This monographic study on the Huaorani intends to situate them ethnographically within Amazonian anthropology. It focuses on the description and interpretation of their trekking way of life, approached from the perspective of concepts about the person, death, predation, incorporation, and growth. Concerned with the fact that Amazonian anthropology has been split between studies of human adaptation to their natural environments and studies of the ways in which nature is used symbolically and ritually to signify society or transcend human finitude or both, I have tried to grasp the Huaorani's contemporary ethnographic reality and historical agency by articulating history and cosmology, ritual and ethnicity, and symbolic and political economy analysis.
This book is an attempt to present ethnographic data on a small-scale society characterized by a high degree of mobility and disengagement from horticulture and to offer generalizations valid for other highly mobile societies of the Northwest Amazon. The theme of natural abundance, a cultural category in terms of which the Huaorani organize their own experience of the ongoing relationship they sustain with the forest in the course of provisioning their society, is central to understanding their mode of trekking. Mobility is not primarily determined by economic or ecological factors but represents the historical development of a distinct mode of life that the notions of archaism and agricultural regression cannot explain satisfactorily.
While a number of anthropologists influenced by postmodern thinking consider the monograph an entirely obsolete form of scholarship linked to early twentieth-century colonialism and ways of thinking, I can see no better way of conveying a nonindustrial culture in all its difference, integrity, and unique aesthetic, moral, and political response to the human condition. This is especially true for the Huaorani who, from their tragic encounter with North American missionaries in 1956 to this day, have held a special place in sensationalistic journalism and popular imagination as “Ecuador's last savages.” I will never forget that the first talk I was asked to give in Ecuador as part of my research cooperation commitments with the Ministry of Culture and Education did not concern their culture or social organization (of which they were assumed to be lacking, either because of their extreme savagery or because of their advanced state of acculturation by Quichua neighbors) but the various media discourses about them.SUPSUP SUPSUP
Norman Whitten wrote in 1978SUPSUP SUPSUP that “more than any other native people of the Oriente [Ecuador's Amazon region], the contemporary Huaorani exist not only as a people facing new cataclysmic changes in their territory, but also as a people . . .