San Pablo, Secoya territory
Where were you born?
I was born in Puerto Asis, Colombia. My father was Cofán and my mother was Siona. I grew up speaking A’ingae and Pai’ coca.
Tell me about your childhood.
When I was little we lived in a small community outside of Puerto Asis, in the Putumayo region of Colombia. I don’t remember much from that time, except that there were a number of Siona communities in the area. When I was seven years old I moved with my mother to Ecuador, into Cuyabeno (National Reserve) because my sister was living there. She had married a Secoya man and was living with the Secoya. There were many animals and fish in that forest, so we left Colombia and came to Ecuador.
What was life like for you in Cuyabeno at that time?
We had a good life there. The Secoya lived in small communities in Cuyabeno. The forest was healthy. There were so many animals and there were plenty of fish in the rivers. I would spend my days hunting and fishing. We never went hungry. As a young man I would drink yagé with the shamans and see visions. I remember such beautiful visions. The shamans wore crowns made of toucan, guacamayo, and parrot feathers. Everyone wore tunics and no one wore shoes. This is what I remember from my life in Cuyabeno.
When and why did you move to San Pablo?
I moved to San Pablo when the community was first founded some forty years ago. We were living in Cuyabeno when Cecilio Piaguaje, Celestino’s father, came to visit. He told us that there was a new community being formed on the Aguarico River. He told us that it was a better place, the soil was good for planting and there were many animals. He said it was safe, that there would be a school for the children.
Norma Payaguaje and Emilio Lucitande: Husband and Wife
He told us it was time to change our way of life.
When we arrived in San Pablo there were just a few houses. In these houses lived American missionaries (“ahí vivían gringos”). They were very friendly. They told us that we had been mistaken in our lifestyle: always moving around looking for food, hunting animals, drinking yagé. They taught us about Jesus. Many people, except the elders, stopped wearing tunics, replacing them with Western clothes. I kept my tunic however. The missionaries taught us to raise crops— plantains, yucca, corn— and cattle. Before then we had never lived in one place and grown crops in this way, we had never raised cattle, we just hunted and fished. In San Pablo there were many animals at that time, not like now. It was still a virgin rainforest. Guanta, guatusa, and wild boar would walk right up to the houses. We would still hunt them and eat the meat, but the missionaries didn’t like this. They wanted us to stop hunting. Many of the shamans stopped wearing their crowns. They stopped healing. For forty years now I’ve been raising crops on my land. I stopped hunting as much and stopped drinking yagé. The missionaries eventually left San Pablo, but the people were now used to this other lifestyle. We now live this way.
How did you meet your wife?
I met Norma when I first moved to San Pablo. Her father Marcelo had moved here and we were friends. I am quite a bit older and she was still a child when I moved here. Once she had grown a bit I asked her father if I could marry her. I was a hard worker so he said yes. Norma is a good woman. She is a hard worker. She always prepares chicha and weaves chambira. She makes good casave (yucca bread). She has been a good wife for me.
What changes have you noticed in San Pablo since you moved here?
Things really started to change when the company (Texaco: “la compañia”) arrived. They opened up the road and drilled wells. They made noise and the animals left. Now there are hardly any wild animals in San Pablo. We have to walk very far to hunt. My foot hurts me and I cannot walk far. I can no longer hunt. Now there is electricity in the community. People watch television. They play loud music on their stereos. The youth don’t work hard. Now there is a lot of alcohol in San Pablo. People drink too much. People no longer drink yagé or sing. They don’t hunt as much.
I don’t know what the young people believe in anymore.
What are some things that you’re parents or grandparents taught you that you still practice?
My uncle taught me to hunt. I can no longer hunt because I am old but he taught me how. I was a good hunter because of him. My mother taught me to make crafts: necklaces, bracelets, crowns— beautiful things. My grandfather taught me to weave hammocks and fishing nets out of chambira. My hammocks and nets are strong. They do not break.
All photos by Matt Goff