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Sowing life in the Amazon (II)

June 3, 2022

We continue with the second part of the interview with Kenya and Jomaris the two Daughters of Jesus assigned to the Peruvian Amazon.

What is your religion, your 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 claim that, in order to live, they need vision. It is a key word in the village. For this vision of what they are going to do, their life plan, their projects, they do a fast that consists of withdrawing to the jungle, inside, with a person who guides them. It is like an initiation into their adult life. But they also do this fasting when they have to make decisions, when they are faced with a problem. They withdraw far away, take their drink, their guayus, and have vision to know the answer, as in dreams. They have to go to sleep, and they fall asleep because of the grass. They do so out of a desire to communicate with their inner selves.

The Catholic Church arrived with an Italian priest who learned the language, translated the Bible into Achuar and evangelized them a lot. He is a very dear person who has passed away. That priest became one more Achuar, and they are grateful that he became one like 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 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 entered were greeted with shotguns, they are a warrior people. But they have been allowing, with control, access to others for quite some time now. For example. The school’s contract is theirs and, whenever they want, they can kick the Lauritas out of here. We are welcome guests because we are helping and because we respect their values and culture, but they ask for accountability. They are the ones in charge and they are organized.

All the Achuar peoples have a federation and this federation is the chief, it is the one that rules all decisions. All changes in the town 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 here 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 organization is asking the central government to legalize your territory. Having their territoriality means that no company can enter and exploit their land, because the central government is the one who authorizes companies to enter and exploit it. There are those who support the presence of oil companies and those who do not; but, at least, the dialogue exists and the proposal is there.

We also try to work for the defense of the land at school. We work by projects and, within the fourth project is the defense of the territory, 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 anemia and tuberculosis.

It is important to work on the love for mother earth. It strikes us that they don’t always take care of it as they should. They walk around with a machete in their hands and cut down all the small trees they find along the way. We are surprised that in this situation they do so, but it seems to be the norm here.

What is the situation of women?

They have no personal decision. In the classroom they are more shy and the boys are a little more extroverted. You can tell 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, because of shyness, women are less able to socialize in the community.

The woman is the one who sows and cultivates the land(cleansing the soil). As polygamy is accepted, the woman is more subdued, because otherwise the man will look for another woman. For example, there is now a girl helping us who is pregnant. Since she can no longer study, she left us. We should be able to respond to this problem, but there are no forces 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 he quit. It is a tough fight.

What is 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 first and second, they leave and come third, fourth and fifth grade. It’s a shame because it doesn’t help families financially. If they come by boat with a motor, they waste fuel; and if they come on foot, it is 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 comes up to your neck. It is a difficult route.

The elementary school begins with “materjardín”, as they call it. 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 do not give them a class. 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 overage. Some start their studies, quit, then come back… It’s a relaxed life, in their own style.

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 do not speak Spanish well, some not 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. They are then 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.

Kenya and Jomaris plan to spend at least two years in the Peruvian Amazon, a place where there is a lot of work to be done and many ways to collaborate. 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 do not yet understand the language, they see in them joy, receptivity, affection, and gratitude for their help without the need for words.

Thank you for your time and testimony. We look forward to continue sharing your experiences.