Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

‘Guardians’ of the Ecuadoran Amazon

February 27, 2018 at 12:59 PM

A boat travels through the Bobonaza River near the Sarayaku community, inside the Amazonian jungle in the province of Pastaza. The Bobonaza River is the only access to enter the zone by land. (Nicola Okin Frioli)

From the very beginning of their existence, the legend says, the Zapara — a community of indigenous people living in the depths of the Amazonian rain forest — knew their culture would someday disappear. Piatsaw, their creator, had seen it as he created the members of that community out of the plants and trees of the Amazon. As the Zapara population has dramatically shrunk from as many as 200,000 in the early 20th century to fewer than 500 today, the prophecy has become all too real.

For three years, Nicola Okin Frioli, an Italian photographer based in Mexico, followed the last of the Zaparas. His work is a “diary of the resistance,” he told In Sight. “It’s a report of what the reality is there. It’s a personal story.” It’s the story of the Zaparas’ resistance against the mining and oil industries that have contributed to the destruction of their lands. Their only rampart against the outside world is the remoteness of their home: Deep inside the rain forest, there are no roads that reach them. And it’s from that forest that they draw their strength. “The jungle is an important part of their bodies,” Frioli said. “It’s the place where their spirits and ancestors still live. They are their guardians.”

Gloria and her son look at the valley extending to the west of the community of Tsumtsuim in July 2014. (Nicola Okin Frioli)
Fernanda Tzamarendia, 17, poses for a photo at corn crops by her house in Sucua. Tzamarendia is the winner of the Nunkuinua, an Ecuadoran Amazon beauty contest in the Morona Santiago province. (Nicola Okin Frioli)
A family from the Sarayaku community returns by boat after a Minga in 2017. Minga is the highest act of solidarity in a communal society, a tradition of the indigenous nationalities of the Amazon, consisting of community work in which everyone participates to support each other. In exchange, they will be offered food and chicha, a beverage. In this case, a young couple seeks to get the material to put a straw roof on their new home. (Nicola Okin Frioli)
Hilario and Luisa’s newborn baby cries in his hammock at the community of Llanchama Cocha in 2017. At his side are the objects Luisa usually carries with her when she goes away from the house: a Motorola radio and a machete. (Nicola Okin Frioli)
A deforested zone in the Amazon seen from above in 2017. (Nicola Okin Frioli)
Helmut Scholz, a European Union congressman on a visit to Ecuador in 2017, watches one of the gas-burning pits belonging to Petroecuador. (Nicola Okin Frioli)
Shuar territory volunteers pose for a portrait in 2016. (Nicola Okin Frioli)
Leaders of indigenous communities meet. (Nicola Okin Frioli)
Left: Carlos Wilson Tendetza, brother of JosŽ Tendetza, who was murdered two years ago. JosŽ was a defender and activist against the mining company Ecuacorriente. Carlos has continued his legacy. Right: The image of the head of the former Ecuador president Rafael Correa is all that’s left of a poster inside a Shuar house in the community of Paandin in 2016. (Nicola Okin Frioli)
Activists clash with police during a demonstration in Quito in 2016 against the militarization of Morona Santiago region and mining in the Amazon. (Nicola Okin Frioli)
Francisco Chumbía with his 4-year-old daughter at Chichis, Cantón Tiwintza, in 2015. Francisco, an indigenous Shuar, was a soldier and has 10 years of active service in the intelligence division of Ecuador. Francisco stepped on a land mine buried by his own army during a conflict in Alto Cenepa in 1995. (Nicola Okin Frioli)
An area of the Amazon restricted because of land mines left from the 1995 Alto Cenepa war. (Nicola Okin Frioli)
Sapara territory seen from above. (Nicola Okin Frioli)

More on In Sight:

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In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

Olivier Laurent is a foreign photo editor, commissioning photographers in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. He joined The Washington Post in 2017 from Time where he led and edited the magazine's photography vertical, LightBox.

Nick Kirkpatrick is a photo editor at The Washington Post where he works on an interdisciplinary team focused on visual storytelling. Follow him on Instagram or on Twitter.

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