Amazonas, Guardians Of Life
By Charles Gay and Felipe Jacome
My name is Hasmil Villamil. I’m 11 years old. I want to live freely in the Amazon jungle. I want to play with all the animals and I want my community to live in peace.
I first heard about the Amazonian women’s “March For Life” in 2013 from my colleague Ecuadorian photographer Felipe Jacome.
He told me about Waorani women who had fearlessly decided to march from the Ecuadorian Amazon up to the country’s capital, Quito. Babies in arms and children by their sides, they were protesting the government’s selling of entire sections of the Amazon rainforest to oil companies. Ecuador had turned to the Chinese Development Bank to reshape its infrastructures, as the price of oil fell, the country became increasingly dependent on China and was forced to trade its natural resources.
The march was underreported nationally and it was altogether ignored by the international media.
Felipe met some of the protesters - they were community leaders, but also daughters and grandmothers, and they spanned the seven different nationalities that populate the Ecuadorian Amazon. The encounter resulted in a series of black and white photographs of them combined with handwritten testimonies about their cause.
My name is Hueiya. I live in the Waorani community called Ñoneno. I fight for my community, so that in the future our children don’t suffer and can live in peace breathing clean air. I fight so my kids don’t have have to suffer, so that their land continues to be fertile and free of pollution, so that our rivers continue to be clean so they can drink clean water. I fight for all children who are yet to be born on this earth.
I then personally met representatives who had travelled to New York City to join the People’s Climate March. And during a press conference organized by Amazon Watch, they denounced the catastrophic human and ecological consequences, both short and long-term, such as pollution of its river streams and the extinction of its uncontacted tribes. From above, the rainforest may look like an infinity of green trees separated by rivers, but in its midst, the Amazon is full of life with two uncontacted tribes, limitless fauna, the richest eco-systems in the world and the lung of the planet. Amazonian women, like most indigenous women around the globe, are devoted and extremely hard working people: they raise their families, take care of their land and preserve their ancestral culture, they cook, fish and teach. Their relation to the forest is deeply intimate, they call it the “motherland.” In their eyes, the forest is female.
I was profoundly moved by the women’s testimony and the powerful significance of them being at the center of the fight. Historically, during indigenous protests, women would stay behind attending children and the land. Therefore, the “March For Life” marked an unprecedented change in status, as men leaders were no longer trusted by the government. Many were deemed corrupt after years of negotiations with oil companies.
Felipe and I decided to expand the photographic work into a wider video project for which we spent two years in the rich Amazon humidity documenting women there. We wanted people to understand life in the rainforest and show the evolution of women’s struggle ever since the country had decided to extract oil.
The government’s response to this historical march was insulting. While women waited days and nights in the streets of the capital for their demands to be answered, President Rafael Correa invited them to walk further to another State he was visiting at the time. House representatives called them “irresponsible” to be walking with their children and “lazy” for skipping their daily tasks. After the march, women were intimidated, and some were even raided by the police and beaten.
Being an extremely isolated people with limited modern communication skills, the outreach of Amazonian women would have remained confidential. But with this film, Felipe and I hope to bring the Amazonian feminism in a global context as women worldwide are uniting and marching together. They are walking in defense of life, equal rights and human dignity - a struggle best embodied by the rainforest itself and the women that call it home.
This film was made in collaboration with the Ecuadorian organizations Accion Ecologica and Agencia Tegantai, which train women to rise and fight. Partially funded by the Global Greengrants Fund, this short film is the first of a multimedia series “Amazonas, Guardians of Life.”