Secret Sarayaku - PhMuseum

Secret Sarayaku

Misha Vallejo

2015 - 2020

Ecuador

The Kichwa people of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest have always held a physical and spiritual connection with the jungle and its Supreme Beings in order to maintain equilibrium within their world. They believe in the Kawsak Sacha or Living Forest. The Kawsak Sacha is based on the idea that the jungle is a living, conscious and rights-bearing entity in which all elements, including the plants, animals, humans, rivers, wind, stars, etc., are alive, have a spirit and are interconnected. If one aspect of this is damaged, it will trigger a chain reaction affecting all other parts of the jungle. Thus, the Kichwa take from the jungle only what they need to survive and nothing more. They believe that protecting their home is fundamental not only to their own survival, but to that of humanity.

At first glance, this story may appear too insignificant to affect life on the planet at large, but not according to the worldview of the Kichwa. The Kichwa people believe we are all part of this big and complex organism that we call Earth. Everything that affects the Kichwa affects all of us. Everything is connected. In the times we live in, implementing this philosophy to our everyday life could mean the difference between extinction or survival.

In emphasis of this connection, the Sarayaku have used social media to become cyber-activists: they spread their environmental message and connect with supporters across the globe via a satellite Internet connection. The community is convinced that by sharing their life in the jungle, they will inspire people around the globe to implement different strategies in the fight against climate change. They want to get known internationally, not out of vanity but rather because in this way it will be much harder for the government or big oil companies to disappear them. Nevertheless, this Internet connection with the “outside world” is a double-edged sword and has resulted in an ever- greater presence of Western culture within their everyday life.

This series is part of the SecretSarayaku.net transmedia project, made with the active participation of several members of the community, which acts like a jungle of information where Western contemporary knowledge merges with the knowledge of this ancestral indigenous community.

{{ readMoreButton }}

  • "The Sarayaku territory is not just a physical and geographic space, but also a space within which we can elevate our emotions as we connect with the world of the Supreme Beings." - Extract of the Kawsak Sacha (Living Forest) Declaration by the Kichwa Community of Sarayaku.

  • A young man inspects the skin of a javelin, which is being dried to use as a tambourine. Before important celebrations, such as the Uyantza Raymi, the men spend several weeks deep in the jungle, hunting and fishing for the entire community. The community wastes nothing, using every part of the animal for either food, clothing or instruments.

  • Portrait of Lino Gualinga on the first day of the Uyantza Raymi celebration. Community members often paint their faces, hands and hair with wituk during important festivals. Lino’s face paint was inspired by the rock band Kiss.

  • A man plays a piguano (type of flute) on the first day of the Uyantza Raymi festival, while wearing a hat made from the skin and head of a coatis, his hands painted with wituk. The Hunting Festival is the community’s most important celebration. This celebration was previously held annually, but the community decided to celebrate it only every three years, so that the animals would have more time to reproduce and it would not affect the balance of life in the jungle.

  • A hat made from a toucan beak, sitting in a plastic bag along the shore of the Bobonaza River. Before important celebrations,
    men often go deep into the jungle to
    hunt, returning with food for the entire community. When they return to town, they dress in elaborate costumes made from the animals they have killed.

  • Portrait of Alejandro Gualinga wearing a hat made from a tapir at the start of the Uyantza Raymi festivities. Before the celebration begins, the men spend several weeks hunting and fishing deep in the jungle. On this certain occasion, they were allowed to hunt a maximum of four tapirs, but they only captured two.

  • Drawing of a toucan above a broken solar panel. The majority of power in Sarayaku comes from similar such panels. Each house has a solar panel for powering the radio and a dull light at night.

  • A young man who has painted his body in wituk waits next to a house in the main square in Sarayaku. Wituk designs vary, but males generally decorate themselves with geometric figures characterized by thick lines that emulate natural textures, such as snake scales. These designs had previously served to insight fear in battle, but these days they are used for festivals and social protests.

  • "We are descendants of the jaguar, of the puma who lives in the Bobonaza, Pastaza and Marañón river basins. The wise Tayakkuna fathers navigated these waters since the time of our ancestors, and it was they who named the jungle and its parts." - Extract of the Kawsak Sacha (Living Forest) Declaration by the Kichwa Community of Sarayaku.

  • Celso Aranda drinks chicha on the third day of the Uyantza Raymi celebration. Chicha is a traditional drink made from yucca. When preparing chicha, the root is cooked for several hours and then pressed into a type of puré, after which it is chewed and spit out, and finally poured into clay jars covered with leaves for fermentation. Chicha is prepared exclusively by women.

  • "The jungle is home to the Sacha Runakuna, or inhabitants of the jungle, both visible and invisible, who jealously protect the balance of the fragile ecosystems and their relationship with human beings. Water falls, lakes, rivers, swamps, clay clicks and giant trees, each of these has its own Supreme Being." - Extract of the Kawsak Sacha (Living Forest) Declaration by the Kichwa Community of Sarayaku.

  • Javier Cisneros takes part in a fight in the community’s main square during the Pachamama celebration.

  • "From the moment we are born, we coexist with all beings that form part of the Kawsak Sacha or the Living Forest. This is not merely a superficial or esthetic relationship, but one in which the most fundamental actions of the beings around us incarnate themselves within our hearts, minds and bodies." - Extract of the Kawsak Sacha (Living Forest) Declaration by the Kichwa Community of Sarayaku.

  • Portrait of Imelda Gualinga on her way to Wayusa Net, a hut with satellite Internet connection. This is one of the few places in the community that has enough electrical power to charge batteries, cell phones and computers.

  • Eriberto Gualinga accommodates his feather crown before the Uyantza Raymi festivities. Before this celebration that takes place once every three years, men go
    deep in the jungle in order to hunt. They take from the jungle only the necessary for their subsistence and take advantage of everything they hunt: they will eat the meat, use the skin for drums and use the fur and feathers as clothing.

  • A catfish floats in the Rotuno river bed. The community constantly inspects this river as they believe it to be sacred. Hunting and fishing is only permitted here before important occasions, such as in this case as the community prepares for the Uyantza Raymi celebration.

  • Dyana Malaver holds the head of a deer her father hunted the night before along the Rotuno River.The community takes from the jungle only what it needs to survive
    and makes use of everything: the meat and innards of animals are used for food, the skin to create tambourines, and the fur and feathers for festival costumes.

  • "The jungle is home to the Sacha Runakuna, or inhabitants of the jungle, both visible and invisible, who jealously protect the balance of the fragile ecosystems and their relationship with human beings. Water falls, lakes, rivers, swamps, clay clicks and giant trees, each of these has its own Supreme Being."- Extract of the Kawsak Sacha (Living Forest) Declaration by the Kichwa Community of Sarayaku.

  • A pilche with chicha floats on the sacred Rotuno River. Chicha is a traditional drink made from yucca. When preparing chicha, the root is cooked for several hours and then pressed into a type of puré, after which it is chewed and spit out, and finally poured into clay jars covered in leaves for fermentation. Chicha is prepared exclusively by women.

  • A hut is lit by solar powered lamps in Sarayaku’s central plaza.


Newsletter