The Waorani were doing just fine as “Nomads of the Rainforest“
By Crystal Hollis | Fall 2010 | ANTH 1150 World Cultures Through Film
Nomads of the Rainforest (1984) documents the livelihood of the Waorani people, natives who live close to Ecuador in the northwestern regions of the Amazon rainforest. They are tribal, secluded, and close-bounded from the rest of the world. The Waorani possess characteristics of an ideal type folk society which is defined as non-literate, small, isolated, and homogeneous. The film takes an emic approach to understand the behavior and personality of the tribe.
The Waorani Indians have been historically isolated and hostile to outsiders. Missionaries came into contact with the Waorani only to be killed by a clan’s spears and blowguns. Other attempts were made to modernize the Waorani but this distinct group of people held strongly onto their culture. They may not choose to assimilate to modern society but they have taken advantage of some tools such as pots, axes, and machetes that make their jobs faster and easier.
The film emphasizes how kinship is prevalent for the Waorani Indians. Everyone has a role in finding food, which is probably why men and women are of equal status. The women remain home and cultivate crops; they grow a type of Amazonian roots with the help of the men chopping down the trees in order to prepare the soil. With the chopped down trees, the men also create spears and blowguns that are used to hunt game. They wield the tools with great precision and knowledge of the rainforest that has been passed down generations. The children have the responsibility to learn that same knowledge through observation and helping the adults.
The film emphasizes that sharing is sacred. A hunter would bring home one 60 pound monkey for dinner and it would be shared for the entire village, even though the portions are small. Sharing represents how the family cares for each other and wants each other to survive. Despite the significance of family and love, the Waorani has a history of violence among different clans. Boys were taught to be aggressive and to “ready their spears.” Kinship is dominant and there wasn’t enough women for every man. But now, while violence toward outsiders and other clans diminished, the Waorani face a new threat: violence towards their culture.
The film does an excellent job showing how the Amazon Rainforest in vital to their survival. The rainforest is the binding force that makes up the Waorani culture. They are knowledgeable of the animals, the plants, and the soil. They burn their huts when they are ready to travel but don’t feel homeless because the rainforest is ultimately their home. They are integrated with wildlife and nature, even recognizing the fearsome Jaguars as an animistic spiritual ancestor. But their way of life, their culture, is being threatened by modern society’s deforestation. So because this horticulturalist society have difficulty adapting to lineal change, the loss of the forest will devastate this tribe.
Watch the entire documentary: