Wachirpas means “land of the strong men. The Achuar live off of the rainforest and are skilled hunters and fishers, but at the same time, they see themselves as the forest’s greatest protectors. Their spiritual connection with nature is based on maintaining harmony and equilibrium,
and they raise their children according
 to these values.

S 2 34’20.16 W 76 48’19.51

250 people

My mother told me she is like a big tree: even though I am far away, she will always protect me.

Napoleon “Tiyua” Uyunkar
Shaman of the Wachirpas Community

Photo: Napoleon “Tiyua” Uyunkar

Family Tree

Tiyua Uyunkar, a shaman in the Wachirpas community, was recently elected as President of the Achuar Nation of Ecuador. His father died in a war when he was 2 years old, and he was raised by his mother, with whom he shares a close relationship. His uncles, Entsakua and Rafael, are both shamans in other communities.

Photo: Crafting Pottery by Cristina Uyunkar

Crafting Pottery

Cristina makes pottery using a mixture of clay and sand. She coils it into the shape of a bowl or pot, then smooths it using a piece of broken pottery. After letting it dry for at least one day, she paints it, using colored clay from the shores of the river. Once she’s done painting, she places the piece in the fire, later adding ash and wood to increase the heat. She uses a machete to remove it from the fire once it’s ready, and leaves it to cool. As the finishing touch, she varnishes it with a tree sap glaze.

I started learning pottery when I was about 12 years old. My mom taught me step by step how to make
different items.

Cristina Uyunkar

The Sacred Garden

Photo: Sacred Garden

The chakra, or crop garden, is the woman’s sacred domain in Achuar culture. They grow a variety of plants for food, including plantains, bananas, sweet potatoes, papaya, peanuts, melons, and avocado — but most important of all is the yuca plant. Yuca, also called cassava or manioc, is a staple food of the Achuar.

To garden successfully, a woman must have a relationship with Arutam, the spirit of the forest. She does so by singing anents: personal prayers, sung very quietly, that refer to the plants as her children and encourage them to grow.

While men conduct the sacred coming-of-age ceremony in the forest, women conduct it in the garden. The ceremony involves drinking natem, a spiritual beverage that causes dreams and visions which are later interpreted by the shaman. The chakra is also the preferred place to give birth, since it guarantees women more privacy than their homes.

Grandmothers are the wise women that show us the way. You can always rely on your mother or grandmother to help you when you give birth. They help you the first or second time, and then you don’t need them anymore — you already know what to do.

Cristina Uyunkar

Drinking Chicha

Chicha, a drink made from fermented yuca root, is very important for us.
It is everything. We cannot live without it, because we are not used to drinking water like they do in the city.
It quenches thirst and satisfies hunger, and it gives us energy. It has been our tradition for many generations.

Cristina Uyunkar

Photo: Wachirpa Drinking 'Chicha'

Family Time

Every morning, Achuar families wake up before dawn and gather to drink a stimulating guayusa tea. The guayusa ceremony is quality family time: a place for conversation, sharing dreams, asking questions, and educating the next generation. The day’s agenda is determined by these discussions. They drink a large amount of guayusa to induce vomiting — which the Achuar believe has a purifying effect.

Photo: Wachirpa Children Photo: Wachirpa Son and Dad Photo: Wachirpa Children

Singing Anents

The Achuar sing anents, mystical song-prayers, to communicate with their ancestors and the spirits of the forest. They sing in times of need, during the natem ceremony, in the garden, while engaging in crafts, and any time they need a blessing or spiritual guidance.

My ancestors, where are you? / My grandfathers, where are you? / I am suffering in the middle of the forest as a baby, / Please listen to me, / Where are you? / Where are you? / Where are you? / Please help me! / Grandfather Tobacco, don’t curse me, / Take me to a dream of luck, / Give me the strength to have more children.
/ My ancestors, where are you? / My grandfathers, where are you? / I am suffering in the middle of the forest as a baby, / Please listen to me, / Where are you? / Where are you? / Where are you?

The lyrics of the anent
sung by Domingo Saant

Explore more