“Voices of the Amazon” is the name of a series that brings together eleven accounts telling the story of the age-old connection between indigenous peoples and what they call “the spirits of the jungle”, along with the threats that put at risk their knowledge and the safekeeping of this place, so key to the planet’s biodiversity and life.
The Amazon Basin has the most extensive wetlands on the planet. Made up of 1,100 rivers, it contains 20% of the world’s freshwater, including the Amazon River which has its source in the Peruvian Andes. Its course runs across almost all of South America before discharging into the Atlantic Ocean. Among its tropical rainforests, the lives of the Amazonian peoples flow to the rhythm of the waters that bathe their settlements. These tributaries are the veins that connect and communicate around 400 different indigenous peoples, each one of them with their own world view and culture.
The profound connection the indigenous peoples feel with the jungle is the guiding principle of life in their communities; however, the occupation of their territories for the exploitation of resources has brought several of them to the brink of physical and cultural extermination.
The ‘Earth’s lung’, as the Amazon is known, far from producing oxygen is in fact releasing large quantities of CO2 due to deforestation and forest fires, a sign of climate change.
This panorama is reconstructed in the series “Voices of the Amazon, listen to memory speaking”, available as a podcast.
In the voice of the indigenous peoples, the living memories of the women, men, young people and children of the Kichwa, Shuar, Tikuna, Cubeo, Tanimuka, Monkoxi, Amahuaca, Borari and Inga peoples are told.
The series has been co-created by thirty journalists and five indigenous communicators from five nations in the Amazon Basin: Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, who are part of Red Tejiendo Historias (Story Weaving Network). This initiative led by the independent media outlet Agenda Propia, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.
Each episode features recordings made by the communities themselves in their territories, so it is they who denounce the consequences, that they are suffering more and more, of the drug trafficking and oil exploitation that is destroying the jungle.
This is how the Kichwa community describes the difficult situation it is experiencing as a result of an oil spill into the River Coca in April 2020, in the Ecuadorian province of Orellana. They are now suffering the loss of their principal source of water, healing and spirituality.
For the Tikuna people as well, located on the triple Amazonian border of Colombia, Brazil and Peru, the “Yakuruna” or spirit of the river “is becoming more distant,” says the podcast’s producer, who is from the community.
In her testimony she recounts how the river water has been affected by the drugs trade which spews out chemical waste from laboratories into the headwaters of rivers, which affects approximately twenty-two communities that use the water further downriver.
The Tanimuka join the podcast from Wakaya, an indigenous hamlet in Mirití Paraná, in the Colombian Amazon.
This indigenous people sings and dances to care for the health of humanity and of the jungle, ancient and living manifestations of their culture in which they “invoke the spirits of the jungle” to heal their minds and bodies and to bless their harvests. In addition, the Wari Hehenava clan of the Cubeo people, in the depths of the jungle near Vaupés in Colombia, add to the series’ sounds and stories and transport listeners with song and weeping to the future funeral of Raúl Gómez, the last sage of his lineage, who teaches the young people his knowledge of a ceremony that until now only he knew.
This same ethnic group tells of the forced displacement some of its members were subjected to due to armed conflict.
Now they are strengthening their culture from Bogotá, the Colombian capital, through the Carrizo dance, a celebration that reminds them of their territory and allows them to earn their sustenance in the city.
In a tour of the Amahuaca communities in Peru, the Shuar communities in Ecuador and the Minkoxi communities in Bolivia, indigenous people relate their struggles to keep their languages alive despite the stigmatisation that generates rejection and racism towards them and their culture.
Likewise, the impact on the Inga people in Putumayo in Colombia of the external use that is being made of ayahuasca (a traditional medicine) is also discussed.
In the case of the indigenous Borari women in Brazil, they demonstrate their resistance through music and pottery in the face of territorial and cultural conflicts caused by the growth in tourism in Alter do Chao, better known as the Amazonian Caribbean.
This map of the communities’ oral and sound memories seeks to strengthen the diversity of the cultures that participated and to avoid the loss of the Amazon people’s knowledge systems to the multiple threats that right now are putting the lives of their communities and of the planet at risk.