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Sun May 23, 2021, 03:44 AM

The women of the Amazon who dream the resistance

In Ecuador, indigenous women lead a march to the capital, to demand an end to the pillaging of their land

Gabriela Ruiz Agila
22 May 2021, 12.00am

On 26 March, Ecuador’s ombudsman (or “people’s defender”) Freddy Carrión visited Pastaza, the country’s largest province, and paid homage to the resilience of Amazonian women. María Taant, a leader of the Shuar indigenous people, sang a song invoking the great anaconda of the Amazon jungle. Hours later, she would be dead, a tragic road accident that left the Amazonian women’s movement bereft while also demanding they continue the struggle to defend their territory.

In memory of María Taant, we remember the march from Puyo to Quito on 8 March 2018, when María Taant and her companions delivered the Mandate of Amazonian Women to the government of Lenín Moreno. It read: "we demand the deletion of the contracts and/or agreements and concessions granted by the Ecuadorian government to oil and mining companies in the south-central Amazon."

For five days, the women kept vigil in the Plaza Grande, Quito’s central public square. Their struggle and persistence now resonates around the world. One of them, Nemonte Nenquim, led the Waorani people’s battle to protect 500,000 acres of rain forest from oil extraction. Her grassroots activism won the prestigious Goldman environmental prize for 2020 and a place on the New York Times’s 100 most influential people list.

The events of March 2018 were transformative. The women of the Amazon – from the Kichwa, Shuar, Achuar, Shiwiar, Waorani, Sapara and Mestizo peoples – had gathered to tell a story of negotiation and struggle, as they sought to redefine their place in the family and in wider society. For many years, they had been cultivating knowledge and resistance in their territories and communities.

Source: Shuar People. 13 March 2018. Maria Taant sings to give heart to the women of the Amazon, gathered in the Plaza Grande in Quito

Taant was prepared for the struggle. Eleven days before leaving for Quito, she fasted, visited the waterfall, dreamed and spoke to her ancestors. Widowed seven years before the march to Quito, she was raising four children – a daughter and three sons – on her own. At 25 she had been chosen by the Shuar elders to be a healer. At 47, she did not dream of shields as male warriors do, but of women walking, painting the great anaconda, talking and laughing. She dreamt the resistance. She saw it all clearly: a gruelling journey followed by hours of waiting. "It will be hard for them to listen to us," she told her gathered sisters.


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