum pots, her only cooking utensils. Two homemade stools were their home’s only furniture.

The couple’s grandson, Humberto, told me a folk tale: “A puma, enticed by violin music emerging from a mountain, entered a cave. He was dancing, when suddenly the entrance shut behind him. Now locked inside the mountain for centuries, the puma laughs.”

Humberto’s story had a parallel: The mountain was today’s fast-paced world of globalization, and the puma was the world in which his grandparents lived, locked in a life that denied them of running water, electricity—and now dollars—but which also gave them nature.

“On judgment day, that puma will come out of the mountain,” Humberto said.
For the indigenous in Ecuador, the new millennium dawned judgment day, known as the era of the Pachakutic, which in Quechua, the local indigenous dialect, means “a return to the territorial, political, and cultural space.”

Someday, the puma from Humberto’s story will emerge from its cave. Homeless, with no family to return to, it will roar loud enough for us to hear him. The puma will demand his space in this world.

Click here, and here for books to check out on the subject.

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