On Oct. 12, 2013, a group of nearly 300 women from seven indigenous nationalities marched to Quito, Ecuador, arriving in the capital four days later with their children in their arms, the sharp angles of their faces — young and old — decorated with vegetable ink designs, covered in the same strength and determination with which they began their journey. They were marching to Quito to ask the central government to respect their ancestral lands, to refrain from exploiting the oil that lies beneath his Kawsak Sacha, a living jungle. In November of that same year, a smaller delegation of women peacefully protested during the 11th Oil Licensing Round, an auction of 6 million acres of ancestral indigenous land for oil exploitation. The protests, however, turned sour when oil executive and politicians scolded protesters, and Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa subsequently demanded the closing of the NGO Fundación Pachamama and indicted 10 indigenous leaders on charges of terrorism.

While women have always played an active role in historic marches that marked the struggle for the rights of indigenous peoples in Ecuador, this was the first walk organized and led by women.

Felipe Jacome’s set of photos Amazon: Guardians of Life documents the struggles of indigenous women defending the Ecuadoran Amazon through portraits combined with the powerful written testimonies. The words across each photograph are a self-reflection of the lives of women, their culture, history and traditions, and especially about the reasons for fighting oil drilling on their ancestral lands. The color designs framing each portrait use the same natural dyes found in face paint to expand on the symbols and designs that reflect their personalities, courage and struggle.

All photos by Felipe Jacome