We continue with the second part of the interview with Kenia and Jomaris, the two Daughters of Jesus assigned to the Peruvian Amazon.
What is their religion, their values?
They are a people who, in general, maintain their identity, their ancestral values, their cults. Arutam is the name of their God who, in reality, are their ancestors, who grew wings and ascended to heaven and, from there, accompany them. They say that they light their tobacco and, with the smoke, they communicate with their ancestors, who are in heaven, and give them strength.
They say that in order to live, they need vision. It is a key word in the village. For that vision of what they are going to do, their life plan, their projects, they do a fast that consists of withdrawing into the forest, inside, with a person who guides them. It is like an initiation into their adult life. But they also do this fast when they have to make decisions, when they are faced with a problem. They withdraw far away, they take their drink, their guayus, and they have vision to know the answer, like in a dream. They have to fall asleep, and they fall asleep because of the grass. They do it from the desire to communicate with their interiority.
The Catholic Church arrived with an Italian priest who learned the language, translated the Bible into Achuar and evangelised them a lot. He is a very dear person who is now dead. That priest became another Achuar, and they are grateful that he became one of them. That is why they enter the Catholic religion, that is why there are permanent deacons who have been ordained. They are the ones who celebrate the Word, distribute the Eucharist, celebrate baptisms?
The Evangelical Church has also arrived, although its position on the ancestral is a little different.
Religiously, there is diversity.
What do they know about outsiders?
Although this is a first-contact original people, they have been open to “outsiders” for 50 years. Not before. Those who came in were greeted with shotguns, they are a warrior people. But for a long time now they have been allowing, with control, access to others. For example, they have the contract for the school and, when they want to, they throw the Lauritas out of here. We are welcome guests because we are helping them and because we respect their values and their culture, but they ask for an account. They are in charge and they are organised.
All the Achuar villages have a federation and this federation is the boss, it is the one that makes all the decisions. All changes in the village have to go through this federation. For example, the federation has an office in San Lorenzo and the head went to the house where we were so that the director could introduce us, so that they would know that there would be two sisters from another congregation working with them. We had to ask the permission of the apu, the chief of the community.
What are they doing there to protect the land?
Your organisation is asking the central government to legalise your territory. Having their territory means that no company can enter and exploit their land, because it is the central government that authorises companies to enter and exploit it. There are those who support the presence of oil companies and those who don’t, but at least there is dialogue and there is the proposal.
At school we also try to work for the defence of the land. We work on projects and, within the fourth project, there is the defence of territory and land rights. This first two-month school term we are working on the production of our farm and what to eat in order to be healthy, because there is a lot of anaemia and tuberculosis.
It is important to work on love for mother earth. It strikes us that they don’t always take care of it as they should. They go around with a machete in their hand and cut down all the small trees they find along the way. It strikes us that in this situation they do it, but it seems to be normal here.
What is the situation of women?
They have no personal decision. In the classroom they are more shy and the boys are a bit more extroverted. You can see the difference and if you don’t make them talk, they don’t talk at all. On the one hand, because of the language and, on the other hand, because of shyness, women have fewer possibilities to socialise in the community.
Women are the ones who sow and cultivate the land (clean the land). As polygamy is accepted, women are more subjugated, because otherwise the man will look for another woman. For example, now there is a girl who helps us and who is pregnant. As she can’t continue studying, she left us. We should be able to respond to this problem, but we don’t have the strength and the people are demanding it. We wanted her to study at a distance and we were giving her the materials to accompany her, but the Achuar themselves came and said “no, not her”. And she gave it up. It is a strong struggle.
What is the education like?
There are 60 families living in this community, but the students come from 24 different communities. Some are a three-day walk or a day’s boat ride down the river. Now, because of the pandemic, they are alternating for a month. They come in first and second grade, then they leave and come in third, fourth and fifth grade of secondary school. It’s a shame because it’s not good for the families economically. If they come by boat with a motor, they use up fuel; and if they come on foot, it’s a lot of work for the children to walk every month for three days through the jungle and between waters. Because sometimes there is something they call aguajanes, which is like getting into a swamp and the water gets up to their necks. It’s a difficult route.
The primary school begins with “materjardín”, as they call it. The children go from a very young age, but the level is very low because there is a lot of irresponsibility. Sometimes at 9:30 in the morning the children are already on their way home because the Achuar teachers don’t give them a lesson. And when they arrive here, at school, which is secondary school, supposedly from first to fifth grade, they arrive with a low, low, low level. They finish between the ages of 16 and 18 because there is over-age. Some of them start school, leave, then come back… It’s a relaxed life, in their own way.
The teaching is in Achuar, the project is bilingual. In the boarding school there are many teachers who speak their own language, but they also know Spanish. The students don’t speak Spanish well, some don’t speak it at all. Those who reach first grade are the ones who have the most difficulty speaking Spanish because all their primary education was in Achuar, in the regulations of the villages they maintain their native language. So they are given Achuar as their mother tongue, Spanish as a second language and English as a foreign language. But their communication is all in Achuar, so we don’t understand anything. But we are also learning.
Kenia and Jomaris plan to spend at least two years in the Peruvian Amazon, a place where there is a lot of work to do and many ways to collaborate. The students need a lot of presence, a lot of company, to raise their academic level and improve their quality of life. They face it with great enthusiasm because, as they say, “the mission is very beautiful”. Although they still do not understand the language, they see in them the joy, the receptivity, the affection, and the gratitude for their help without the need for words.
Thank you for your time and testimony. We hope to be able to continue sharing your experiences.