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The tale of the Bameno people is one of a place where men live in community, and where myriad forms of animal and plant life come together to form a lush microcosm. The Waorani people, belonging to the Kamperi clan, are among the Amazon's indigenous communities. They are at the heart of a centuries-long struggle to protect the Amazon, their own territory, the OMÉ and their way of life. However, the nature of this struggle has changed as have the relationships between this family's history and that of the outside world.
The Bameno people / A Multiplateform Art Journey
Film - Installations - Photography - Music - Book
In 2013 Varial embark on a journey to the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador and reach the most remote Waorani village of Bameno, home to some of the last hunter-gatherers, whose territory is threatened by Big Oil. Equipped with photographic, video and sound equipment, he travelled by land from the city of El Coca and then took a two-day boat trip on the Cononaco River to reach Bameno. He spent a month documenting the life of these last warriors, now prisoners of recent political decisions.
What he discovered during these weeks spent with the 80 members of the Baihua family is their level of modernity and adaptability to the modern world, as well as the real challenges they face to protect their territory.
Written from an intimate and immersive angle, the project celebrates the beauty and simplicity of these ancient cultures, generally unknown to the world, without concealing the modern issues faced by these men and women.
Presented as a hybrid experience, it offers viewers a different vision of a tribe that, perhaps incorrectly, they already think they know.
* In collaboration with Bianca Laliberté, Philosophy and Visual Anthropology, Université de Montréal, Canada.
The struggle of the Baihua Family (also referred to in this project as the Kamperi Clan—whose oldest shaman is Kemperi Baihua), the last Waorani tribe living in their own ancestral environment, is part of a larger struggle: that of indigenous peoples worldwide. There are approximately 370 million indigenous people in the world. The majority of their homelands have been devastated by industrial activities such as logging, mining, oil exploitation, mass tourism, etc., and they continue to be subjected to increasingly aggressive pressures. Their resistance contributes to the preservation of the Earth’s natural areas. And in this regard, bearing witness to their plight may strengthen the cause of environmental protection worldwide.
The Baihua family's daily struggle is derived from their “contacted tribe” status. We are seeking to understand against whom or what this struggle is being fought, and how the nature of the struggle itself is transforming the Kamperi clan’s way of life. Archival sources made available to us clearly demonstrate that mass media portrayals of the Waorani clan of Kamperi perpetuate a myth about them: that the they are "uncontacted," or in other words, "primitive" as described by the broadcast network NBC—people who live at the same speed and with same means as prehistoric men, finding continuity in a pure form of essentialism. "They are closer to the stone age than the modern age," according to journalist Ann Curry.
The images we have filmed illustrate the scope of the changes to the tribe's life that have taken place starting with their first contact with the Western world. The camera reveals the presence and use of Western objects (TVs, computers, radios, rifles, clothing, footwear, boat engines, etc.) juxtaposed against traditional, ancestral practices (community hunting and fishing and their techniques, shamanism, etc.) and the use of traditional objects (spears, blowguns, bows and arrows, dwellings, canoes and other tools). The life of the Kamperi clan is focused on both the maintenance of a traditional lifestyle and the inclusion of new practices of "Western" origins. For our part, we refuse to perpetuate the myth of the primitive man, as it reduces the real issues concerning the Waorani to the level of mere spectacle.
The primary issue is, undoubtedly, one of territory: the "OMÉ." This territory is endangered by the current state of economic and political affairs in Ecuador: the government is doing nothing to counter territorial destruction by oil-based and other industries. The Waorani are affected every day by political decisions taken at the national and international levels and want to limit the adverse effects of such decisions. We are absolutely certain that their traditional lifestyle has already begun a slow process of disintegration. They are working to protect their territory and defend their traditions and culture.
The Waorani no longer defend their territory with blowguns as they used to. They now understand how to make use of photographic images, how to save minimal amounts of money, what the nature and functions of tourism are and how to use "Western" tools such as weapons for strategic defense. They grasp the relevance of either using or being featured in digital and television media, modes of expression inherent to a new shared virtual arena. In a series of interviews, Penti, the village chief, explains what he considers to be the main issues within his territory. Taken together, these videos appear as an incessant repetition of the same vital message: members of the Kamperi clan want to protect their territory in order to lead a life of freedom.
The intelligence of the clan’s members becomes self-evident. Their actions arise out of a need for their intelligence to be recognized as the intelligence of necessity. They have an amazing capacity for reconciliation and for acceptance of the conditions inherent to their situation. They adopt aspects of our language and our way of life despite the risk of adverse effects to their own way of life, which they are determined to preserve. But the struggle of the Waorani, in its current form, will require the acquisition of new weapons to face new adversaries (for example, industrial and communication titans). Dramatic representations of their culture and tourism are some of the most important new weapons in the Kamperi Clan's arsenal. The preservation of traditional rituals has become a necessity as touristic representations of the clan's culture have become important to local tourism. Tourism is now the clan's primary source of income, and some of its members leave the jungle for the city in order to study at Ecuadorian tourism schools.
A thoughtful consideration of dramatizations of the clan's culture must necessarily involve a reflection on the effects caused by such practices! We can, like them, ask whether their impact is positive, but how can we be sure? Indeed, this strategy aimed at strengthening the community also has the effect of transforming it through the incorporation of objects and techniques of "foreign" origin and the arrival of increasingly significant numbers of outsiders. This situation, while creating new opportunities on the one hand, also creates a new set of concerns on the other.
Such a state of affairs necessarily leads us on a search for new horizons of thought. Can a representation of the "other" actually do justice to reality, the "other's" reality? We are not attempting to gain an exclusive perspective on the Waorani, but rather to share in the kinds of discourse and vision that are inherent to the creative process. Could art help in this regard? In reality, such sharing is part of a vision for documentary practices to be carried out for and by the Waorani. Cameras and computers are technologies that already have an established presence in the Bameno territory. How can the use of such technologies by locals create a kind of symbiosis with our own use of the same technologies, within the context of producing this very content? In the same vein, Internet will likely soon be available in the city of Bameno, a development that would open up a whole other range of possibilities...
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