There is something missing in the story of the Waorani culture of Amazonian Ecuador. The majority of Waorani live in Yasuní Biosphere Reserve. For several years now, mass media outlets have told the story of Yasuní Biosphere Reserve in terms of oil or other natural resources within this biodiverse hotspot. The world has learned of the existence of the Waorani culture, but exposing the mere existence of such an ancient society will not suffice to tell its story. There is one very important voice that is sorely missing: that of the Waorani people themselves.
When I began working with Waorani communities in Yasuní Biosphere Reserve as a Fulbright grantee last October, I had a very minimal understanding of their culture. As a photojournalist, I soon realized that the most effective way I could learn about their way of life and their intrinsic relationship with the natural world would be through visual exploration and discovery, not just through my lens but also through theirs. I began teaching photography workshops in Waorani communities in Yasuní with several colleagues who, like myself, believed in the power of the image to advance environmental and cultural understanding and conservation. I had no idea where these workshops would ultimately lead, but I knew that there was a crucial story waiting to be told within this threatened region of the world.
As I have been approaching the end of my Fulbright grant period, which will finish in the middle of August, I have come to realize that the images created by the Waorani participants in our workshops were meant to do more than occupy space in external hard drives and fill a few community photo albums; they were created to tell the story of the Waorani inhabitants of this hallowed jungle ground, of past traditions and present changes. These images were not just made to please the individual who pressed the shutter button; these images were intended for every Ecuadorian, every American, every citizen of the world, every governing body, national and international, for you, for me, for a reason.
On August 25th, these images will go on display in the Centro Cultural (Cultural Center) of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador), giving the Waorani a long-overdue visual voice. Comprising a collection of over 200 images from 6 Waorani communities within the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve, the exhibition will represent over 50 indigenous photographers and 4 national and international photographers in a collaborative effort to tell the story of these unique people. These Waorani communities have captured an intimate perspective of their life in the Amazon jungle, of the ongoing challenges to balance traditional weapons with modern technology; hunting and fishing with environmental conservation; songs of their grandparents with American top hits; clothing made of tree bark with cotton imports. Try to imagine this world through the visual images these documentarians have captured in their photographs. These communities are prepared to share their story with you. Now, please consider whether you are able to support them.
Waponi kebi. Thank you.
Risks and challenges
This project has been supported by a collaborative effort between my U.S. Fulbright student scholar grant, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Yasuní en Imágenes, Estación Científica Yasuní, Centro Cultural (PUCE), Tropical Herping, and Ohio University School of Visual Communication (equipment loan for teaching photography workshops). After the exhibition opens on August 25th, the greatest challenges will be to attract as many Ecuadorians and visitors as possible to the exhibition before it closes at the end of September, and to find other venues for the images around Ecuador and the U.S. after the exhibition.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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