News from Tourism Concern
Huaorani Ecolodge - maintaining traditions and culture
Posted: May 2, 2012
Faced with the destruction of their surroundings and the possible disappearance of their way of life, the Huaorani chose to resist. They opted for sustainable tourism as a way to maintain their culture and improve their standard of living. Jascivan Carvalho of Tropic Journeys in Nature www.tropiceco.com explains more.
Visit the Huaorani website www.huaorani.com
The Huaorani are an age old Amazon people that traditionally lived a semi nomadic hunting and gathering life in the area's forests. Legend says that hundreds of years ago they migrated to North Western Ecuador, in the area of the world famous Yasuní National Park, recognised as one of the most bio diverse areas on the planet, in order to escape from a tribe of headhunters.
These days they lead a more settled and open existence in the humid tropical forests where the threat to their existence comes not from other Amazon peoples - although some closely related groups still shun outside influences and can be dangerous to approach - but from the pressure to integrate, as well as from the loggers and oil companies that have had negative impacts on this culturally significant people and the health and diversity of its tropical environment.
The Huaorani maintain their traditional lifestyle and at one point the future appeared bleak for this warrior people. But faced with the destruction of their surroundings and the possible disappearance of their way of life, the Huaorani chose to resist. They opted for sustainable tourism as a way to maintain their culture and improve their standard of living.
Eco tourism was in its infancy when the Huaorani began to provide visitors to their territory with unique experiences in the Amazon Rainforest. The possibility of sharing time with the Huaorani, of understanding their reality and getting to know their culture, while helping to conserve a unique environment, gave lucky visitors something few had been able to experience before. The program, named Amazon Headwaters with the Huaorani was recognised internationally by the 1997 TO DO! award by a coalition of German tourism and social organisations.
From there other plans began to take shape and after some years of planning and discussion five Huaorani communities and their partners were able to build a small lodge close to the community of Quehueri'ono, located on the upper reaches of the Shiripuno River. The final product was Huaorani Ecolodge, owned and co-managed by the communities themselves, which opened its doors in 2008. The project met with almost immediate success and was well received by travellers as well as international tourism operators and media; right from the beginning the lodge has been featured by newspapers and magazines such as The Guardian (UK), The Times (UK), The Globe and Mail (CAN), amongst others and along with Tropic Journeys in Nature its partner have won multiple awards. But the Lodge has always had a wider agenda and was designed to be more than straightforward tourism. This community based project forms an essential part of a plan to protect a globally important environment and enable a people to defend their unique forest culture.
The Lodge provides travellers with unique experiences in a comfortable intimate setting, chosen by the Huaorani themselves, together with the chance to see the rainforest through the eyes of the people who live there, and to understand what it means to have the Amazon forest as your home and to have to defend it in order to survive.
Visitors come to understand that the principle objective of the Huaorani and their Lodge is the conservation of nature and respect for tribal peoples and cultures, while providing the communities themselves with a motive for protection and a means of raising their income – in financial terms the Amazon indigenous communities are amongst the poorest in the country. To this end the Lodge directly employs local staff, who are provided with a continuous, high level of training, while all other programmes involve local guides and operators. The Lodge also uses local produce as a matter of principle and makes every effort to find local suppliers wherever possible.
The most recent element of the project is the creation of the 55,000 Ha Yame Forest Reserve, named after the recently deceased father of Moi Enomenga, one of the most respected Huaorani leaders. The project, supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Conservation Society (WCS), is in the mid stages – a management plan for the area is now being designed – and is scheduled to begin operating in 2012.The Reserve will form a fundamental part of the tourism project, making the Lodge more profitable by providing visitors with added experiences of the Amazon rainforest and the satisfaction of contributing to the area's conservation, and at the same time providing the Huaorani communities, who will patrol and maintain the Reserve, with further stimulus to protect their territory from the depredations of illegal logging.
On a fundamental level the program is all about raising awareness amongst visitors about the intrinsic value of cultural or natural attractions, and the necessity to preserve and support endangered peoples and their efforts to survive and protect their environments. So given the cultural sensitivity of the communities, before any visit can take place all clients are provided with information, both written and aural on the history of the local culture as well as the plants and animals. Just by being there, visitors help community-based ecotourism maintain a way of life for the Huaorani independent of gifts and handouts from oil companies. This venture links the Huaorani to tourism as an alternative means of income in their irreversibly-changed world, enabling them to preserve their culture, heritage, and traditions and at the same time conserve the land.
Huaoroni Lodge is featured in our Ethical Travel Guide
Tourism Concern is developing a Code of Practice for tour operators working with or in areas inhabited by indigenous peoples. Look out for further information soon.