Traditional Knowledge in the Ecuadorian Amazon

“Antes los gringos decían que somos estúpidos,
ahora quieren llevarse nuestro conocimiento…”
(Kichwa grandmother)

[“The gringos used to say we are stupid,
now they want to take our knowledge away…”]

Joining the gathering you will be entering into a foreign culture and even if you have been in the Amazon before, even if you have been here many times, you might not have spent much time finding out about the history, political economy and the ways in which Amazonian science, logic and medicine differs conceptually from its counterparts in Euro-American philosophical systems of understanding and making sense of the world.


Want to say a few things in Kichwa? Download Gayle and Elias’s wonderful little phrasebook.


Paradigmatically different things have to be understood, if you want to grasp them properly, in their own terms, not merely translated into your own language and system of thought – or, as it were, cosmovision. While we can never truly see the world through the eyes of someone else, we can try to listen carefully and slowly generate in our own minds a picture of another reality. This thesis is about that sort of thing: The Protection of Traditional Knowledge in the Ecuadorian Amazon: A Critical Ethnography of Capital Expansion. Chapter 3, Living in Napo: a brief political economy of extraction and colonisation in the Ecuadorian Amazon, is probably a good place to start.

For an easy, but very informative and exciting reading check out On the Origins of Ayahuasca, by Steve Beyer.

Very much worth a read is The Life and Times of Grandfather Alonso: Culture and History in the Upper Amazon, by Blanca Muratorio, which is briefly reviewed here and introduced here:

“In Blanca Muratorio’s book, we are introduced to Rucuyaya Alonso, an elderly Quichua Indian of the Upper Ecuadorean Amazon. Alonso is a hunter, but like most Quichuas, he has done other work as well, bearing loads, panning gold, tapping rubber trees, and working for Shell Oil. He tells of his work, his hunting, his marriage, his fights, his fears, and his dreams. His story covers about a century because he incorporates the oral tradition of his father and grandfather along with his own memories. Through his life story, we learn about the social and economic life of that region.

Chapters of Alonso’s life history and oral tradition alternate with chapters detailing the history of the world around him–the domination of missionaries, the white settlers’ expropriation of land, the debt system workers were subjected to, the rubber boom, the world-wide crisis of the 1930s, and the booms and busts of the international oil market.  Muratorio explains the larger social, economic, and ideological bases of white domination over native peoples in Amazonia. She shows how through everyday actions and thoughts, the Quichua Indians resisted attacks against their social identity, their ethnic dignity, and their symbolic systems. They were far from submissive, as they have often been portrayed.”


A very interesting, but somewhat dense book is “How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human
Book”, by Eduardo Kohn.

Further reading about the region, its people and their struggles:

Goldáraz, J. M. (2004) Mitos y Tradiciones de los Naporuna: Kawsaykama 1, Quito, Ediciones Cicame.

Macdonald, T. Jr. (1999) Ethnicity and Culture amidst New “Neighbors”: The Runa of Ecuador’s Amazon Region, Boston, Allyn and Bacon.

Macdonald, T. Jr, (2002) ‘Ecuador’s Indian Movement: Pawn in a Short Game or Agent in State Reconfiguration?’, in Maybury-Lewis, D. (ed.) The Politics of Ethnicity: Indigenous Peoples in Latin American States, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.

Oberem, U. (1963) ‘Los Indios Quijos del Este del Ecuador’, Humanitas Boletín Ecuatoriano de Antropología, 4 (2), 20-36.

Oberem, U. (1980) Los Quijos: Historia de la transculturación de un grupo indígena en el Oriente Ecuatoriano, Otavalo, IOA.

Rival, L. M. (2002) Trekking Through History: The Huaorani of Amazonian Ecuador, New York, Columbia University Press.

Salomon, F. (1983) ‘Shamanism and Politics in Late-Colonial Ecuador’, American Ethnologist, 10 (3), 413-428.

Santos Ortíz de Villalba, J. (1993) Quichua Amazónicos. Los Pueblos Indios en Sus Mitos, Quito, Abya-Yala.

Schaefer, T. (2009) ‘Engaging Modernity: The Political Making of Indigenous Movements in Bolivia and Ecuador, 1900-2008’, Third World Quarterly, 30 (2), 397- 413.

Uzendoski, M. (2005) The Napo Runa of Amazonian Ecuador Urbana, Illinois, University of Illinois Press.

Whitten, Jr., N. E. (1975) ‘Jungle Quichua Ethnicity: An Ecuadorian Case Study’, in Despres, L. (ed.) Ethnicity and Resource Competition in Plural Societies, The Hague, Mouton.

WHITTEN, Jr., N. E. (1976) Ecuadorian Ethnocide and Indigenous Ethnogenesis: Amazonian resurgence amidst Andean colonialism, Copenhagen, IWGIA Document 23.

Whitten, Jr., N. E. (1976) Sacha Runa: Ethnicity and Adaptation of Ecuadorian Jungle Quichua, Urbana, University of Illinois Press.

Whitten, Jr., N. E. (ed.) (2003) Millenial Ecuador: Critical Essays on Cultural Transformations and Social Dynamics, Iowa City, University of Iowa Press.

Whitten, Jr., N. E & WHITTEN, D. S. (2008) Puyo Runa: Imagery and Power in Modern Amazonia, Urbana, University of Illinois Press.

Zamosc, L. (1994) ‘Agrarian Protest and the Indian Movement in the Ecuadorian Highlands’, Latin American Research Review, 29 (3), 37-68.

Zamosc, L. (2004) ‘The Ecuadorian Indian Movement: From Politics of Influence to Politics of Power’, in Postero, N. G. & Zamosc, L. (eds.) The Struggle for Indigenous Rights in Latin America, Brighton, Sussex Academic Press.

Ziegler-Otero, L. (2004) Resistance in an Amazonian Community: Huaorani Organzing Against the Global Economy, New York and Oxford, Berghahn Books.


Further relevant, but mostly academic publications

Anaya, S. J. (2004) Indigenous Peoples in International Law (second edition), Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Balick, M. J., Elisabetsky, E. & Laird. S. A. (1996) Medicinal Resources of the Tropical Forest: Biodiversity and its Importance to Human Health, New York Columbia University Press.

Becker, M. (2008) ‘Ecuador, Indigenous Uprisings’, in Stearns. P. N. (ed.) Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brysk, A. (2000) From Tribal Village to Global Village: Indian Rights and International Relations in Latin America, Stanford, Stanford University Press.

COICA (1994) ‘Statement by the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) on intellectual property rights and biodiversity’, Redacted as part of the Regional Meeting on Intellectual Property and Indigenous Knowledge organised by COICA and UNDP in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, 30 September 1994.

CONAIE (Confederación de Organizaciones Indígenas del Ecuador) (n.d.) ‘Representing the Indigenous Voice in a Modern World’. Available at http://conaie.nativeweb.org/brochure.html [Accessed 13 March 2010].

CONAIE (Confederación de Organizaciones Indígenas del Ecuador) (1989) Las Nacionalidades Indígenas en el Ecuador: Nuestro Proceso Organizativo, Quito, Ediciones Tinkui.

CONFENIAE (Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) (1988) La Nacionalidad Huaorani y la Defensa de su Territorio: Pedido de Solidaridad, Puyo, CONFENIAE.

Correa, C. M. (2001) ‘Traditional Knowledge and Intellectual Property: Issues and Options Surrounding the Protection of Traditional Knowledge’, Discussion Paper, Quaker United Nations Office.

DENVIR, D. (2008a) ‘Wayward Allies: President Rafael Correa and the Ecuadorian Left’, Upside Down World, 25 July 2008.

DENVIR, D. (2008b) ‘Whither Ecuador? An Interview with Indigenous Activist and Politician Monica Chuji’, Upside Down World, 6 November 2008.

Denvir, D. & Riofrancos, T. (2008) ‘How Green is the Latin American Left? A Look at Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia’, Upside Down World, 3 April 2008.

Dorsey, M. K. (2004) ‘Political Ecology of Bioprospecting in Amazonian Ecuador: History, Political Economy and Knowledge’, in Brechin, S. R., Wilshusen, P. R., Fortwangler, C. L., & West, P. C. (eds.) Contested Nature: Promoting international biodiversity conservation with social justice in the twenty-first century, New York, State University of New York Press.

Fecteau, L. M. (2001) ‘The Ayahuasca Patent Revocation: Raising Questions about Current U.S. Patent Policy’, Boston College Third World Law Journal, 21, 69-86.

FEDERICI, S. (2004) Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body, and Primitive Accumulation, New York, Autonomedia.

Friedman, J. (1999) ‘Indigenous Struggles and the Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’, Journal of World Systems Research, 5 (2), 391-411.

GAL, J. E. L. (2005) Biography of bioprospecting : ten case-studies about the conflict over intellectual property of traditional knowledge and related genetic resources, PhD Thesis, Rotterdam, Erasmus Universiteit.

GREFA, C. (2005) La consulta previa hidrocarburífeca de los bloques 20 y 29, y su incidencia socio-organizativa en las comunidades Kichuas en la provincia de Napo, PhD Thesis, Latin-American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), Quito, Ecuador.

Grey Postero, N. & Zamosc, L. (2004b) ‘Indigenous Movements and the Indian Question in Latin America’, in Grey Postero, N. & Zamosc, L. (eds.) The Struggle for Indigenous Rights in Latin America, Brighton, Sussex Academic Press.

Hale, C. (1994) ‘Between Che Guevara and the Pachamama: Mestizos, Indians, and Identity Politics in the Anti-Quincentenary Campaign’, Critique of Anthropology 14 (1), 9-39.

HARNER, M. J. 1984 Jivaro: People of the Sacred Waterfalls, Berkeley, University of California Press.

Human Rights Council (2008) Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, S. James Anaya, UN Doc. A/HRC/9/9 (11 August 2008).

IWGIA (2002) The Indigenous World 2001/2002, Copenhagen, The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.

IWGIA (2008) The Indigenous World 2008, Copenhagen, The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.

Jameson, K. P. (2008) The Indigenous Movement and the Economic Trajectory of Ecuador, Working Paper 2008-05, Department of Economics Working Paper Series, University of Utah.

Lemus y de Andrade, Conde de (1965) ‘Descripción de la Provincia de los Quixos (1608)’, in Jiménezde la Espada, M. (ed.) Relaciones Geográficas de Indias, Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, volume 183, Madrid, Ediciones Atlas.

Lucero, J. A. (2003) ‘Locating the “Indian Problem”: Community, Nationality, and Contradiction in Ecuadorian Indigenous Politics’, Latin American Perspectives, 30 (1) 23-48.

Macdonald, T. Jr. (1979) Processes of Change in Amazonian Ecuador: Quijos Quichua Indians Become Cattlemen. Ph.D. Dissertation, Urbana, University of Illinois.

Overing, J. & Passes, A. (eds.) (2000) The Anthropology of Love and Anger: The Aesthetics of Conviviality in Native Amazonia, London, Routledge.

Perreault, T. (2001) ‘Developing Identities: Indigenous Mobilization, Rural Livelihoods, and Resource Access in Ecuadorian Amazonia’, Cultural Geographies, 8 (4), 381-413.

Perreault, T. A. (2002) Movilización política e identidad indígena en el Alto Napo, Quito, Abya Yala.

Porras, P. I. (1979) ‘The Discovery in Rome of an Anonymous Document on the Quijo Indians of the Upper Napo, Eastern Ecuador’, in Browman, D. & SchwartzPeasants, R. H. (eds.) Primitives and Proletarians, The Hague, Mouton.

Reeve, M. E. (1993) ‘Regional Interaction in the Western Amazon: The Early Colonial Encounter and the Jesuit Years’, Ethnohistory, 41 (1), 106-138.

Rosenthal, J. P. (2006) ‘Politics, Culture, and Governance in the Development of Prior Informed Consent in Indigenous Communities’, Current Anthropology, 47 (1), 119-142.

Taussig, M. T. (1987) Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Uquillas, J. (1984) ‘Colonization and Spontaneous Settlement in the Ecuadorean Amazon’, in Schmink, M. & Wood, C. H. (eds.) Frontier Expansion in Amazonia, Gainesville, University of Florida Press.

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