Eagles and Condors – Heartland

According to a legend told in parts of South America, we are
living at the end of the 10th pachacuti. Whenever a
pachacuti-a 500-year cycle-shifts, the earth rumbles to
remind people of their rightful place. It was predicted that the
eagle people (the people of the mind from the north) would become
highly evolved intellectually but spiritually bereft. The condor
people (the people of the heart in the south) would be materially
deprived but spiritually advanced. According to prophecy, at the
end of the 10th pachacuti, the eagles and the condors will
come together to bring the world back into balance.

The Achuar tribe lives in Ecuador’s Amazonian rainforest, just
north of the Peruvian border. Since the area has seen very few
outsiders, save for a handful of missionaries, the tribe’s
traditions are intact, its culture is vibrant, and its members
continue to sustain themselves in one of the few untouched
stretches of rainforest left in the world.

Achuar elders had a series of visions in the early 1990s,
however, that convinced them that their tribe’s way of life was
about to be endangered by outside forces. This threat would arrive
in the form of oil drilling, which has devastated adjacent
indigenous peoples.

The Achuar took the radical measure of issuing a call,
communicated through dreams and visions, to potential partners in
the modern world. They hoped to reach people who understood the
value of an unmolested rainforest and who could help the Achuar
develop a sustainable economic infrastructure that would both
protect it and be true to the tribe’s traditional structure and
mores.

The Pachamama (an indigenous word meaning the earth, the sky,
the universe, and all time) Alliance formed 10 years ago in answer
to the call. Funded by members and private donors, the group aims
to preserve the world’s rainforests by empowering their natural
custodians, contributing to the creation of a new global vision of
equity and sustainability for all.

In late August, I traveled to the Achuar tribal territory with
the alliance. As we were told at the outset, this was not a
vacation, though there were many sybaritic moments; it was not
adventure travel, though we certainly stretched. It was a
pilgrimage.

On one particularly memorable day, we hiked for five hours in
the jungle, through mud, across slippery logs, and up a stream in
knee-high rubber boots. We had spent the previous day and night
warmly welcomed in the village of Sharamentsa, and were on our way
to Wayusentsa to meet with a shaman and participate in a sacred
ceremony.

There was one man in our group of 20 who had severe back pain. A
young Achuar man, seamlessly and gracefully, began to assist him on
the difficult hike. I was moved by the Achuar man’s acute awareness
and anticipation, his steadiness and ease, and his unobtrusive
elegance and respect.

Those qualities seemed universal in the indigenous leaders we
encountered. Before we went into the rainforest, we had a briefing
with several of them, who are currently engaged in a political
struggle with oil interests to protect their lands. Most of them
are young and were brought up traditionally, trained as tribal
leaders, and, thanks to the work of the Pachamama Alliance, now
have the tools to be ambassadors to the outside world. They are
passionate about the dangers and opportunities of their situation,
eloquent when they articulate how the interests of the North and
the South are inextricably entwined.

The Achuar people have urged the Pachamama to help ‘change the
dream of the North,’ since transforming our appetites and desires
is ultimately the only solution. Political and economic strategies
are important tools, but just as essential is a change of
heart.

I personally experienced that change of heart as my sense of
separation and difference dissolved. I came back home deeply
connected to the people I shared this pilgrimage with and
profoundly grateful to those who opened their way of life to us. I
know more fully that the life force pulsing through all of us and
animating every bug, leaf, and animal has no boundaries.

For more information on the work of the Pachamama Alliance
and the trips it sponsors, check out
www.pachamama.org.

UTNE
UTNE
In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.