Aside from the Huaorani, there are two other Indian tribes living in the Ecuadorian rain forest: the Tagaeri and Taromenane. These three tribes used to be one, but in the 1970s they split up in different groups. The Huaorani chose to establish contacts with the outside world, while two other groups insisted on remaining isolationist. The Huaorani number some 3,000, spread over various villages and families. The Tagaeri and Taromenane live in (family) groups of 20 to 30 members.
Where the Huaorani differ from the Tagaeri and Taromenane is that only the Huaorani use canoes – the other two tribes travel on foot. The Huaorani adopted the use of the canoe from Quichua Indians that they came in contact with. The Huaorani tend to live in permanent villages, while the Tagaeri and Taromenane are nomadic. These are the two groups most at risk. Their numbers are estimated to be a few hundred and their numbers are dwindling. In May 2003, twenty women and children were killed, presumably by outside forces, in the Tinquino river area. There have been a number of similar massacres since then, where up to 15 Tagaeri or Taromenane were killed each time.
Whenever Tagaeri and Taromenane encounter intruders, they will attempt to kill them. This is likely in response to the massacres in recent years. The Huaorani believe in taking revenge and Tagaeri and Taromenane are presumed to hold similar values. In 2005 and 2008, employees from lumber companies were attacked when they ventures onto tribal lands. One was pinned to the ground with 30 spears, while another was only wounded and escaped. These actions were likely meant as a warning.
Native & Green guide Javier (Stalin’s brother) spoke with the wounded lumberjack in 2006 and retrieved the body of his colleague with the help of Huaorani.
On August 10, 2009, family members of oil workers were killed and a baby girl of 7 months old taken. That day was a national celebration in Ecuador because of the ‘Bicentenario de la Independencia’, or Independence Day. Many oil people had left their base on the river Tiputini to attend parties elsewhere. Tagaeri or Taromenane used this opportunity to launch an attack. A mother and 18-year-old son were killed, while a 12-year-old daughter was severely wounded and died later. The 7-month-old was later retrieved from the rainforest, where she had been left behind. Maybe this action was meant as a warning.
“You need to fear the Tagaeri,” said Huaorani chief Huane. “as they know exactly how to fight and defend their territory. You never see them, they are like the wind, but they are here and take care of the land. Leave them alone!”
In November 2009, Stalin and Dorien were traveling by canoe deep in the rainforest of Yasuni National Park. At some point, they saw blue intestines of peccaries (wild hogs) floating down the river and realized they must be close to a Huaorani hunting camp. They went ashore and ventured into the forest. They found Huane’s camp and spent the night there. The next day, while the Huaorani men went on a hunt, Stalin and Dorien were sitting around the fire with Canga, an older Huaorani woman of 86, but still fit as a girl of 18! Dorien saw movement in the forest and thought it was the men returning from their hunt, when Canga whispered ‘Tigre, tigre’, thinking she’d seen a jaguar.
Stalin grabbed his machete and Dorien reached for her camera. That moment, Canga said “Tagaeri!” It turned out that there was a Tagaeri trail nearby. Apparently, they had scouted out the camp, concluded there was no threat and continued on their way. They respect the Huaorani and tend to leave tourists alone also, knowing they respect the land – it’s only the lumber people with their loud chain saws that need to fear them.
Note: Native & Green never trespasses onto Tagaeri and Taromenane lands.