‘Go make camps deeper in the forest’: How the Amazon’s Indigenous People are Handling the Threat of the Coronavirus
By Mitch Anderson, 24 April 2020
” A small group of young Waorani men step out of the tiny patch of secondary forest that abuts their precarious settlement here on the outskirts of Shell, a military town named after the oil company in Ecuador’s southern Amazon. The men carry a 20-foot wooden pole and wear enormous grins. “Now we can let our people know that the plague is coming and they should go make camps deeper in the forest,” they shout to me from afar, following up with the classic Waorani hoot: “queeeuuuuu, queeeuuuu, queeeuuuuu” (which means, essentially, “we’re alive, we’re badass, and we’re happy!”).
Within an hour, they had rigged an antenna to the pole and hooked up an old HF radio, tuning into the static-laden frequency that connects dozens of Waorani communities across their 2.5 million-acre rainforest territory. It was 4pm on March 17th, just two days after the Ecuadorian government had decreed a national shutdown, which included road closures, a shelter-in-place order, and a 2pm curfew. At that time, there had only been two confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Ecuador’s southern Amazon, yet the rising number of cases in the booming coastal port town of Guayaquil had led to nationwide quarantine measures.
Gilberto Nenquimo, President of the Waorani Nation, which totals roughly 6,000 hunter-harvesters across nearly 60 villages in the south-central Ecuadorian Amazon, took to the radio first: “Waorani, do you copy me? Elders, do you copy me? We are facing terrible times ahead. There is a new sickness in the world, unlike any other. It has traveled from far away China, and it has arrived here in Ecuador. It travels fast. In only months it has spread across the entire world. There are confirmed cases in the oil towns of the northern Amazon. Elders are dying across the world. In the most advanced countries, the hospitals can’t cure this disease. The bodies are piling up in Italy and the United States. Imagine the doctors here in Ecuador. They don’t have a chance. No villagers should come to the city. We are prohibiting access into our territory. No one enters. No one leaves. Do you copy me, Waorani? Do you copy me?””
Full version available at https://time.com/5826188/amazons-indigenous-people-coronavirus/